Directions

imageOf all the things that technology has all but removed from our lives, the giving and receiving of directions is the one I have the most trouble getting used to. I’m good with not needing to write letters, look numbers up in a phone book, or lug a bunch of 8-tracks, cassettes or CD’s around in my car. I love my GPS (her name is Greta), but I miss the distinctly human practice of giving directions. I knew that at some point, I would be writing a “back in my day” post, and I guess that point is now.

I am like my father, who would always give you directions by landmark instead of highway exits and route numbers. Instead of “take I-79 to Rt-50,” he would say “go down (Interstate) 79 and get off like you’re going to Bobby’s gas station.” Making matters worse, he didn’t limit himself to existing landmarks; he once gave me directions that included the phrase “…and keep going until you get to where old-man Bedner’s barn used to be, then turn left” (the barn had burned down years before).

If you have ever looked at the ‘About’ page, you know that this blog gets its name from a stretch of the as yet unimproved I-79 near Morgantown, West Virginia where I went to college. Of course, “unimproved” is relative; in 1973, the West Virginia Turnpike was a two-lane undivided highway separated by a common passing lane in some sections. It wasn’t necessary to get on I-79 to get to my apartment; but on the day that I was moving in, the directions the landlord had given me began with “you’ll come into town on 19, then get on the new highway” and proceeded from there. “19” referred to US-19, a piece of torturous highway that wound its way through the Allegheny Mountains and remained the road of choice for my father long after I-79 made it unnecessary. My trip began without a map; stay on Rt-19 until you cross into WV, get on I-79 and then follow the directions. image

I probably wouldn’t have been able to find a map in Pittsburgh that included street level detail of Morgantown, WV even if I had tried. Maps were generally available (for free with a few gallons of gas) for the area you were in, and the highways in between you and your next likely destination; once you got there, you would get another map. I drove across the US and back across Canada using that system, and it worked pretty well. One of my favorite “map moments” occurred when my wife and I were still dating. We had gotten lost and as we thought about heading home, she somewhat sarcastically said “I don’t suppose you even have a map in this car.” I seized the moment to surprise her with my Exxon Map of the Eastern United States. Of course, that map, showing the US from the Mississippi River east, included the dozen or so major highways in CT, none of which we knew how to get to.

Getting lost has never been panic inducing event for me, partly because I get lost a lot, and partly because the act of getting lost has so often resulted in a surprising new find. After my wife and I drove around a while, we followed a stream of traffic and ended up at the Haddam Neck Fair. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we have returned to that fair many times on Labor Day weekends. On another occasion, when returning to our house from a friend’s in central CT, we took the wrong turn near Riverton, CT and ended up circumnavigating the Barkhamsted reservoir. We were lost for sure, but we enjoyed the ride. With the advent of GPS, driving has become a transaction, not an adventure – although I am still capable of making it an adventure as my family and friends will attest to. I have the ability to misunderstand the GPS directions, especially on Rt-128 near Waltham, MA.

…continue ¾ of a mile, then turn left where the barn used to be

My wife still prefers paper maps, and she has a small collection of detailed books of street maps. She is a route-number traveler, something I will never understand. She prefers having a sense of the entire journey before we start driving. She’s not fond of my GPS, and less fond of the fact that I listen to Greta but I don’t always listen to her. The fact that I manage to get lost while using the GPS isn’t helping the adoption process. I look forward to the day when my GPS will be so sophisticated and have so much memory that I will be able to choose Landmark Style instructions and hear the female British voice say: “continue ¾ of a mile, then turn left where the barn used to be.”

75 thoughts on “Directions

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  1. My upper classed accent UK GPS has a fantastic ability to think I’m on another exit at spaghetti junctions. She also took us down Jackass Lane INSTEAD of via the main road the other day http://www.streetmap.co.uk/street/JACKASS_LANE_in_TANDRIDGE_in_OXTED_in_SURREY_in_RH8_648350_262284.htm the lane is more of a series of potholes and privet hedges connected by interlinking lakes.

    I now wish (for the sake of my cars suspension and paintwork) there was a way to blacklist streets. I’d pay a little extra for that and for folksonomy / the ability to add my landmarks, the great play area, good restrooms etc. Any contacts at Garmin or TomTom?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know so many people who should move to Jackass Lane, that’s amazing. I’d like to think that the GPS guys are reading this, but I might be kidding myself :)

      Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment.
      Dan

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  2. In the Uk we have post codes down to almost individual house level. Unfortunately, my post code is not in my SatNav as I haven’t bothered to update it for years. It does have a camera and can log the lat/long of the location. As Dan knows, my involvement in computers goes back the ’70s so I am not a duffer. I was in York last week – 220 miles from home when we decided to hit the trail back. I picked the photo of our street, hit Go and 4 seconds later the “male” voice said – Turn left and took us home. I think that this is a pretty impressive use of technology. David

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  3. I have resisted getting GPS. I like holding a map in my hands. I’ve always loved those AAA “Triptiks.” There is nothing as satisfying as flipping a page, letting you know you are one step closer to your destination.

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    1. I was wondering if AAA still prepared those for people. Personally, I needed the bigger map, the one that included the place I would drive to before realizing that I was lost. Thanks for reading!

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      1. You can use hi-tech to request a Triptik online, delivered via mail (or download a PDF IIRC); but that defeats talking to a person while they bind it for you…

        Back in my day, you had to plan a trip 4-6 weeks ahead!

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  4. I wish GPS was a bit more human. That’s easy to program. Just adding some basic human touch, “Prepare to turn left, sweetheart”. Or “Take the first exit…oops, that was second.” Or “Now that’s the third time you are not following my directions. Do you I need to get offended?”

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  5. Great post! Not only is part of the experience lost by not “feeling” those landmarks, we lose our ability to map directions by ourselves should the GPS get lost! But also, I think the way we experience space becomes different.

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  6. Yes, the days when we would jump in the car, my wife with the map, and me with no idea where we were going, relying on her and her map-reading skills, those were the days. GPS is well and good, but it takes away the man’s innate ability to get lost on his own, then to bullheadedly not ask for directions from anyone, preferring to keep going ’round in circles. Ah, that was the life. Thank you for helping me to relive it. Now, where did I put that map?

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  7. Hello from wonderful West Viriginia…. love the GPS Post and I will be writing one very soon after my son and his wife shared a trip to KY with us over easter and it got them lost several times.. we used a road Atlas and common road signs to lead us with much less problem… too funny

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  8. Ha! Great post. I’m a location scout for movies in Pittsburgh, and oftentimes my job requires me to get lost looking for obscure locations out in the cut. I turn off the GPS and just drive. Thankfully, getting lost is a male specialty (just ask any woman and they would agree ;)

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  9. We take lengthy road trips each summer and find GPS to be a bit like a crazy local shouting out directions. Because of GPS we have found ourselves driving on winding one lane blind dirt roads, gravel beds, you name it. GPS is good in cities and pretty lousy almost anywhere else.

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    1. When I really hate my GPS is when the highway is backed-up and I get off onto local roads. At that point the GPS just wants to put me back on the highway.Maybe the newer ones have “that road is a mess” buttons, but mine doesn’t. That is when it’s better to be able to look at a map.

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  10. Made me giggle here… I definitely love technology, but I like to know what I am doing on my own, just in case. So I am a map person, I like to know NSEW, and how streets and highways come together before going anywhere new. My husband doesn’t understand it. Thanks for sharing!

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  11. Fascinating. A husband who enjoys the convivial art of asking for directions and a wife who prefers referring to a logical map. Has Ripley’s been alerted? Please have sons so your genes can benefit the general population for generations to come.

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    1. I didn’t say that I “ask for directions” I just miss getting them verbally. Our daughter is pretty good at finding her way around, maybe the result of having been in the back seat so many times as we got lost. She also enjoys an adventure, so I guess we’re OK.

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  12. I don’t have a GPS and on the island where I live there is a lot of “cross the one lane bridge and then you’ll see a big stand of bananas on the right…then turn left, just past the big mango tree.” I traveled all over the continental US in my 20’s and I love my old maps. You could write on them, star, trace, highlight. They are momentos of their own. I enjoyed your piece!

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  13. this is really amusing (love the ‘back in my day’ comment – know the feeling) – I love paper maps, and landmarks rather than route numbers, but shortly hubby and I will be undertaking a world cycle ride, and because of weight etc we wont be using paper maps, but reverting to GPS powered by pedal…we will be turning it off when we want to explore, but i wonder how many times we will get lost when we really need not to be! :-)

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    1. I wish you the best of luck on that ride. I enjoy cycling, but at much shorter distances than “the world.” Ironically, I do consult a map (usually MapPoint) beofre attempting a new bike ride, but I still have those moments where I go off the path to see something, or because a road looks like it will have less traffic or because I’m making a wrong turn.

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      1. we decided to do the world ride for 2 charities as we were going to emigrate anyway. this way we get to see as much as possible cheaply, and we may find our spot of heaven along the way – maybe when the GPS sends us the wrong way to the back of beyond in Vietnam! lol but we like getting lost anyway…its fun (when you have the time!)

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  14. I will admit to using my gps on my phone and tablet all the time, but I also go for drives to “get lost”. There’s something exciting about finding a different way to get to where you’re going, and just maybe, finding something cool along the way :-)

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  15. DIRECTIONS —- Nice post..something that revolves around all of us & I loved the way you presented different ways of giving directions. For me, I prefer remembering via “Landmarks”. I feel them easy to remember & recognize. Well, everyone has a different style but we all need to follow proper directions to reach our destination. With that said, I believe its not the real road paths only , it also focus on the path of our life.

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  16. I sincerely appreciate all of your comments and thoughts. I have started exploring your blogs, and I feel even more honored to have been selected for Freshly Pressed. There is so much good stuff out here, it’s really amazing. Thank you all – see you in the community that is WordPress.

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  17. I enjoyed your post. I refuse to get a GPS, they are annoying and do not always give the best directions. I’m like your wife; I want the big picture view of the states and roads and local state maps when traveling far. Some local county maps have come in handy when I’ve gotten lost on the back roads and you’re crossing county lines. All new names. Sometimes getting lost can result in great finds.
    Congrats on being FPd!

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    1. Thanks! I think the comments are leaning in my wife’s favor here. She’s a good sport, she’s never complained when we’ve gotten lost so I guess I won’t complain.

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  18. I’m with your wife: give me a paper map any day.

    I do have a GPS, but it’s so limiting. All you see is the road before you. I want to see everything around us, too. I want to see what’s over to the east a few miles, or where we are in relation to other things. I need to put my location in context to everything else. Yes, give me a map any day.

    I guess my feelings aren’t too surprising since I titled my blog Browsing the Atlas, are they? ;)

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    1. As soon as I saw your blog name, I knew that I was dealing with a non-GPS type. One of the things I miss about receiving directions from people, is the local context that was included with the stories that often accompanied the instructions. A breif look at your blog tells me that I like the way you travel. Thanks!

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  19. I come from India, where we still use the landmarks and we find a sense of comfort in locating our destination. In fact, I found myself lost in US with the more sophisticated gizmos and guidance.
    nice post.
    thanks for sharing and all the best.

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  20. For the record I don’t own a GPS – although my phone has some map software, I rarely break it out – only if in jeopardy of being late for an appointment. I love maps and everything about them – being able to see the “big picture”, being able to see where I am headed, checking out some landmarks that may be noted on the map. (who decides on some of these rather random ones anyway?) I love them for their “graphic arts” nature! My mom taught me to read a map at 10 and soon after I was telling my dad where to turn!
    I miss maps! ( and dad)

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    1. I miss my dad too. Getting directions from him, and arguing over whether the highway was really faster or not, was a frequent bit of conversation while I was growing up, but I’d love the opportunity to argue over it with him today.

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  21. I call getting lost going on a detour, because you get to see new places and discover hidden treasures. I tend to use a combination of Google maps and my Thomas Guide, and look up where I’m going before I leave. GPS is useful, but I’d still rather use a map to tell me where to go.

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  22. Picture reference – one of the problems with a widget to explain the picture is that the description is only good for a week. So, I’ve started including the explanation as a comment.

    That barn sits at the top of a horseshoe curve on RT-19 in between Waynesburg, PA and Morgantown, WV. While on a short vacation in Pittsburgh, my daughter and I drove down to WV. In order to recreate the pre-Interstate experience for her, we got off I-79 in Waynesburg, PA and continued on the 2-lane road through the hills. The picture is one of hers from that trip. If you want to see more, check out this set on Flickr. http://flic.kr/s/aHsjnix2NC

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  23. While driving north to Vermont through Massachusetts I discovered a tiny icon on a map that said: Dinosaur Tracks. My husband and I pulled over to investigate and sure enough just off the highway were a preserved set of dinosaur footprints. Our GPS would never have led us to such a cool find.

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  24. I have to stop chuckling so I can comment. So…for many years I had a file cabinet drawer with folders labeled with state names containing maps, and when we were going to travel I’d go dig out all my maps plus take an Atlas in the car. These days I use my third Garmin which has a larger screen for older eyes and also includes speed limits because we both know there are a lot of New England roads with no speed limited posted. :-) My Garmin has always been named Sally, and I’m sure she and Greta would be good friends. Love this post. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Judy. And thanks for reminding me to put a link to this on the page. I guess the reason I never did is because the widget they give you doesn’t have a spot for a link. I added it manually and I added a link to the post I wish everyone would read. I am on Garmin number three as well, but still Greta.

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  25. Just as entertaining and well-told as I knew it would be, Dan. I’m glad you gave me a chance to read this “go back past the date you started blogging and missed all those posts …”

    Transactional is exactly what a GPS is. Like all modern conveniences it’s a love/hate relationship, knowing how generations after us will never know the feeling of being lost, being found, strumbling on unknown treasures or how to travel if GPS goes on the fritz.

    I have several upcoming posts about those old maps including the gas station ones. I hope you don’t get bored, especially being a revered Presser ‘n all :-)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. On the contrary Sammy, I am already looking forward to those posts.Thanks for your comments on this post. I was visiting Iowa for the memorial service for my siste-in-law and my brother and I were talking about dad’s directions. We were laughing so much, that I felt I had to share it.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. I don’t know how I just noticed this now because I always wondered what you wrote to be Freshly Pressed. Your dad would be the absolute perfect one to give directions to me–he is my kind of direction-giver! Yeah, my husband is destination kind of guy. Me? It’s all about the journey. This was awesome, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Lois. My dad would give you directions like that, even if you had never been to where he was before. He did it all the time and people thanked him. They probably went and bought a map afterwards :)

      Liked by 1 person

  27. hmmm, I wonder if reading this again put the story where the old memories used to be. Thanks Dan ! Sue is our navigator, wife not gps. and she too likes to have the complete map and route before leaving for our destination. details. details.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Checking on this comment caused me to realize that there are about a dozen comments I never responded to John. That’s unlike me. I hope it’s not too late. Thanks. The good thing about Sue is that she probably understands, “I know that’s the on-ramp but I need some coffee first” which my GPS doesn’t get.

      Liked by 1 person

  28. I get lost a lot going new places. I want signs on roads that give the exact address of where I’m going. And I want the same buildings to be where they were the last time so I know where I am. And no detours. Totally throw me. Then I panic. Who moved that building? Don’t send me off course. No sense of direction whatsoever, I’m afraid, although hubs still lets me read the map, which I have to turn around to face the way we’re going. I’m an ideal candidate for GPS so I don’t know why I don’t have one yet. But, unlike hubs, I do know my left from my right. ;)

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  29. I loved this post.. Was a treat to read. I am of the new generation though. I love my GPS. I would probably not function without GPS. I just don’t get directions. So people are like take the first left, then the second right and then the second left. What I get is a jumbled mix of lefts and rights and first turns and second turns, with no way to match them up again! Some folks even say stuff like – “Go East for a kilometer”. So how am I supposed to know which is East at night! Not to mention that I wouldn’t know where a kilometer ends :P
    My verdict: I love my GPS!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. I hadn’t realised til I spotted the post in your side panel, that you’d been Freshly Pressed, Dan. Is FP even going still? (Is my grammar?) But anyway… I hadn’t spotted this post before. We live in a country lane that has a few houses on one side intermittently for about a mile, and sheep, sheep and more sheep in their pastures on the other side. When someone tries to find our house, a lot of people say “it’s not far past the old garage.” Problem is – the old garage no longer exists. It hasn’t since I’ve lived here or, probably, within my own lifetime!

    Didn’t realise that non-Brit GPS/SatNav devices had a British English version. I wonder why? Is it to make posh ex-pats feel more at home? I don’t drive so don’t have the problem with either finding something on a map or via a device.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Val. I don’t know if Freshly Pressed is still a thing, but I was happy to receive it for this post. It’s funny that you also hear directions given that reference landmarks that are long gone. I’m not sure what people are thinking when they do that, but I guess it makes sense to them. As for the British accent on the GPS (SatNav), we seem to still be fascinated with British accents hear. Maybe it’s a hold-over from the Beatles, We often see commercials with British actors and we see our fair share of ones with American actors attempting (very bad) British accents.

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  31. Have you changed something on your blog? I had never been able to read your Freshly Pressed post. What a shame! Love your dad’s way of giving directions. Probably because I’m quite like him:)
    With the right and left challenge on top.
    That was a good pick from WordPress.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I changed the theme, Evelyne. The sidebar items were lost in the old theme but reappeared when I updated the theme.

      Thanks for the kind words. If you give directions like my dad, I could follow them. I respond well to those kind of directions.

      Liked by 1 person

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