Tuesday, January 30, 2007

COLUMN: Directions

I've said it before, I'll say it again: I like the Quad-Cities. We're big-city enough to keep me occupied, and we're small-town enough to avoid hour-long commutes to work.

That said, though, there's one thing about the Quad-Cities that often brings a psychotic twitch to my right eyelid: out-of-town visitors.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I'm one of those sittin'-on-a-porch, suckin'-on-some-hay, "we don't cotton to strangers in these here parts, boy" types. I like it when friends from out of town come to visit.

The problem is simply GETTING THEM HERE.

There is nowhere on Earth more difficult to give driving directions to than the Q-Cs. Seriously. Right now there are probably Unabomber types living in shacks in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness who have an easier time giving their friends directions than I do.

Recently, a buddy from high school whom I hadn't seen in forever came up for a visit. Now, this guy's always been a little directionally challenged. My directions literally had to begin: "Exit your driveway, turn left."

But I'm a smart guy. I should be able to give no-nonsense, effective directions from Galesburg to here, right? But as I talked, I realized just how inane I was sounding:

"OK, so get on I-74, umm, west. You'll actually be going due north, but it's 74 west, OK? Then, an hour later, you'll want to exit onto, umm, I-74 west. Yeah, I know. Just do it.

"So you got off of 74 onto 74, right? Then go until you see the exit for ... (sigh) I-74. Yes. Yes. Take 74 to 74 to 74. To the left. Take it back now, y'all. Five hops this time. Five hops this time. Cha-cha now, y'all, and you're here."

The Quad-Cities is not made for the directionally disabled. First, you've got to circumnavigate that interstate loop. Then, once you get into town (any town), you've got to deal with the street names.

I've lived here for 20 years now, and I'm still not used to numbered streets. See, I come from Galesburg, where we have the logic and the sense to give our streets actual NAMES, not just numbers.

"But, Shane," you say, "numbered streets are so efficient! At any point, you'll know exactly how many blocks it is to where you need to be!"

That may be, unless you're like me and forget which street you're looking for in the first place because you can't remember whether it's 32nd or 35th or 38th, because they all sound the same. "I just knew it had a 3 in it. Maybe." And since that's not confusing enough, you've got streets like "38th Avenue Court A West" or whatever, which makes sense to the guy who programs OnStar and that's about it.

On weekends, I DJ at a club on 2nd Avenue in Rock Island. The only reason I know this is because the club is NAMED 2nd Ave. Otherwise, I'd just go, "You know. That one place. By the river. Kinda."

When I start getting cocky and swear I've got the numbers figured out, I drive from Rock Island to Moline and all the numbers inexplicably change. Fourteenth Avenue in Rock Island becomes 16th Avenue in Moline. And then, of course, 12th Avenue in Moline somehow turns into 30th Avenue in East Moline, and, hey, there's that twitch!

City leaders need to have some kind of peace accord -- perhaps Jesse Jackson could moderate -- wherein we simply make all street names between towns the same. "Heck, no!" say city leaders. "That'd take all the challenge out of day-to-day driving."

Look at Rock Island. City leaders recently discovered that one of their roads had a real name: Blackhawk. And Blackhawk Road took you from one end of town to the other, efficiently. That's a dangerous level of intelligence and logic, and it required a quick remedy. That's why, at great expense, to maintain the status quo of confusion, they have now taken Blackhawk Road and rerouted it to Milan. Whew! Thank you, Rock Island, I can sleep easier knowing that there's no longer a logical way to get from Point A to Point B.

Milan? Really? Do people, umm, WANT to go there? Now, no offense to you fine Milanians reading this now; I'm sure your town's lovely, but as far as I'm concerned, the day Showcase Cinemas closed was the day my Milan travels came to an abrupt end. But now Blackhawk Road wants to take me there. Unless, of course, I exit ... onto Blackhawk Road.

Grrr. Twitch.

I just need to come to terms with the fact that the Quad-Cities is a little backward in some areas. Don't tell me I'm wrong; there's a reason why the world's most famous north-south river decides to go east-west here. We're not normal.

And I wouldn't want it any other way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My (least) favorite part of traveling in the QC is that the numbered streets and avenues cross. It wasn't until the past year or so that I finally figured out that the avenues follow the river and the streets run into it. Oh, and unless it's been fixed in Mapquest and the other mapping programs, getting directions to 27th Street usually put you on 27th Avenue. Grrrr