Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's Good to Know Where You're Not

Here's our Highway Sign of the Day:

Where I come from, you don't very often see signs that tell you what road you're not on, but in some parts of the country that's an important thing to know. This sign is (or was; I shot the picture in 1981) on Utah Route 46, just south of its intersection with US 163. I suspect the sign's there because this is pretty empty country, and if you find yourself on 46 (headed for the tiny town of Paradox, Colorado) when you meant to be on 163 headed for Monticello, you may go quite a ways before realizing your mistake.

So what was I doing here? Looking for the empty country; in particular, heading off to see the wild and scenic desert alone on a big Japanese dirtbike that I'd modified for long-distance touring. In other words, I was on something of a fool's errand, almost in the same league as that "Into the Wild" guy who walked into the Alaskan wilderness figuring to live off the land. A breakdown, a bad crash, or just a big error in my trail guide (no GPS or satellite navigation in those days!) would have meant the buzzards would get a bigger-than-usual meal. Looking back, I think I must have been slightly crazy to make this trip. But, obviously, nothing too awful went wrong, and I returned sunburned, bruised and more than a little humbled... and the buzzards went hungry. You can read about the trip, and see some pretty neat pictures, here.

When I was putting this story together, I visited a lot of web sites to make sure I had my facts more or less straight (it has been 27 years, after all). And I found that things do seem to change over time. A landmark that was called "Prostitute Butte" in '81 now sports the more politically correct name of "Lone Rock." I have a photo of a natural arch that doesn't seem to have the same name now that it had then... but it also doesn't look the same, even though it's in the same place. The creek's changed its name, or at least the spelling of the name, and the particular Jeep road I took now seems to be parts of three different Jeep roads... or perhaps it's now a mountain bike trail. And I don't recall having to pay a dollar to cross the last six hundred feet of private land.

Memory is funny stuff. Memories change over time, but reality also changes, it seems.


David said...

Hey, reality changes on me all the time. I grew up in the town I now live in, and I carry an internal circa 1969 map of the place, though it's changed a lot since then. I still reference one corner as the Thrifty Drug corner, though Thrifty's hasn't been there in thirty five years. Interestingly, in my mind, it makes no difference. I seamlessly close the disparity between map and reality. Amy, though, who didn't grow up here, has to manually translate and deliverately triagulate. My reality doesn't match hers. But I wonder how much anyone's reality really matches anyone else's. Isn't when we stumble upon the differences that we really feel close to another? After we have gone a few dozen miles down the wrong highway together, then we feel as if we really know the neighborhood.

Daniel C. Starr said...

When I worked at Bell Labs, we often referred to departments that way. Years after so-and-so moved on to another job, we'd say we worked in "so-and-so's old department." Sometimes the name that stuck was three or four bosses in the past.