Savannah Morning News
May 1, 2016
Maps were good in their day. Yes, they were hard to fold back once we opened them up. Yes, the print seemed to be larger back then. Yes, there were fewer highways to navigate. Still, they had a beauty. They were tactile. The markings on them spoke of earlier trips, earlier times. They were particular and specific. They left room for choices. Somehow we got where we needed to go. They had heft, not unlike a landline. I watch a 4-year-old pick up the receiver of an ancient pink princess telephone we keep around the house. She’s curious about it. “Dial,” I tell her, “Dial.” There’s another ancient word. Then she goes to the typewriter. A manual. “Type,” I tell her. She jams the keys and that’s okay. The house is a museum. So are those verbs. Maybe we are too.
I couldn’t use a dial phone anymore. It takes too long for the middle thingey with the holes and the numbers to return to its resting spot. I couldn’t use a typewriter, either. What? No cut and paste?
I guess people – we – had more time back then. Somehow we survived. Fewer choices. No texting, no Facebook messaging, no emailing, no answer machines. You dialed a number – there’s that word again – to reach a friend. When no one answered you tried again. Ever try to make a date with someone today? Don’t ask.
Maps are anachronistic. Now we have someone else doing the thinking, the navigating. It’s all figured out for us on our mobile devices. In 50 feet you’ll turn here, turn there. Blah blah blah. Our anger is anachronistic, too. Get over it, a 30-year-old tells me when I bring her in to “upgrade’ my computer so my new “upgraded” phone will work. Really? This is what I have to be doing when I could be outside picking mulberries? They’re only around a few weeks, I tell her, and then they’re gone. She’s not listening. You haven’t upgraded your computer! she barks. I feel like an idiot. When she finishes “upgrading” (she has to take it home with her – it takes that long) and I get it back I see all my memorized moves, the tracks of my well-worn muscle memory, are changed. Now, instead of “send” I push “delete.” We’ve replaced words with cute little symbols that make no sense to me. The calendar on my phone doesn’t work. I think I’ll have to go back to a paper version. But I can’t. I’m too dependent on having my calendar with me all the time.
I’m stubborn. Somehow I manage to get to Nashville with my folded map. I’m visiting an old friend. Fortified by seven FM Christian radio stations and nine AM Christian stations I spot my usual landmark to her East Nashville house. It’s a large sign painted in white bock letters on a red brick building that reads NASHVILLE TO JESUS. But the words of the 30-year-old ring in my ear. Since I’m early I decide to take a walk on the wild side and use my GPS navigator function to find Parnassus Books, Ann Patchett’s new store. If this first-class writer had the guts to open an independent bookstore when everyone else is lamenting the demise of independent bookstores, then I can find the darn place. Patchett compares her venture to walking over to a roulette table and betting all you have on a single number. All I’m doing is spending an afternoon in Nashville waiting for my friend to get home.
No problem crossing the wiggly Cumberland River. No problem finding Vanderbilt University. No problem asking someone, “Say, am I anywhere near Hillsboro Road?” because by that time my navigational device was not working. Too much interference.
“Sure,” a driver next to me said. “Twenty-first turns into Hillsboro. Just go straight ahead.”
Except it didn’t. It wasn’t. He meant well. But he meant Twenty-first avenue not street. (Or was it the other way around?) He meant Twenty-first south, not north. (I think). With nearly 100 people moving to Nashville every day and no public transportation to speak of, traffic is crazy and people use outdated landmarks for directions.
Dozens of U-turns later (most of them interrupted by Vanderbilt’s sprawling campus) I find a street named 21st and I turn – avenue or street, it didn’t matter. I was channeling Yogi Berra when he said, “When you come to a fork in the road take it.” I was on a nice tour of Nashville. I cruise past an impressive statue of W.E.B. Du Bois at the historically black Fisk University. Then the school of dentistry at Meharry Medical College. Then an elementary school with a line of students crossing the street. I’m starting to hit the wall.
That’s when I park the car, walk up to an older gent helping direct traffic and plead my case. “Oh my,” he says, shaking his head, pointing his finger. “You are here and you need to be there, way over there.” He tries to give me directions on the interstate. By then I’ve had it. No! Back roads only, please. “Wait one minute,” he says, “I’ll take you. I’m going that way myself. Sort of.”
So he does. I get in my car, he gets in his, and I follow him to my destination. No GPS. No Google maps. No navigational ap. A human being. A typewriter. A telephone receiver. I’m home.