I’m in Atlanta. If you know me, you know that I am out of my element. And I’m in the middle of NASCAR 285 on the west side of town because my GPS tells me that the east side is jammed up like a parking lot at Christmastime.
To make it more fun, I’m towing a piece of equipment behind me. Pulling stuff with a truck is typically no big deal. Threading my way through the world of 80 mph BMWs and 90 mph crotch rockets tends to make me a little uneasy.
My destination is Mason Tractor in Norcross. I’ve heard of Norcross all my life. I’ve always known that it is somewhere out the northeast side of town. The hinterlands of Gwinnett County, I suppose. When it comes to the metro Atlanta area, I have a general sense of where things are, but I wouldn’t say that I really know my way around when it gets right down to finding a specific address.
I miss the days of the Rand McNally Road Atlas. Reading an honest to goodness map gave a man a feel for the cardinal directions that have guided adventurers and travelers for centuries. Marco Polo didn’t have a fancy GPS and he got around the globe just fine.
There are times when I feel like the digital age is destroying real men. Mechanics who cannot work on a car without a diagnostic computer. Motor grader operators who cannot level a field without a laser guided system. Dads who turn on the GPS the minute they leave the driveway to head to Florida for vacation.
The first time I ever drove out to Lone Grove, Oklahoma my wife asked me, “Aren’t you gonna check the map?”
“I don’t think I need a map right off.” Spoken like a real man. “I know how to get to Selma from here. US 80 will take us to the Mississippi state line where we’ll pick up I-20, and I-20 will take us to Dallas.” I admit that I did pull out the road atlas to look at Dallas. “We’ll go around Dallas on the north end and pick up I-35 to Ardmore. From there we hang a left into Lone Grove and call Cecil.”
When I got a new truck last year, I spent an entire afternoon cleaning out the old truck. One of the hardest decisions I had to make was what to do with all my maps. A state map. A county map. A southeastern US map. Even a laminated city of Atlanta street map. Put those together with my road atlas and I could get just about anyplace I needed to go.
A map gives a man his bearings. East is east and west is west on a map. You look it over and get the general feel for the route. You take note of the names of little towns you’ll pass through, rivers you might use as landmarks, little gray lines for county roads that might cut through to the next highway and save you 10 miles off your trip.
With a map you can see the entire route right there in front of you. Seeing the lines that connect you to your destination gives you some reassurance that you’re headed in the right direction.
I had a customer show up two hours late at the tree farm several years back. He called me from Thomaston, Georgia wanting to know where we were. He left Montgomery at 8:00 that morning and it was now 11:00. “My GPS says I’m here,” he said, “but I can’t find you.”
I couldn’t help myself. “Well, there’s good reason. You’re about 50 miles east of us.”
He protested. “But I put your address in my GPS and it says I’m here.”
“What town did you put in your GPS?”
“And where are you right now?”
“On Church Street in Thomaston.”
“We’re not in Thomaston.”
If he had a map and understood how to hold it with north facing north, he might have made it. But he put all his trust in the digital age. I’m guessing he drove within a mile of us following that little blue line all the way to Thomaston an hour away.
When I passed GA 400 on 285, I turned on the GPS. I had the address already set. The little voice guided me up Peachtree Industrial Blvd. I took a side road through an industrial park and eventually turned north up the Buford Highway. Mason Tractor Company was just a little ways up on the right.
I have learned to like my GPS. I don’t always trust it and will sometimes pull out my 1992 Rand McNally Atlas just to make sure I understand the big picture. This has saved me a few times. Every now and then the GPS will lie to me and try to take me on some route that makes no sense at all. I have learned that it’s okay to override the system and venture out beyond the blue line on the screen.
On the return trip, it was close to lunch, and I spotted a Waffle House. A familiar establishment in a sea of pavement and traffic lights. The waitress’s name was Maria. A very friendly young lady behind the blue and pink floral face mask. I got the same cheerful service as you would get at any Waffle House. Warm food. The staff bantering back and forth with the regulars.
The atmosphere was different, though. Maria never called me Hon, or Sweety, or Darlin’. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a Waffle House and not been called one or all three of those names. I checked the jukebox. There were no country songs on the list. In fact, I didn’t recognize any of the songs on the playlist.
Max was waiting on me when I got back to the truck. I put him on the leash and gave him a quick break from his backseat cushion. A messy drink of water and he was ready to go. So was I.
I thought about turning my GPS on. I was backtracking my way out of Norcross a different way than I came in. Instead, I just decided to head east. Eventually, I knew I would run into I-85. Get on the southbound lane, head through the heart of the city, and I’d be back to the farm before 2:00, provided I didn’t run into some midday traffic catastrophe.
Look. I’m not trying to be a grouchy old man. Like I said, I like what the GPS gadget does for me. It’s a modern marvel. If Lewis and Clarke had had one, they might have found a better route to the Pacific.
All the same, I’ll keep the maps around just in case.
I get pointed south on 85. Max is taking in the sights and the breeze coming through his window. I’m running 70 and a motorcycle comes by me like I’m sitting still, weaving in and out of death between the sea of moving vehicles.
Norcross is in the rearview mirror. I’ll be glad to get home.