Maps? We Don't Need No Stinking Maps!

November 29, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I am an incessant map reader.  Always have been.  Always will be.  Can't say for sure when I started this obsession with them but it was an early age.  On vacations, and we took one every year, I perused the map of where we were, where we were going, where we had been and memorized the towns we passed thru.  We always had maps with us on every trip.  I was delighted to sit in the front with dad and read the road signs for him.  Dad, mom and my brother all three wore glasses.  I had eagle eyes back then reading signs sometimes before dad knew there were signs ahead.  Having studied the details on the map, I could tell dad where we were and have far we had to go to our turn off. 


Maps are insanely informational, with distances between towns, intersections, even from state border to state border.  Some had charts where you can follow the bars and determine distance between towns easily without all the hassles of adding up the miles from town to town.  To me, maps are sacred, to be protected.  After all , they hold the keys to not getting lost, knowing where you were and what treasure are nearby waiting to be discovered!  By the time I was ready to start taking trips on my own I had accumulated my own maps; maps of regions around us, my resident state of Texas, neighboring states, even a map of Houston in case I had to venture into the depths of the canyons of tall buildings.


My girlfriend and her family were leaving on a vacation once.  I was in college and anticipating asking her to marry me.  Then it happened.  I was at her house as they were packing and laid eyes on a small bound tablet, a small flip chart that had maps.  A thing called a TripTik, all bound up and personalized with each page representing a portion of the route, highlighted and ready to guide you from point A to point B.  She was quick to notice me staring at it, grabbed it and explained it to me.  Here, the whole trip had been boiled down to a series of lines; one main line with smaller lines leading away from the main line, a millipede of sorts.  I was terrified!  Sure, the main route was highlighted but those arteries leading to and from the main road faded into oblivion.  What the heck was out there, beyond the edges of the narrow guide?  The edge of the Earth?  A vast swap? A desert?  How would you know with this thing in your hand?  Had my beautiful world of maps had been bastardized into just a way to get from one place to another?  It was as if the ends justified the trip, negating what was in the middle.  It's about knowing where you are, how close to another state, a crazy overlook, a wild and untamed river.  Maybe there is an obscure little archeological dig that needs my attention.  None of these things existed on the narrow bands of a TripTik.  This drastic corruption of my sacred maps had me wondering if this girlfriend was the one for me.  Was a vacation, or any trip for that matter, just getting from where you are to another point on the Earth?  How could you know what lies just mere miles from your dictated route without a fully functional map to draw you away from a canned route?  The beauty of a vacation or any trip was discovery.  My idea of a time away from the familiar to yet undiscovered places involved nothing set in stone but rather the freedom to venture from any preset path to nearby places with intriguing descriptions, names or both.  Anything on the map that was in red, sometimes blue, needed to be investigated  I could not imagine a life married to a person who used these trimmed down "maps" as a way to travel.  I was truly worried.  Everything about her had been perfection up until now.  To get on with the story, we did get married. I drew her away from the pre-canned, pre-planned vacation to the happy go lucky, roll the dice and see what happens trips, that my heart and spirit needs.  


Fast forward to the recent past and the digital world of maps and GPS.  GPS?  Just another form of TripTik disguised as something planted on your windshield or dash to get you safely from point A to Point B.  Nothing I really want to trust my vacation to.  I have a GPS, have one built into my iPhone, but I find them intrusive and while great for maneuvering thru an unknown city or town, virtually worthless for an exploratory vacation.  As stated earlier, I need to know what's around me, options for visiting other places and these do a terrible job.


The first time I saw Google Earth on my computer was a truly religious experience.  Here was the entire globe, our little planet, waiting for me to discover any place my imagination could take me.  I wasted no time and set about looking at routes we had taken in Tanzania including finding a line of wildebeest migrating across the Serengeti, trails leading to Nasera Rock in Loliondo, a path I had hiked in Big Bend National Park, roads in obscure places that intrigued me.  There is no end to the list of places I need to visit.  Maps will get me there but a GPS or TripTik is not going to work for me!


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