Friday, June 13, 2008


I made my living for 17 years or so delivering America's stuff to America. I was a furniture mover for 8 years. I hauled huge valves, 2 to a flatbed, for the elaborate canal and pipe system out West that feeds water to the LA area. I have hauled food in cans, food in boxes, and once I screwed up and let the clowns in Tabor City, NC overload me with what turned out to be about 74,000 pounds of loose sweet potatoes. They were all laughing as I tried to pull the load off the dock. I made it back to Salisbury, MD but it took me 18 hours and some local help to miss the scales on the way.

I hauled containers to docks up and down the Atlantic seaboard. I spent some time hauling Rock n Roll bands. I delivered Burger King buns to New York City Burger Kings in the middle of the night. I hauled car dashboards from Maine to Detroit. Flat steel, rolled steel, and re-bar, all products I have delivered. For a short period I delivered nuclear power equipment for Westinghouse to many of the Nuke plants being finished up in the 1970s. I wound my way through the protesting madness in Seabrook, NH and was reviled and booed as many hippies looked at my long braid and saw one of their own being a turncoat.

Throughout this trucking career, I relied on maps and my own memory to find the places I needed to find. You all remember maps? Pieces of paper, either in big loose books or foldouts that describe America with a series of lines, numbers and words. Spiffy little icons like stars point out capitols and points of interest. The Interstate system boldly emblazoned with that all too familiar red and blue shield. Secondary roads, primary roads, and often goat paths proudly displayed.

My father was responsible for my love of maps. We always had the latest maps available. We had more than a few world Atlases and several globes kicking around. My dad insisted that I learn how to read them. I took to maps like a hippie to a fresh bag of doober during a Janis Joplin concert. I loved maps. I still do. In a brief case in the basement, I have my collection of city maps I collected during my rock n roll days. I was so good at finding halls, I jumped past other more senior drivers and became a lead driver well before I should have. I had a knack for getting things to where they should be with a minimum of fuss and worry. All because I could read maps.

Now I feel that this talent with maps is all for nothing. Like a ditch digger who knows his way around a shovel and comes to work one day and finds a backhoe there doing his job, I view the recent rise of GPS gadgets and gizmos as proof that I am indeed a dinosaur, an old school retro grouch.

Folks don't have to know where they are or know where they are going anymore. Just push a button. A screen lights up with current position identified and a voice kindly asks them where they would like to go. Planning a trip means no more pouring over paper maps days in advance. Just google the destination and a blow by blow down loads in minutes.

In my mind this latest twist in going places takes away some of the fun and adventure of taking a trip. Seems half my enjoyment of going anywhere was planning my approach and my retreat. I often fell asleep trying to determine the best way through, around, or into a place by deciphering lines on a piece of paper. I would wake up in the morning on top of sleep crumpled maps and cuss myself for damaging them.

Like the efforts to turn our society into a paperless society, there is a concerted effort to turn us into a mapless one. If the success of the paperless movement is any indicator, I should have no worries maps will disappear any time soon. We will always need paper maps as a back up. So Rand McNally have no fear. Your atlas is in no danger. There will always be fools like me who will never put all their trust in electronics and objects flying around in space to tell us where we are. We might check out Google's opinion and ooh and awe over that spiffy global positioniong (GPS) contraption in the car, but we will always finish by looking at one of your maps.

PS - This post is now an entry in Scribbit's June Write-Away Contest.


El Cerdo Ignatius said...

Dadgummit, Macrum, that's just about the sweetest post I've ever seen anyone write. I too love maps - I could look at them all day long - but most people don't seem to get this.

My five-year-old son does, though. He already collects maps, and isn't half bad at reading them, either.

In the deepest, darkest corner of my closet lies a hard-surface green suitcase, dating from the late 1960's and as long as I can remember sporting a broken handle, chock-full of maps I have collected over the last 30 years.

A Midnight Rider said...

I just received my Erie Canal maps for my ride this summer. Touring on a bike we don't have much of a choice.

GJG said...

For me growing up it was the maps one got with the National Geographic Magazine----now THEM were damn good maps. I suspect reading them (along with the magazine of course), made geography one of my better grades in school.----but reading your post now have a new worry----when the power goes out, half of us won't be able to get where we need to, and the other half won't know where they are?

Apertome said...

I love maps, too. I even have a GPS ... that thing has never worked very well. Granted, it's not a great one, but still. Give me a paper map any day. The GPS is good for telling me where I've been (when it works), but no good for telling me which way to go. I also have several different mapping programs, and I love them, but nothing beats a paper map.

I just wish I could get a more-portable gazetteer (like this, just smaller). The only way to carry that thing on my bike is to fold it over and strap it to the rack, and it's cumbersome.

Demeur said...

I used to have an old pda until the battery died. I'll never use one again. I used mapquest a couple of times to get to job sites until one day it gave out the wrong ending point. Give me a good old fashioned paper map any day.

Missy's Blog said...

Okay ... I admit ... I can not read a map. When traveling together, my husband gets soooo mad at me because I can't read a map. I consider myself a fairly smart gal, but a map reader I am not.

Mike got me a GPS for Christmas ... but really you still have to basically know where you are going to use it.

I hope it's okay ... I added your blog link to my favorite list of links.

Happy Weekend!

Dawn on MDI said...

I love maps. I don't think there is a room in my house that does not have maps in it. We have no fewer than FIVE Gazetteers - one for each truck, one for the kitchen, one for the living room and one for the bedroom (sitting up planning the next day's fishing adventure).

A GPS can be nice, I suppose, but equipment can fail. Batteries die, coffee gets spilled, shit happens. And then, if you don't know how to read a map, you're lost.

Great post!

Scribbit said...

Oh how my husband and boys love maps, they'll sit and look at the Alaska atlas for ages, planning trips and adventures. Maps are so full of possibilities.

Jen4 @ Amazing Trips said...

I came back on to your blog after visiting for the first time today >> to show my 3-year-old triplets the picture on your side bar of the man with the snakes coming out of his nose. We've spent the last 30 minutes looking at it.

Then, I saw this post about maps. We (quite spontaneously) decided today to drive from San Diego (an hour south of the pin point on your map in this post) to Illinois >> Toronto >> Boston >> Greenville (SC) and home again. We're leaving Saturday. Just me, my husband and four children under four. Tonight I was trying to convince my husband we'd be fine with the fancy GPS in our vehicle and he INSISTED that we have maps for every step of the way. So, that's a round-about way of saying I think this is a guy thing. Maybe if men could learn to rely on modern technology that tells them exactly where they are, they'd never get lost.

Oh, but I KID....!!!

(We're both geologists so we love maps. But I really love my GPS. Comparable even to my love of the USGS topo.)