Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Map Is Not the Territory

Yesterday I took my new bike (yep, crap!bike finally died on me) out for what I thought would be a quick trip to Target, followed by a journey to yon distant Starbucks two and a half miles away, instead of my normal Starbucks that's only a ten minute trip. Because that's how one gets one's "kicks" here in suburban Maryland. But instead of a pleasant four mile or so round trip, it turned into a 10+ mile death ride ending with me staring down a four-lane highway, weak from hunger, pursued by demons. All because I can't read maps.

It started out as just wanting to extend the ride a little, because after leaving Target I wasn't quite ready to settle down for an afternoon of bloggin' and zinin'. So I decided to explore the residential area between Target and Starbucks. What could possibly go wrong? Unlike Pittsburgh, which based its street pattern on the Parisian catacombs, the roads in Maryland are usually quite straight and make more rational sense.

But "more rational" doesn't equal "can always find your way around, anywhere, anytime." Added to that, there's a trend here toward apartment and housing complexes based on brownstone styles, which can make the streets look really same-y. After about five minutes, I was lost. Ten minutes after that, I realized I was lost, and pulled out my smartphone.

The smartphone is one of those inventions that you don't know you need until you get one, at which point it seems impossible that you've ever lived your life without one. Like an mp3 player, or heroin. Sometimes I regret getting one because of how much it's tethered itself to me, but I would have had to get one eventually anyway. It's quite useful in situations like this, that is, unless your ability to read maps is severely compromised by a rare fake disorder I am going to tentatively call "dysgeographica," or the much more fun to say "dysmappia." Otherwise known as the inability to read a goddamn map.

You're no help.
I consulted Googlemaps and found that I only had to go back to the main road. So I did! And went the wrong way, which I didn't notice until I was approximately four miles farther away. Re-consult Googlemaps. Find that there's a side road that is safe to ride on (I always prefer to ride on the road instead of the sidewalk) that hooks up with the main road that will get me home. Alright! Go the wrong way again, approximately five miles away now. Third opinion! You... can fill in the gaps from here. Somehow I wound up getting seven or eight miles from home, staring down that aforementioned highway. And I couldn't even get home under my own steam, because I'd only eaten a single bowl of Coco Wheats for breakfast, believing that I'd get calories at Starbucks and that I'd only have to ride four miles that day. Luckily, my long-suffering husband Rob drove to my give-up point and picked me up, which let's face it, is a massive humiliation. Especially as he has the directional sense of a homing pigeon and can't understand how I could consult my smartphone not just once, but over six separate times, and still get lost.

But my ability to get lost is both legendary and pervasive. I even got lost in my old neighborhood in Pittsburgh, and as humiliating as having to get picked up after a failed bike excursion is, it pales in comparison to being forced to call your husband to figure out how to get home when you're less than a mile away. Usually it takes me at least two years of living in a place before I figure out how to not get lost so much, but there's no guarantee that I won't ever get lost. I also have a much harder time in suburbia and small towns vs. big cities, I think because what little navigation I can manage is all based on landmarks, and there's more landmarks in a city.

When it comes to maps, though, I don't even fucking know, man. To me, a map makes as much sense as one of those fake equations that take up an entire chalkboard in movies when you want to show that the protagonist is some kind of crazy genius. On a map, everything is the Parisian catacombs. And because it's easy, both on a bike and on foot, to kind of zone out and not pay a lot of attention to where you're going, it's easy to take a few wrong turns and wind up next to the pile of skulls with a rat coming out of every eyehole. Metaphorically speaking. I will say that the ride itself, though longer than expected and without the intended outcome, was quite enjoyable up to the last half hour or so.

And I really don't know how I'm going to deal with driving when I don't have a co-pilot/navigator, because there's nothing that looks quite as same-y as highways. Guess I'll have to make sure my smartphone (whatever good THAT does) is always charged and accept that I'll probably waste a lot of gas and time.

3 comments:

  1. No Google directions that tell you where to turn left or right? I ask cos I haven't played with the Google Maps function on my Ipod just yet.

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  2. Yes, but that didn't seem to help. Actually, I think the no-food thing was messing with my head more than a bit. Yesterday was ridiculous even for me.

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  3. Dysmappia is not a rare fake disorder. It may be rare, but not fake. I also suffer from this condition and gave it the same name. If you google “dysmappia”, you will find many descriptions of this condition by sufferers who amazingly all came up with the same name for it!

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