Monday, January 19, 2009

Minnesota: Navigating by ten year old maps

This memory begins in a state already covered: Iowa. I did a stint of summer stock theater in East Central Iowa and I didn't have a whole lot of free time. Just one day, in fact: Monday. That was the only day when we interns were not spending 12+ hours inside a theater of some sort. That precluded the possibility of any serious day-tripping, although some folks did get to Chicago and back for a few hours of shopping.

I had been to Chicago many times so that held little appeal. But another city did: Minneapolis. I had never set foot in Minnesota before but I figured if the people were half as nice as they were in Iowa then I would be OK. The immediate problem was how to navigate once I got there. I was earning $50/week and board, so buying a big ole driver's atlas was out of the question. So I went to the company office and asked if they had anything I could borrow for the day. The secretary pulled out a ten year old map of the Twin Cities and wished me luck. Her parting comment was encouraging: "Nothing much has changed up there, anyway. The roads should still be where they say they are."

I set out early Monday morning, pointing the nose of my red Ford Fairmont station wagon North. As I approached the city, I began to eye the ten year old map on my passenger seat. I pulled over to a rest area and parked. I unfolded it and began to plot my approach. There were a few stops on my itinerary (a Thai restaurant, a bookstore, a museum, and a park), so I plotted the best course I could based on location and cross-streets.

I folded the map as strategically as I could and resumed the journey.

And yes, I navigated that city like a pro. There were some changes, to be sure, but like most Midwestern cities, Minneapolis was laid out like a grid. So if I missed a street, all I had to do was "box the compass" to get back to a starting point and then make the turn. I had a grand day, saw some pretty art, ate some wonderful food, picked up a novel or two. The park was out, it began to storm while I was there and continued on my way back home. But that was the only setback to an otherwise wonderful day.

I haven't gotten seriously lost since. That was the biggest gift of the day: navigational confidence.

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