I’d been driving for hours. The sun was a shining disc in my rear view mirror sinking in a blaze of neon tangerine and blood red. The road ahead of me was ribbon of badly patched asphalt that dwindled in the distance, disappearing into a shaggy pine forest. A mountainous pile of thunderheads towered above the trees. Lightning forked and flickered across the pewter surface of the clouds.
I was flying down the road well over the speed limit, singing at the top of my lungs along with Dolores O’Riordan and The Cranberries in my best Irish accent. “…in your HEHed in your heEEehed zahAHMbee zahAHMbee zahAHMbeh eh eh eh…”
I had only the vaguest notion where I was – somewhere on a Louisiana back road quickly approaching the other side of nowhere. It had been at least a half an hour since I’d passed a gas station, a habitable dwelling or another car. I had, however, seen 3 deer, a red-tailed hawk, a column of vultures, and an unidentified reddish blur that might have been a fox or a feral cat. I had passed an old barn crumbling under a cloak of ivy, a battered and rusted 50s model pick up sinking in a field of wildflowers, and a hand-painted sign nailed to a tree that said simply, REPENT.
I was lost, and it was fun. After 300 miles of mind-numbing monotony of the interstate, I had purposely left it in favor of the path less traveled. I probably should have topped off my tank first, but where’s the adventure without a little risk? As soon as I decided to pull off the road and consult my map, I would know where I was and the spell would be broken. Sadly, when the needle dipped below a quarter of a tank and I still hadn’t found a gas station, I did pull over and get out the map which showed me a relatively simple route back to the interstate where it is dismally impossible to get lost. An hour later I was back on I-10 with a fresh up of coffee trying not to let the blinding boredom lull me into a coma.
My little detour was possible only because I owned a road map and I knew how to read it, something I’m afraid my children will never be able to do. It’s hard to get lost these days when every other person drives a car with sat nav or carries a phone with GPS. Personally, I don’t want my phone giving me directions. It’s a phone. I like it to behave like one. And I like to tell my car where to go, not vice versa.
And I love maps – the kind made of paper not pixels. Sure, I’ll admit to using Google maps to get directions but then I print the actual map to go with it. I like to see where I’m going. I like the big picture. And you can’t get much bigger than Google Earth, right? Yep,that’s pretty darned cool, too. But it can’t replace an actual globe – a model of our planet you can actually hold. I like that so much, I collect the silly things.
And yes, I still have a pile of state road maps in the glove compartment of my car, because that’s what’s supposed to be in the glove compartment (along with a tire gauge, a mini Mag Lite, a pack of petrified chewing gum, and at least one dried up ball point pen). I carry my maps with me in the car, because they don’t need to be recharged, and they don’t need to get good reception to work. They just kind of lie there and display information to anyone who wants to unfold it. It works every time. No dead zones or wimpy batteries. Because I only like to get lost when I set out to get lost. And only when I have the means to find my way again.
So I think some technology, as cool as it is, just makes us less capable and more vulnerable. What do you think? Are you a map or a sat nav person? Do you still own a globe or atlas because you think they’re art even when they’re out of date? Do you own a compass and know how to use it? Are our children learning to be helpless without their gadgets?
And most important, who do you sing along with in the car?