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Entries in direction (2)


Blue Highways: Burnt Store and Allen's Fresh, Maryland

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.

Book Quote

"...on through Burnt Store and Allen's Fresh, across the even wider Potomac."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 1

Allens Fresh, Maryland. Photo by RDrayerIII and hosted at Panoramio. Click on photo to go to host page.

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.

Musical Interlude

A terribly cheesy country song by Billy Currington called Good Directions, with a cheesy fan-made video to match.  See, if you ditch the navigation apps, you just might find your true love!

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


Blue Highways: Fall River, Massachusetts

Unfolding the Map

Fall River, Massachusetts is where William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) tends to get lost.  As we're driving around with him in Ghost Dancing, trying to figure out our bearings, I'll write about how I usually have good directional sense, but how one city in New Mexico seems to confound my sense of place.  If you want to try to make sense of the maze of Fall River, get lost in the map.  The image at right, the black-capped chickadee, is the Massachusetts state bird.  It was drawn by Pearson Scott Foresman and is from Wikimedia Commons.

Book Quote

"Fall River, Massachusetts, is chiefly memorable for me as the factory city I have never driven through without losing the way.  Once there - predictably, inexplicably, and utterly - I am confounded by the knots of concrete.  So, that day, entangled again, it was like old times."

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 5

Downtown Fall River, Massachusetts. Photo by Marc N. Belanger and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

Fall River, Massachusetts

LHM's Fall River is my Santa Fe.

Let me explain that.  I agree with LHM.  There are certain places where the laws of chance do not seem to apply.  I have written about getting lost before, but usually when I've been a place once I don't forget it.  For example, my parents had a little phobia about driving down in the San Francisco Bay Area.  They were rural Northern Californians in a town with, at the time, one stoplight.  Yet every so often we would have to drive south to the Bay Area.  Freeways with multiple on- and offramps were difficult for them to negotiate.  They didn't have many familiar landmarks.  They needed directions to be spelled out for them very minutely.  If they strayed off the beaten path, even getting off the freeway one exit too soon, they were soon completely, hopelessly lost.  Tensions rose in the car when we drove to the Bay Area.  I think that my parents were convinced that if they made a mistake, we all might end up missing or dead.  Nobody breathed normally, or felt safe, until we reached our destination.

In other words, the Bay Area was a maze that they had to negotiate.  As in a maze, one step off the true path could be their undoing, leaving them wandering in an unfamiliar and terrifying terrain that at best would be purgatory, and at worst a horrible hell.  If that meant they had to drive 45 miles an hour to make sure that they didn't miss an exit, so be it.

Fortunately for them, I had a very good memory.  If I had driven the way once, I could remember how to get there again.  They doubted me at first and didn't listen to my suggestions, but eventually they saw I was right and would ask me if they didn't remember themselves.

That ability to remember the way has stood me in good stead over the years, especially when it came to the Bay Area and along the California coast.  I also seemed to have good map memory, so that if I looked at a map and memorized the route on the map, I could usually figure it out with a minimum of hassle on the road.  The road signs were key - if they were missing then all bets were off - but I could still usually figure out the route even if there was a bit of trouble like that.  Of course, it always helped that I had the ocean within sensing distance on the west side of me.

I remember the first time that I really found myself turned around and having trouble figuring out where I was and what direction I should go.  I was, ironically, in a city laid out upon a pretty well-defined grid.  I had just moved to Milwaukee, and I think that without the ocean to orient me I was confused.  Milwaukee's grid runs pretty predictably north-south and east-west.  The north-south streets are all numbered, and Lake Michigan lies on the east side of the city.  But as I stood in a section of the inner-city, looking at street signs, I was briefly lost.  My difficulty may have been attributable to the fact that it was the first time that I ever had lived anywhere outside of California up to that point in my life.  Or, it may have been due to the unease I experienced in living in what was considered a sketchy, if  not dangerous, neighborhood.  But for the first time in my life, I really felt lost, and it seemed that something that defined me, my unerring instinct for direction, had abandoned me.

I recovered, but I was shaken.  I wondered if that was what it felt like to be truly lost?  I think that being lost isn't necessarily a bad thing if one knows that one has resources to find oneself.  But to be hopelessly lost, where one has no resources - THAT is the loneliest feeling in the world.

Now, I'll come back to Santa Fe.  I'm never really lost in Santa Fe.  It's just that I have never understood the city.  It follows no comfortable grid.  There are a couple of main streets that lead into the city from the interstate, but once you get away from those streets, it becomes more difficult to orient yourself.  Roads and streets meander back and forth.  If I lived there, these meandering ways might be fun to explore, but usually I am driving up from Albuquerque and have to be at a place at a certain time.  It has taken me eight years and countless trips for me to be comfortable enough to know my way to the main plaza, to the museums on Museum Hill, and maybe one or two other places.

As LHM says, however, the chance for me to become "predictably, inexplicably and utterly" lost is high.  At least it's not "hopelessly" lost.  In this case, it's simply an annoying lost.  But annoying is bad enough, especially when you're in a very small city and therefore which should be easy to understand and easy to get around.  I've come to think of it as a mental block that I have, and that my self-talk, operating in the background, sabotages me.  Or maybe I just like to complain about Santa Fe and the universe conspiring against me and I doom my chances to know the city streets before I even begin.  All I know is that it's damn frustrating!

Musical Interlude

I found a song entitled Mazes that I liked by a group called Moon Duo.  The lyrics speak of the emotional mazes we often find ourselves in.

Oh, did you know that Fall River is where Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks, and when she saw what she had done she gave her father forty-one?

If you want to know more about Fall River

Battleship Cove
City of Fall River
Fall River Chamber of Commerce
Fall River Herald News (newspaper)
Fall River Historical Society

Next up: Newport, Rhode Island