Well, the holidays are over. The next event on the horizon is spring. And that means one thing. Planning our first vacation. Other than fishing, I have relegated all planning of anything outside of that realm to my wife. Though continually berating me that I don’t shoulder at least part of this responsibility, I remind her that deep down she loves the task, and is in total denial when she says otherwise. Because my wife has a terrible fear of flying, she plans all of our vacation via the open road. And we are not alone.
One or more times a year, whether by choice or not, families all over this nation begin a forced march, enduring weather, hardship, ridicule, short tempers, ill-manners, divorce, nervous breakdowns, and occasionally worse. Then after suffering through all these tortures they continue to call it “a vacation.” Our family is no exception. But I have discovered why vacations can be such misery. Somewhere back in time someone decided one could not go on a vacation without a road map. Though I do not agree with this theory, I can accept it. For that reason the next best alternative would be to help my fellow-man recognize the hidden faults of a road map, and how to deal with those faults.
To understand today’s typical road map, we must look back to the first vacation and how the road map evolved. The first vacation was pictorially recorded on the wall of a cave. Because the author didn’t leave his signature, we’ll name him Grob, seeing how he probably wasn’t cultured enough to be called Charles or Hubert. Having a family of five, Grob grew tired of falling into the same ritual day in and day out; rise with the sun, go out and hunt animals, wildly run when they hunted him, then come home and listen to the kids scream and fight while he attempted watching a game show of “Guess What The Shadow Looks Like” on the nearest wall of the cave. And in a cave the sound vibrating off the rock walls literally amplified the problem. So Grob decided to take the family on an outing, which was the first prehistoric vacation. To do this he found a suitably flat rock to scratch two X’s on; one being point A, where they lived, and point B, their destination. Because of the obvious topographical errors, the trip quickly fell into chaos. Not only did his family complain that the trip had strayed off the map’s course, they believed they had strayed totally off the rock the map was scratched on. Then to compound the problem Grob made his second mistake. He let his wife carry the rock the map was scratched on. Now she was giving the directions. Now if this is at all beginning to sound familiar, you can understand why today’s vacation was doomed from the beginning.
Grob’s wife continued to complain. Not only because he was not following her directions, forgetting to make a right at the last tar pit, but also because the scratchings on the rock were difficult to read. It was then that Grob got an idea. He decided to copy the map from the rock onto tree bark. On bark the map was far more legible. But still his wife complained. It seems Grob didn’t think of removing the bark from the tree. Of course, neither did his wife. She was complaining because her and the kids were detached to carry the end of the tree with the roots still attached.
Three sprained backs, two hernias, and a fractured foot later a revelations came to Grob. While the wife and four kids were complaining of their aches and pains, the tree slipped from Grob’s grasp, leaving the bark still in his hands, and the tree crashing down on Grob’s foot. While hopping around on one foot screeching and grunting, the nearest sounds to today’s more colorful vocabulary, Grob realized he was still holding the map minus the tree. That day Grob took a giant step toward today’s road map; almost as large a step as his kids did in learning a whole new vocabulary of screeches and grunts.
What ever happened to Grob is lost in time. But my guess is he probably ended his own life. Unlike modern man, he had no other vacationers to compare what was normal and what wasn’t. So rather than face another vacation with the family he threw himself into the nearest volcano.
The road map has come a long way since then. Besides showing the easiest route from point A to point B, it also attempts to show the traveler every lake, creek, river, airport, county, state, and national park. Now this all sounds very helpful, but there are hidden problems that may at least equal Grob’s tree map. The first is how a map is folded. Grob found the easiest way to store his map made of bark was to simply roll it up. Obviously, that was far too simple. Some degenerate with a twisted sense of humor decided to take his frustrations out on the rest of the world by creating a folded map that would rival, if not surpass, the complexities of a Rubic’s Cube. Only once have I succeeded in folding a road map to its original form. But by then I discovered that not only had our vacation ended, but that my wife had given birth to our third child. I was totally shocked. Not one member of the family seemed the least bit impressed that I had successfully refolded the map. Nevertheless, so as not to miss out on any major events, not to mention alienation from the family, I first suggest abandoning any attempts at refolding a map to its original form. Simply fold it the easiest way possible, totally ignoring its original creases. Or, if that takes too long, do as I do, thrust it in the glove compartment, and continue thrusting until all corners are inside.
Another problem with today’s road map is the laying out of the roads. Though the designer went to great lengths to perfectly follow coast and state lines, the lines designating the roads themselves leave a lot to the imagination. On one vacation I would rather forget, the family and I drove to Gold Beach, Oregon. We then were planning to drive to Idaho. But then I made a serious mistake. I decided to study the road map. To my surprise I found an innocent-looking road cutting a lazy path kitty-corner across Oregon straight to Idaho. I was giddy with delight. I surmised I could cut hours off our trip. A day and a half later, three tanks of gas, five hundred and forty-three threats of bodily harm coming from my so-called “loving family,” and enough high blood pressure to give the population of a small town pulmonary failure, we crossed the Idaho border. I have no doubt that if stretched straight, that road would have taken us all the way to New York, possibly somewhere out into the Atlantic Ocean. Pay little attention to how a road is laid out on a map. Other than the direction it travels, the straightness or easy curves of the lines mean absolutely nothing. In the case of the road mentioned, the map makers would have done well to hire the drawing of the lines to the hands of a man with a recent and severe case of shell-shock.
Another rule is to pay little attention to the thickness of a line as to the quality of the road. I’ve seen excellent roads degenerate to something that would bring beads of sweat to a mountain goat. And according to the line on the map, the road was the same straight through. As is often the case, this type of road is encountered when attempting to find a short cut across a state…..such as Oregon. It usually begins with the driver announcing, “Hey, I think I’ve found a short cut.” And ends with the passengers looking for a sturdy limb to throw a rope and noose over. On one such hunting trip one of my passengers began the outing as a confirmed atheist, and ended it totally converted and could pray with all the eloquence of an ordained minister.
Occasionally one might find a road on a map that suddenly changes from solid to a dotted line. The map makers would like you to think the dotted lined segment of the route is gravelled. Don’t believe it! The dotted line shows the point where a hapless motorist was last seen and never heard from again.
Another problem that can occur is foreign materials finding their way onto a map and being mistaken for a road. A smeared remnant of jelly almost turned our vacation to North Dakota into a trip to the Yukon. Luckily we caught the mistake while waiting for a herd of Caribou to cross the road. A friendly Eskimo hunter pointed us in the right direction. Unfortunately, he left a stain on the map from a fresh kill, and we followed it to Quebec. For this reason it is a good policy to purchase maps by the gross. They then can occasionally be discarded, taking away any threat of dried stains, not to mention having an originally folded map once in a while.
Like Grob handing his map over to his wife, this trait has been genetically passed down through the generations. This leads to the pitfalls of losing something in the translation between driver and map reader. The problem is that directions do not necessarily come in the form of words. They can be gestures, both casual and frantic, hesitant grunts, squeals, screams or a combination of the above. Traveling at seventy miles per hour, an “aaaahhhhh” to an “oh bblllleeeeep!” can mean the difference between making an exit and driving another thirty miles to find a location to turn around. A scream can have a definite impact on a drivers’ nervous system, causing a unvoluntary turning of the steering wheel. This results in the car crossing four lanes of freeway, the medium, and a couple more lanes on the other side just for good measure. In turn, this triggers outburst of colorful adjectives from the driver concerning the capabilities of the map reader. I have heard testimonies of such break-downs in communications resulting in harsh words turning to physical assault, then separation, divorce, and the dividing of property. And that was before the vehicle was off to the side of the road.
After having this almost spiritual revelation concerning road maps, I made mention of it to a neighbor. He was so impressed that he went straight to his vehicle and threw out all of his road maps. Three weeks ago he and his family went on vacation. I thought they were suppose to be back last week…..or was it the week before. He had told me he was thinking about purchasing a GPS. And I also have my thoughts concerning that product, but that’s another story……