Unfolding the Map
Our last points of reference in Maryland are so rural that there really isn't any information on them. The names are quite evocative, especially in the case of Burnt Store, where there probably was once a burnt store. Have you ever received directions where instead of place names you were given landmarks? Such directions are fast becoming obsolete in the age of Google Maps and Siri. If you want to locate Burnt Store or Allens Fresh, I will ask you with a trace of irony to check out the Google map.
"...on through Burnt Store and Allen's Fresh, across the even wider Potomac."
Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 1
Burnt Store and Allen's Fresh, Maryland
Stopping and asking for directions is becoming all but lost to American culture. The advent of Google Maps and Apple Maps, of Siri and Google Android Map Girl, has rendered asking directions meaningless. Today, you simply enter an address into your iPhone, iPad, Android or any other device of your choice and then sit back and let the voice tell you how far your destination is, when to turn, and that your destination is coming up on the right or the left.
There was a time when giving directions, especially in rural areas, was a work of art. Where I grew up, people may not have known the proper addresses (I didn't even know the address of the house I grew up in until I was well into adulthood), but that didn't mean they couldn't tell you how to get there. Directions were much more descriptive and less dependent on street names and road numbers.
How does this relate to Burnt Store and Allen's Fresh? The names are descriptive names. Burnt Store most likely got its name because at sometime in the past, a store or a storehouse burned there, though I can't find any corroboration of this. Most likely for some time afterward, the store or storehouse stood as a landmark, and when people gave directions they probably said "go down past the burnt store and turn right." Allens Fresh, I'm guessing, refers to the waterway that runs into the Wicomico River right where the highway passes. I'm assuming, though again I can find no proof of this, that a family by the name of Allen owned a piece of land along this waterway.
The point is, names and landmarks were that which identified important points of reference. Before Google Maps, before Siri, when one asked directions one got a sequence of landmarks, whether they still actually physically existed or not but had an existential reality, and that's how places were navigated. The directions one might have been given would be something on the order of "go about one and a half miles until you see a large oak tree in a field on your right. Turn along the fenceline and follow it up the hill until you reach a little spring that runs under the road. That's Compey's Spring. Keep going past that spring for another little piece until you see a burned stump. Turn left, go over the bridge and around the bend, cross the railroad tracks at Emile's and you'll be there when you see the red barn on the hill." Notice, no road or street names, just landmarks.
Nowadays, I get upset when I'm driving and I can't read the street signs. Someone tells me that to get to their house I have to turn left on Amarillo Street, but as I'm driving through the darkness I pass the street because it is obscured by a tree branch, or it's dirty and doesn't reflect the headlights well. Or, perhaps the street sign isn't even present. So I drive and drive and only, after I'm a mile past the street and already late, do I realize my mistake. How much easier might it have been to tell me to turn left at the street just after the Sonic burger joint?
Of course, with Siri and Google Maps, it's supposed to be so much easier now. And in truth, when they work they are a marvel. However, occasionally coverage drops, and then you're out of luck until you get coverage again. Sometimes the application doesn't have the most updated maps or routes, especially in areas with new roads or streets. There have even been reports of such applications putting people in danger and actually leading them to their death. A couple traveling through Nevada, a couple in Oregon, an article advising people not to trust their GPS devices in Death Valley. On a recent trip, when my wife and I were trying to drive in San Francisco, she turned on the GPS to help navigate using Google Maps, and sometimes we were led down the wrong path. I knew San Francisco pretty well since I used to drive there a bit, but it was still disconcerting to know that I was on the wrong street.
I'm not necessarily an advocate of going back to a pre-Siri, Google Maps existence, but I am aware that GPS and phone navigation apps that use it are yet another way in which we become disconnected with the world around us. When the navigational apps work, I don't have to pay attention to what's outside of the car. The app tells me when and where to turn. I don't have to look for the gnarled and bent tree at the side of the road, or the broken old windmill where I make a right at the fork in the road. I just listen to the computerized voice tell me what to do.
So, here's a challenge for you, Littourati! The next time you are tempted to get out the navigational app, stop and ask directions instead, especially if you have some time. You'll meet someone! The directions may get you where you need to go. Or you may get fantastically and hopelessly lost, and have to ask directions from someone else you meet. You'll pay more attention to your surroundings, and most likely see something interesting that may even demand that you stop and investigate. You may have an adventure. The navigational app won't go away unless you lose your phone. But without it, you may just allow yourself to interact with your world in a way that is becoming more and more rare.
If you want to know more about Burnt Store and Allen's Fresh...
You are out of luck. There is nothing I can find of substance on these two hamlets. I guess you'll just have to go there!
Next up: Osso, Goby, and Passapatanzy, Virginia