Saturday, November 11, 2006

Go to the Red Light

I drive a lot of miles in my job. Without fail, asking for directions insures arriving at the correct place. New employees believe with the advent of Yahoo Maps, MapQuest or Google Maps, there is no need to ask the customer for directions. This belief is what led us to an “address” in the middle of a landing strip of a rural airport in Alabama.

Have I mentioned most of my driving is rural? Rural driving landmarks are much different than metropolitan landmarks. A city driver will tell you; “Take J Street towards the Capitol. After you cross 10th Street take a left, this will be 9th Street. We are in the 4th office building on the right.

Once, an Arizona the farmer gave me these directions, I kid you not.

“You know where that bar, the XXX is?” Well you go south on that road to the Indian Reservation. After you cross the railroad tracks, and it turns into a dirt road. Go about 5 miles. You’ll come to a wash. If we haven’t had a monsoon rain, you should be able to cross it with no problem, but watch out for that sandy spot, you don’t want to get stuck in it. Once you get through the wash, you’ll see a dirt road off to the right. Not the one that’s faint dirt tract, but the one that looks like a frequently used road. Take this to where the really big cactus use to be. Turn left. After another ¼ of a mile, you’ll think you’re lost – but really, you’re not. Just keep going, in another mile you’ll see the irrigation pump and the cotton field. I’ll meet you there”

It never occurred to me directions could be influenced by geography and culture. When I first started reading our clients business addresses I thought they were very cryptic. “Where the hell is Colquitt Hwy, 91 West?,” I’d think. And “West of what?” When I’d call to double check the address, they’d say, “Yep, that’s our address.” To this day I’m amazed to see signs in rural Georgia that say, “For Emergencies Dial 9-1-1”. “Like what else would you do?”, I’d think to myself. Not until a year ago did a customer tell me that Georgia had just recently entered the 9-1-1 program. (Note to self, did you know it was something you had to join?) Further, a lot of small towns didn’t want to be involved. Do you know why? Because they didn’t want to have to assign address to everything! How weird is that?

This in part explains why direction giving changed when I started traveling in the south. Many times they include references like this:

“Well, when you come through town there’ll be a flashing-light. Turn right.”

My immediate thought was, “Oh, oh, not spending the night in this town. If they don’t even have proper stop lights, they’re certainly NOT going to have a hotel.”

Sometimes they’d say, “Go to the red-light and turn left”. I always thought I was being witty when I’d say, “What if the light's green?”

The direction giver, however, NEVER laughed. There’d just be dead silence on the other end of the line. I kept up with this amusing question, until this summer. Somewhere in the middle of Arkansas it happened. I came to the stop-light. It only had one light. Not just one stop light in the town, there was just ONE COLOR in the stop light. It was red. No green, no yellow. Just red. Boy did I feel stupid.

I’m continually amazed at how different life is in other places than in California. Home of the automobile, where the first freeways were started, where in the 30’s there were “Motor-court” motels, where you'd park right next to your cottage, where all houses have garages, and the idea for Mac Donald’s was born. Now I’m plopped down in an area where homes have no garages, towns don’t have 3 colored stop lights, and homes and buildings don’t have assigned street numbers.

Imagine, “Go to the red light.” – because they only need one color. Who’d a thunk it?


Country Mouse said...

That all sounds so familiar to me, especially the 9-1-1 part. I remember when Mousetown got its first stoplight, and when we got 9-1-1 service. Not only did not everything have addresses prior to that, not even all of the roads had names.

JMom said...

LOL!! so true, about directions in rural areas. I grew up in Los Angeles where all the streets are in an orderly grid. What's parallel here will still be parallel 5 miles down the road. Not so here. They start crossing each other and change names with every bend in the road. We have a street that seems like one street, but it has 3 names depending on which side of town you're on. My hubby swears they layed down the streets on cow paths, ergo the erratic twists and turns :)

Keetha said...

I grew up and live in Mississippi, the very definition of rural. Here folks use the term "red light" and "traffic light" interchangeably. I once got a dear friend from Naples, Florida, very lost by giving her directions that included turning at a red light.