China Jubilee

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Maps & Directions January 19, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — missjubilee @ 11:47 am

Originally written August 26, 2013 and titled “Directions,” I came across this set of recollections and a poem on my laptop tonight.  It’s unedited and unfinished, but I enjoyed sharing it at the completion of Writer’s Club that night and so I decided to share it here as well.

How did you learn your way around your hometown? Did you build a map in your head as you rode in the back seat of your parents’ car growing up? Did you learn it by road names and intersections, or by bus routes, or bike lanes? Is everything cataloged in relation to friends’ houses? Or is it organized in circles centered on school and rec center, library and church, Dad’s work and Chuck E. Cheese’s?

Do you know it by heart, or by head? In what may be a totally different question, can you give clear directions to someone from out of town? Or do you still find yourself unsure of the exit number from the highway, the number of stop lights before your road, the order of the intersections between the high school and the mall? If you were lost, would you keep going knowing that you would eventually hit a road that you know, turn down it, and find an intersection or landmark that would reorient you on your mental map? Or is “lost” a foreign concept, coming from a small Midwestern community with checkerboard roads in town and numbered routes beyond it, in which it takes a great deal of skill to actually lose your way?

I come from a sprawl of a city that is home to over a million yet didn’t have any buildings over 10 stories besides the hotels along the ocean until a one-block “downtown” was manufactured a decade ago (the building of new condos there actually reaches 20 stories high but is much too far inland to have an ocean view). Growing up in a neighborhood with a map that approximates Mr. Peanut – not quite oval and criss-crossed with intersections – I first realized that the linear map in my head didn’t match the squiggly world I lived in in fourth grade. You’d think a fourth grade girl scout could draw a map of the neighborhood in which she’s lived almost constantly since she was two years old, wouldn’t you? I knew all the road names, I could find friends’ houses, and I’d even heard my parents describe our house as “just before you the road curves,” but the fact that Morgan Trail met my street TWICE as it curved through the neighborhood made my brain flash “Tilt! Tilt!” until I went home, opened the mapbook (yes we are a city with a mapbook, more on those later), and for the first time in my life considered that streets are not the straight lines I’d always seen them as.

This problem persisted growing up. I couldn’t draw a map of the three main roads in our area for a friend because they all met and I couldn’t force myself to draw a triangle when I was so sure all intersections were 90 degrees and all roads straight. My introduction to the world of Super Mario Brothers in the late 80’s introduced me to the concept of a “Warp Zone.” I quickly dubbed the street near my dad’s office as a Warp Zone, which relieved the stress in my brain but didn’t really provide clarity. I couldn’t figure out how it could turn off the main road right after an overpass, obviously thus becoming parallel to the highway, and end up somewhere nowhere near the highway – in fact, even thinking about it now, I’m not sure why once you go down that road you have to take three right turns, each separated by over a mile, to get back to a road that intersects the interstate.

The interstate itself confused the heck out of me when I started driving, forcing me to take my younger brother along as a navigator. Did I get on the ramp marked “Suffolk” or “Hampton”? Route 64 East, like a snake in that old TI calculator game, curves south and then back the way it came to avoid hitting the water, so there are no handy cardinal directions labeling it where I live. What was “East” is by then actually South and about to become West before morphing briefly into 664 and meeting back up with 64 in its previous life as a regular East-West roadway. I never understood though why the signs didn’t say “Chesapeake” and “Norfolk,” which were the actual cities next door and the only ones I ever drove to – Suffolk and Hampton didn’t have a place on my mental map till I was at least 20. About my only pleasant memory of the cloverleaf from that teenage era is of taking two ramps in a row to turn around when we realized we’d forgotten something on the way to youth group, and thinking how clever we were for thinking of that solution.

Ah, youth group, which was located in another warp zone and also a different school zone, which means my social life and my school life were to a large extent separate during high school, simply because I lived on the wrong side of Indian River Road. Still, there were fun times in the ol’ car after Bible Club, being as I was one of the few who drove to school and while I was allowed to take the technical capacity of the car – 6 people – I wasn’t allowed to have more than one passenger in the front seat with me. Fitting four growing teens in the back so we wouldn’t have to make two trips was good for laughs every time, and there would always be someone around to direct me.

One friend lived on a quiet road that couldn’t really be called a shortcut since, although it cut off a corner of the main roads, it was windy and had a speed limit of 25 rather than 45mph. Routes like those were the kind I could learn – defined by relationship, practiced when I was a new driver nervous at high speeds, and still as an adult more calming and comforting than the main roads if I have time for a more leisurely trip home. …

Ode to the mapbook
To a reader
who loves books,
and a logician
who can’t pass up a puzzle,
map books are
cake with frosting;
yarn and pattern, perfectly matched;
independence and intelligence
and something that says a place has arrived.

On my bottom shelf,
trace back through my history in the stack,
with folded maps (extra origami puzzles!)
stuffed in the leaves:

Baltimore (and outlying suburbia),
first job,
first apartment,
first independence,
first loss.
Finding new friends’ homes
and the theater for special Lord of the Rings showings
and the students’ soccer games
along beautiful fall roads
and the unemployment office
in bleak January
and Uhaul.

Triple A maps show the route home and back,
and home again;
visits to the Smithsonian,
and Uncle Don’s an hour away.

Los Angeles
(just my part of it,
it can’t all fit in one book,
even a huge one like this),
beautiful and terrifying,
so many roads and hills winding,
so many high speed merges,
so many stars, parallel parked,
and so few left-turn lanes.

Plus the trip-tick, again Triple A,
for the cross-country journey,
southern route there,
central route back,
a jewel in time with my father,
talking and listening,
marveling at nature,
and realizing I WOULD miss
Indiana’s waving green fields of corn
as we stopped by one
to refill the radiator. Again.

Hampton Roads,
the seven cities of my youth,
first driver’s license,
with my brother as a navigator
because reading directions while driving
is a recipe for an accident.
(Ask me how I know.)

Even now when I return
I open the map book,
and it takes me back
even as it takes me forward.
As a child, learning to follow the pages.
As a teen, learning which roads are important to me.
As an adult, finding my way,
finding my way,
day by day and drive by drive.

It seems that all of life
should be mapped out in a book:
“Follow this route east,
Take that exit B,
Turn left at the light,
And continue to page 176.”


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