Books are written extolling the beauty and virtues of the quaint highways and byways of America. There are tourist guides, coming of age road trips, nostalgic returns to the ancestral home, girl trips, guy trips, and soul searching individual wanderings. After riding along in the pages of such tales, one is left with the urge to throw a few necessities in a duffel, fill up the tank, grab the cell phone charger, and hit the road.
Not all significant car travel takes place in rural America. One must also navigate the roadways to and from work, school, the grocery store and on the odd errand. Likely these journeys will never be the subject of any touching story destined to be made into the next trending movie on Netflix. But, they can be just as personally important (after all most people spend an awful lot of time alone in a car) as the road trip you took with the kids the year you hit eight states in ten days on Spring Break.
Traveling around a small hometown can be the subject of much discussion. “Why are you turning here? It would be quicker to go to the next block.” “I don’t know, I just do.” “If you go to the next block, you won’t hit as many lights.” Like there are that many lights to slow traffic flow in a small town.
Traveling in a city is another matter. There are multiple one way streets. Seemingly every other street is going the opposite way you want to go necessitating the need to circle the block to point in the right direction. There are turn only lanes, and they mean it. There are streets meeting up at other than 90 degree angles, with turn only lanes. Multiple lanes merge into less than multiples with you always in the lane that ends. And so forth.
The gods of transportation have solved all these issues for us. They invented the Interstate Highway System and tied it into the city street systems to by-pass many of the pesky problems of reaching a destination you have anxiously waited and planned for for months.
Then along came GPS to make the system even more efficient. Just type in your destination and you will be rewarded with the best, fastest route to wherever you want. Somebody brilliantly programmed the whole world into a little package that just magically instructs the bearer through every imaginable twist, turn, exit ramp, and one way street on the way to your activity.
A fool proof system.
And it takes all the fun out of driving around a city.
I understand you can choose a voice you like to be your guide. Too much for me. I don’t really mind the voice that is the default lady. She is calm, patient, and very professional. She politely provides a countdown in miles, half miles, quarter miles, and feet to keep you on your toes and ready to execute each turn of navigation.
The problem is, I don’t think other cars on the highway are listening. If they are, they are not cooperating, resulting in my entry into the city road system being in the wrong lane quickly approaching a lane merging situation in heavy traffic.
Besides all that, Interstate Highways and exit ramps are not really very quaint and charming. “What a lovely exit ramp at mile marker 48,” has been said by no one, ever.
But, GPS route planners are committed to using the Interstate Highway System as a major component of urban travel. It takes all the fun out of driving around town. When was the last, or first time even, you and a friend enjoyed sharing a story about the sites along the route as you navigated the on and off ramps on the way to a baseball park? I wager you were frantically asking if that exit was your exit as you whiz by it with an 18 wheeler on your tail.
I just don’t play the game. Sure, it may take me a few minutes longer to get from here to there if I use the city streets. But, I get a kick out of pacing my speed to miss all the red lights on a long street. I look for quirky markers at my turns; the vintage sign on a restaurant or a small park or a railroad crossing. They are like old friends, always there. It makes me feel like a local, not a passerby. I imagine living on one of the side streets and walking to the grocery or a bookstore.
I will agree, there are some totally iconic views of a city skyline when approaching along a highway. The Batman building in a city to the south of us, for example. You really don’t get the same effect from the two lane road wandering somewhere over there. But, once you have seen the pointy hat, get off! Check out the great little coffee shop you know will be there and soak in the feel of the place.
It won’t take that long and you will remember the day.
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