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?

May 10, 2007. memory, work.


  1. elise replied:

    OH, we just have to have the rand mcnally road atlas!! Its good for the kids to learn to read a map. They love to follow exactly where we are and its nice to be able to say “are we there yet” back to them once in awhile! I hate the map programs on the computer and have to tell people not to use them when coming to visit me because they tend to take the shortest route to my house which is not usually the best route and sometimes they end up in private communities that have a gate at one entrance – meaning they are able to enter on one end, drive all the way through to a gate and then have to turn around and back track only to call me to ask where they are….”I’m by a tree and a deer and a wild turkey just ran acrossed the road, how do I get to your house?”

  2. Jennifer replied:

    I love maps, too. The summer that I was 14, when my family moved from a small town to the suburb of a large one & I had no friends — I spent that summer in my room curled up with an atlas and I planned all the places I would go. I even made up stories about what would happen when I travelled, how I’d meet the man I would marry (I was 14!), etc. etc.

    Even now I will sit with a topographic map of Oregon and look for cool features, like collapsed lava tubes, and then drive out there with the kids. Or at least PLAN to drive out there : )

    For Central Oregon, the topographic, high-resolution maps are best, like the kind sold to mountaineers. Because you never know when you’re going to have to ditch your car and walk through the forest/desert.

  3. Comfort Addict replied:

    Like you, LM, I like the Rand McNally. I have lots of nostalgia for it because it was my companion when I was on the road with the Glenn Miller band. It grounded me on a rolling bus. What more could you want?

  4. Library Lady replied:

    I loved the paper TripTiks when I was a kid. And somewhere we still have them from an early trip to upstate New York with the kids. It had some useful notes on it, if only I could find them!
    It happens I’m planning a road trip right now for next month. I’m using Triple A’s on-line Trip Tik, though we keep lots of regular maps in the car as well though.

    The technology still has its bugs–a good reason for keeping the paper maps! I was trying to get Mapquest to print out directions from my library to a park where I do a summer program. There are 3 different routes, and no matter how I modified them, it just wouldn’t set up the simplest way–kept adding extra stuff. I’ll have to try Google Maps–even AAA gave me problems.

  5. Library Lady replied:

    Sorry, forgot to add my favorite trip was a jaunt from Albany to Montreal during college. Three girls and one guy (our very platonic friend!) jammed into a tiny Fiat and driving through the Adirondacks in winter. The only map we had was a Montreal map I xeroxed in the school library, but I was (and still am) a very good navigator. The only time we got lost was in the snow in the park on Mont Royal–and we didn’t have a map there!
    Oh, and I work in a very touristy part of a tourist town and people often stop in for directions. And usually people point them to me–I really do know how to get from “heah” to “theah”!

  6. Anjali replied:

    I could spend hours looking at any sort of maps, but my dream in life has always been to buy myself one of those regal-looking globes to put in an office. The kind that show countries in different colors and texturize the mountain ranges. Hmmmm. Maybe for my birthday?

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