When You Know How to Read Maps

Miss Spider knows the way home.

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Words written in my novel so far: 55,529

GPSes that I own: 0

You can think I’m kooky. But I like maps. I like navigating by knowing which way is north and which way is south and figuring out by messing up a few times the best way to get to a new place.

Or asking a local where the best taco restaurant is and then trying to get there by remembering that the old guy with one tooth said to turn at the bent elm tree near the Smoky the Bear billboard. My kids call this old fashioned.

I call it self-preservation. I also call it fun.

When my friends and I first got our driver’s licenses, we used to drive around Atlanta. We didn’t drive around to get somewhere. We drove around. We found new routes, happened to see boys, followed them, lost them, saw restaurants, stopped to eat, made wrong turns, saw big mansions, ended up in dangerous areas, and found our way out again. We didn’t need no stinkin’ GPS.

My husband’s other wife is an English chick named Madge. She is the Voice of the GPS.

He always takes her side in any dispute, even though she has been proven slightly glaringly wrong on more than one occasion.

With his old GPS, we had a whole 30-minute section of interstate that Madge insisted was actually a large lake.

And with his new GPS, we have re-routed in rather major ways… once, for the better; once, I was pretty sure we were going to end up in someone’s basement in a Silence of the Lambs-style redux.

We head out on long trips, and my husband gets wonderfully excited. Like, the kind of excited where no caffeine is necessary.

Him: I want some coffee.

Me: We just left. Can’t it wait?

Him: Coffee.

It used to be that he would start similar rants each time we traveled about how Starbucks needed to build flagship stores along the interstate exits. Then, when they did, he ranted about how difficult it was to know where they were located. Then, when the GPS started telling him, he would lean over to Madge and start pressing buttons as I shrieked and said things like, “Braking, braking. Red lights. RED LIGHTS!”

And Starbucks would pop up in fifteen locations, most of which were about twenty miles off the highway.

Starbucks searches are the only time he gets testy with Madge. The rest of the time, his irritation is directed at me, like when the cars start backing up about 50 miles outside of Atlanta, and I pull out a Georgia map and start telling him a route we could take to get around the mess.

Him: We can check the GPS!

Me: But I have a map. And I can read it. There are little lines on here that tell me stuff.

Him: But Madge has the latest updates.

Me: You’re trying to tell me that they’ve built a few new interstates since… 2011, when this map was printed?

Him: [Sigh.] Look. Madge says to take a right.

Me: Into the swamp? Madge isn’t very smart. I vote on taking exit 87. We don’t have off-road tires.

And then there are the times when Madge has said there was a restaurant in a certain location, and when we arrive, there is an empty building. Or a pond. Or scary people.

I know: maps are so 1988.

But I’m glad I know how to read one, and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to drive around and mess up and find my way again. Sometimes life isn’t all neat and tidy, and it definitely doesn’t come with an instruction manual. My advice? Learn how to read a map, and pull out Madge for a laugh. Make a wrong turn and wait for her to say, “Reconfiguring… reconfiguring… reconfiguring.”


30 thoughts on “When You Know How to Read Maps

  1. joshmosey says:

    My father-in-law is the exact opposite way. He has a GPS, but he refuses to listen to it. “The GPS said to take a left,” we say. “I don’t think I’ll do that,” he says. That is frustrating in its own way. Well, good luck with the maps!

    • annewoodman says:

      Ha! That’s funny! I bet the GPS is befuddled. ; ) I’m sure it leaves you with lots of fun stories to tell.

  2. Bernie Brown says:

    I love maps, too. I can sit and look at them and feel just as entertained as if I were reading a novel. BUT, I just drove to Weymouth and back by myself. (Other readers, only Anne would know why that is a big deal.) and I thank my GPS. We haven’t named our voice, but whoever she is, she pronounces Falls of Neuse, which we all know is like Falls of Noose, as Falls of Noise-uh. Sort of French-y. It’s kinda cute as long as you know what she means.

    • annewoodman says:

      Awesome! Congrats on the solo drive, Bernie!

      And yes, it’s funny to hear what Madge calls things. She says RTP as R-Tie-P.

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    I use my GPS, but I still print out a map and have to have the route somewhat entrenched in my brain before I leave. I just don’t trust the GPS enough. So I guess I fall between you and your hubby in the directions timeline. 🙂

    • annewoodman says:

      Yes, I usually do things like that, too… kind of hedging my bets. ; ) The GPS is nice to have in a pinch.

  4. Would you please speak with my wife and my English girlfriend and explain this?

    I know that my seventh grade math class included a project relating to reading a road map. We planned a route of travel and calculated the distance and time to drive it. Was that unusual for a Jr. High class?

    Anyway it is a great skill to have.

    • annewoodman says:

      Dennis, I’m probably not the best marriage mediator when it comes to GPS topics. ; ) I hope that kids still pick up some map-reading skills… you never know when you’re going to need them.

  5. jmmcdowell says:

    I’ve done a lot of map reading in my day—both in the car and in the field. Archaeologists traditionally use USGS topographic maps for plotting our sites, although GPS is now much more common.

    My husband likes looking at the map on our GPS, but he still doesn’t like the spoken directions. He tends not to agree with the suggested routes. 🙂 Of course, the one-year-old tollway we use to get to work still isn’t in the system. So about 20 miles of driving appears to be off-road cross-country!

    • annewoodman says:

      It’s so funny to watch the video image of the car careening across fields and oceans! GPS navigation is great in some ways, but I like to be able to depend on myself, too.

  6. I LOVE my GPS, or SatNav as we call it (do you call it that there?) – this is because prior to getting one, I had a few occasions of getting completely lost, either on my own, or just me and the kids, and ending up almost in tears feeling so helpless and pathetic! Although, I must admit, I do sometimes have arguments with my GPS, when she tries to send me a route that I know is not the best route, I will sit there scowling at her and saying “No! Forget it! I’m not doing it!”. And there was one time where I had a long drive in the morning, and she knew I wanted to stop off for a latte and a croissant on the way, and she deliberately took me a route that completely avoided any kind of coffee shop or anything! What a cow! But mostly I love her.

    • annewoodman says:

      Your SatNav is keeping you from gaining weight now? Hmmm. Maybe I should rethink my stance on GPSes! ; ) A croissant sounds very yummy… I’m getting a little off course. Where’s a map when you need one?

  7. I, too, am unapologetically, Pro Map. There is an independent streak to Map People, I think.

    So I’ll find my own way to the unfamiliar destination or out of the traffic jam, thank you very much. My tattered road atlas and me are a heluva team.

    • annewoodman says:

      Yes, we are Independent People, we Map People. We have that pioneer spirit and don’t like to bow to authority. I like the way you think.

  8. Melissa says:

    Our old GPS would get really snarky and say “recalculating” like we had committed some major sin. Hubs has argued with me about how to get places locally because the GPS says this is quicker and I say a different way is quicker…cause you know, I’ve lived here my whole life and I know what the traffic is like…whatever. I’m good with maps of places that I can find my place on them. If I can’t figure out where I am, I get cranky. The boys think maps “look cool” but probably couldn’t find their way out of a paper bag with one.

    • annewoodman says:

      I think I would trust you over any old GPS in your hometown. ; ) Ours is very fond of “recalculating” because I often like to take a different route.

  9. thepoelog says:

    I prefer maps. Put me in the Map People category.

  10. 4amWriter says:

    While I like the GPS for general getting-around, it is IMPOSSIBLE to use in Boston. By the time our hostess (whose name is not Madge, but Pearl) figures out which direction we need to take, we have already passed it. And then forget about it — you are hopelessly lost.

    • annewoodman says:

      Can’t even imagine using a GPS in Boston. I would prefer to have a very knowledgeable driver. Who is not a member of my family. ; )

  11. I’m with you. I don’t even own a GPS and I think my husband prides himself on knowing where everything is without one. I loved your description!

    • annewoodman says:

      Thanks, Carol. I didn’t realize so many other people were pro-map. It’s nice to know that GPSes haven’t completely taken over the world.

  12. I have only used GPS once – as I don’t have a car. I borrowed my dad’s to go see a friend who’d just had a baby. I was going to print out a map, but my dad said use the GPS. Well, Madge tried to make me drive into the middle of a field where there was a very small shed. I was certain that was not where my friend had decided to set up with her brand new fresh baby. So, I am a map girl – though I confess, I am terrible at reading them: getting lost quite a bit in Wales has confirmed this.

    • annewoodman says:

      Perhaps Wales is the exception to the rule. ; ) I actually love reading maps in England… everything seems to be so logical, and there are town names on all the signs. The funny part is when every road is down an unmarked hedgerow, and my husband’s parents know exactly where to go anyway… I feel like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.

  13. Ravena Guron says:

    I can’t read maps AT ALL. Mainly because I have no sense of direction. But I don’t trust the GPS either, so this results in me being taken places by other people 😀 I remember when my family and I went on holiday to Florida (the first time I had been further than England and France.) America was a FOREIGN country in every way… and it was SO BIG! Living in London, my experience of travelling is going into Central London, where it’s impossible to get lost… all you need to do is find the next tube station and you’re fine. But we were trying to get to a “Wendy’s” because I’d never heard of it and I wanted to see what eating at Wendy’s was like, and the GPS told us to take an illegal U turn on a busy motorway. Naturally, I sat in the back and cowered, like the helpful person I am 🙂 I have no idea how we got out of that.

    • annewoodman says:

      Ha! That’s funny! Especially that Wendy’s was exotic. ; ) My husband grew up in England, and he remembers the first fast food he had… KFC. He was so excited.

      Florida is a fun place to visit as a tourist. We had many good vacations there when I was a kid. I hope you had a good time!

  14. They can be wonderful – those GPS thingies – I’ve seen it work a treat … but give me a map any day! Where’s the fun in being led around by the nose – er … ears?

    • annewoodman says:

      Exactly! So much more fun to figure it out yourself!

      • Having agreed on that, I must say Kate Shrewsday swears by the GPS in her car – she says having it enables her to take afternoon jaunts all over the countryside that she otherwise wouldn’t attempt for fear of not taking the most direct route and taking too long. And, I think, driving in city traffic, where you don’t know the way, it must be a brilliant tool!

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