We all have somewhere to go, but we don’t always know how to get there.
Once upon a time, we used our Texaco maps. We folded them like accordions and stuffed them into our glove compartments. Rand McNallys could carry us across town or across the country. Reading them has become a lost art. One day, they might be archived in a museum or stashed away inside a time capsule.
Now, we program the GPS on our smartphones and take the high road. Technology not only can tell us how to get there but when we will arrive.
A decade ago, my family was among those who plugged in our somewhat antiquated GPS whenever we took a trip. We had a Magellan, and I affectionately called her “Madge Ellen.’’ I still can hear her disapproving voice in my head. She would have to “recalculate’’ the route after I missed a turn or stubbornly refused to follow directions.
It makes me wonder whatever became of service station attendants. They pumped our gas, checked our oil and cleaned our windshields. They also were the original Google Maps. They could tell you the way to Indian Springs or how to get from Rhine to Abbeville on U.S. 280. I guess they’re now dinosaurs, like those Sinclair Oil signs.
Call me old-fashioned, but I still love my maps. I have a dog-eared, fourth edition of the “Georgia Atlas & Gazetteer” that has guided me from Gordon to Glenwood to Gresston to Griswoldville.
On the E-9 square on page 33, I once discovered Dog Crossing — a tiny community in Upson County. It later became part of the title of a book I wrote in 2005. The crossroads got its name more than a century ago when a mule wagon ran over a dog crossing the road. There is no “bypass” in Dog Crossing, unless you take a shortcut along Mud Bridge Road or Rocky Bottom
I am developing an aversion to bypasses. It used to be you had business routes and regular routes. Now, bypasses have become quite the rage … and I don’t mean road rage.
Just about every city and town has one, or one day will be getting one, because cutting corners is human nature. We rush off to avoid a few extra traffic lights. My father used to call it “hurry up to wait.’’
For the past few weeks, I’ve been teaching an autobiography class on Saturday mornings at the Georgia Writers Museum in Eatonton. It is 44 miles from my front door to the museum. I’ve been traveled that road so many times over the years I don’t need a map or GPS to find my way.
Until two weeks ago, I had never been on the Gray Bypass. The six-mile highway, connecting Highway 22 from Highway 18, opened in December 2016. Although the GPS didn’t direct me there, it would have had I asked. I was running a few minutes behind and figured it would be quicker.
It was … by two minutes.
It wasn’t a particularly scenic drive. I rode past open fields, under power lines, around farm ponds and fence posts. I saw an abandoned deer stand. I was somewhat surprised to see an Otis Redding Memorial Bridge — we have one of those in downtown Macon — until I remembered the Big “O” Ranch is located up the road in Round Oak.
In my early years as a sports writer, I worked downtown and lived in Shurlington. I would travel through Gray on my way to cover University of Georgia games in Athens. I learned a few shortcuts, including a nifty maneuver behind the stores along the railroad tracks, where the traffic always backed up at the light. (It once got me in trouble, when I got a ticket for two “rolling” stops.) I had several other “alternate routes,’’ which were time-savers on football Saturdays.
In the years since, every city and town along that route — Gray, Eatonton, Madison and Watkinsville — now all have bypasses. In fact, you can drive from Macon to Athens without going through a single town.
I’m sure some merchants lament so many folks going around instead of going through town. Less traffic means less business. On the flip side, there are fewer 18-wheelers trying to tip-toe across downtown squares and avenues Perhaps that’s why so many municipalities have put up “No Jake Brakes” signs
Atlanta not only has a bypass, it now has bypasses to bypass the bypass. The I-475 Macon bypass opened 1967. Every year, millions of people skirt our city, giving nothing more than a sideways glance. Macon is simply a green, exit sign. Think of all the history and culture they miss.
I never want to be on automatic pilot when I have to decide whether to take the bypass. I might shave off a few minutes but I also might miss out on the travelogue.
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy and is the author of nine books. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.