Where would we be without maps?

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 4/26/19

Where would we be without maps?

The obvious answer is: we wouldn’t have a clue.

A long road trip — over my wife’s spring break from teaching last week, we traveled from home to …

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Where would we be without maps?

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Where would we be without maps?

The obvious answer is: we wouldn’t have a clue.

A long road trip — over my wife’s spring break from teaching last week, we traveled from home to Massachusetts, visiting a number of places in between — proved to be a lesson in maps.

I haven’t checked this, but I’m reasonably certain somewhere in the glove compartment of my car there’s a map of North Carolina, though it’s been so long since I’ve consulted a paper map I couldn’t say which North Carolina governor is pictured on the document. Maybe James Holshouser.

But paper or not, I rely, as we all do, on maps and I did so especially on our recent travels.

Before we left, the first thing we did was enter the address of our destination into the navigation app on our phone. That was simple to do and Siri handily guided us on a path toward Washington, D.C.

I’m fairly familiar with our nation’s capital, so we didn’t do any map consulting while we were there, though our visit to Arlington National Cemetery was greatly enriched by the fold-out map we acquired at the visitor’s center of the cemetery’s massive grounds.

The next day, we pointed our sedan towards Philadelphia, arriving there, again smoothly, courtesy of Siri, where we visited Independence Hall, the historic setting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the creation of U.S. Constitution.

Without Siri’s guidance, the maze of unfamiliar streets (many of them potentially confusing one-way routes) in downtown Philadelphia would have been virtually unnavigable to us, neither of us having spent any time in that big city.

We stayed in a downtown hotel approximately one mile from Independence Hall. To get there, on foot, we consulted the hotel concierge for directions. She presented from a drawer in her desk a printed map of downtown Philly and circled our destination on it, explaining with a line from her pen the best route for us to walk.

Using this map, we found Independence Hall, where we greatly enjoyed an exhibit on, of all things, cartography. There were a lot of interesting artifacts on display about the subject of mapping, including an engraving by William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) of the duo’s expedition route from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean.

I particularly enjoyed viewing another old map — it was labeled a “compleat map of the West Indies” by Samuel Dunn, mathematician — that looked pretty accurate to my modern eyes, though Florida appeared much stubbier than the state we now recognize as Florida. That Mr. Dunn, without aid of an aerial view, managed to make Florida look anything like Florida at all is mind-blowing, so I don’t fault the mapmaker for a few imperfections.

A short walk from Independence Hall, we visited a museum dedicated to Benjamin Franklin. Among his considerable contributions to our American way of life, Franklin — who had no Siri on which to lean — was a pioneer of the U.S. mail service, himself traveling mail routes and marking them with coded stones. By 1803, I learned, mail carriers traveled more than 3.5 million miles annually.

Siri next guided us step-by-step to Hartford, Conn., where we visited the home of Mark Twain, and from there, after finding our way via a map to another hotel for the night, we left for Pittsfield, Mass. to visit the home of Herman Melville, author of “Moby Dick” and himself a world traveler and, presumably, follower of maps.

That completed the northernmost stop on our whirlwind tour and from Pittsfield (named, as is our Pittsboro, after British nobleman and politician William Pitt) we turned again towards the south for the long drive home.

Our navigation app guided us effortlessly through the busy highways of New York and New Jersey, telling us which lanes to take, which sides of forks in the road to favor, which exits we needed.

Our trip, loaded with visits of historical interest, relied not only on Siri, but on the work of all those many mapmakers from the past, who did so much meticulous and difficult work so that today motorists like me can travel without much worry at all.

I griped a few times when the traffic was heavy, or when a wreck increased our travel time (all of these obstacles, somehow, communicated to us by Siri), but whenever I felt myself getting frustrated by these 21st century concerns, I paused to remember how contemporary travel is worlds easier now than ever before.

Without the essential help of maps, we might have ended up on the west coast while meaning to head north, or who knows where.

Eventually, maps guided us back to familiar turf. And while not specifically mentioned on our map, we were tired and relieved when we pulled our car back into our driveway. It may not be designated as such on any map, but there’s still no place like home.


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