here there be dragons

When I was five, my family spent the whole summer driving across the country, from New Jersey to California, up to Oregon and back again. During that trip, we had a huge Rand McNally atlas of the United States in our van, the kind that had a different state on every page. When we got back, that atlas somehow became the property of the kids, and I remember spending hours looking at all of the maps, and dreaming about where we might go, remembering where we had already been.

I was reminded of that old map book this past week, as I’ve been on a road trip. Back in the day, I would have planned my road trip with a map, or barring that, with a TripTik from AAA. In college, I once planned a great road trip to Salem, MA with TripTik, just me and ten of my closest actor friends who were doing a production of The Crucible (“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie, and sign myself to lies!”). This time, I went with GoogleMaps, and I have to say, it made me realize that not everything in life is better with the internet.

In the days before I relied on internet-based directions, I got lost more. But I found more interesting things, too. I wandered. I roamed. I sought out bizarre gas stations and weird roadside attractions, and interesting pie. On this trip, because I didn’t have a map of the cities I was visiting, I found myself much more hesitant to explore, knowing that I might not be able to easily find my way back to the hotel.

Maps have been important in my worklife for many years. As a canvasser, and later a field campaigner, the ability to draw maps that were clear and easy to read was critical. In my current job, I spend most of every election year poring over district maps and precinct maps, trying to find the most efficient ways to communicate with voters. But I no longer have a car full of maps (although I do have a big book map of my home region.)

I did end up having to buy a map of one of the cities I was in, because the co-worker who joined me for one leg of my trip accidentally took home my printed-out directions for that place, and it made me much more confident to have that map. It’s the one place that I actually got out and drove around, knowing that I would be able to find my way home if need be. I guess if I had a GPS in my car, it would serve the same purpose, though perhaps not quite as effective at spurring the imagination.

I think I might have to go out this weekend, and find the updated version of the Rand McNally atlas of my childhood. (Hey, LD, there’s a Mother’s Day idea for you!) I’m planning on taking a road trip this summer with the kids, and I want to be prepared.

What kinds of maps have been important to you? Are you a good map-reader, or someone who’s lost trying to understand your north from your south? Do you like to wander, or are you a strictly Point-A-to-Point-B type?

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May 10, 2007. memory, work. 6 comments.