I have my road atlas open on the kitchen table as I jump from page to page … state to state … map to map … while cross-checking our route to Arizona with predicted weather fronts we hope to skirt.
But as I do, I can’t help but stick a finger on some of the little dots along the way. I often look up those tiny towns on Google just to see if there are any points of interest or famous people who once lived there.
I’m not sure why. I am a curious dude, I guess, and I do like my maps. Actually, I love maps. And I guess I’m old school because I prefer maps you can hold and/or fold over the ones that come on your computers and phones.
When I was only seven and sleeping on the top bunk above my sister (yeah, my sister), I had 3-by-4-foot maps of the United States and of the world thumb-tacked to the wall beside my perch.
The story goes that I once came out of a nightmare, yelling “They put me in the map! They put me in the map!”
I’m not sure if I had been someplace like Borneo or the Belgian Congo or maybe just Nevada during that sleep session. I do know it didn’t curb my affection for maps.
I especially liked the map of our then 48 states. I liked the colors, the shapes, the way they fit together.
When we moved to a bigger house and my younger brother was old enough to replace our sister as my roommate, the maps were hung on both sides of our kitchen nook. I could mull over exotic places while eating my Rice Krispies before school. I still think, though, that I always liked them best when I could study them before falling off to sleep.
Between my sophomore and junior years in college, I rode a bike across the United States with a group called the Wandering Wheels. From Miami, Fla., to Seattle, Wash. Five weeks, 3,600 miles.
When I got home, I drew my route on a big U.S. map and dotted the various towns where we stayed. I used our dining room table to lay out the map. I also used a Magic Marker, which leaked through.
So under the tablecloth that my mom always had to use after that was a long squiggly black line that transversed her tabletop. It wasn’t funny at the time, but it eventually became part of our family folklore.
Even now, some 50 years later, I have a similar U.S. map hanging in my little study — with a couple of squiggly lines on it now. I also have a world globe below it.
About 20 years ago, I wrote a Tribune story about my madness for maps. But I tempered my enthusiasm with how maps had changed for me. Here is part of that column:
Now, when I see a map on TV or in the newspaper or a magazine, I almost shudder. Especially if the map is of the world or of one of its faraway places, I know it is probably going to point out to me another trouble spot, another place where people aren’t safe. I look at one part of the map, and I see terrorism at its worst. I look at another country and see communism. I look at yet another richly colored nation, and I see genocide.
They show the location of earthquakes … and ambushes … and kidnappings … and famines … and dictatorships … and recent ruins … and AIDs breakouts … and places where you actually can find weapons of mass destruction.
And when you now add the U.S. map into this sadness, you can put a dot where a mass shooting has occurred almost every month of the year.
I still love my maps. It’s not their fault.
Maps are about mountains and rivers and well-traveled roads, too. They are also about little towns and big cities where people live. And die — sometimes tragically.
We need to do better. If only there was a map to show us the way.