Chaps with maps win the day

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CHRISTINE McCABE

MAP read­ing, alas, is a dy­ing art. When I was a child our fam­ily mo­tor­ing hol­i­days al­ways be­gan with an evening or two por­ing over maps and road at­lases, plot­ting cour­ses and, in my fa­ther’s case, sketch­ing out a very de­tailed itin­er­ary, with ev­ery meal break sched­uled al­most to the minute.

Manyyears later, when I vis­ited Eng­land, I was loaned an old green Rover and my first pur­chase was a road at­las, a trea­sure trove of highly de­tailed maps de­pict­ing the mo­tor­ways, B roads and hedge- cuffed lanes twin­ing around that small, scep­tred isle.

I still have that dog-eared at­las and count­less other maps of farflung cities but my teenage sons have lit­tle truck with such ar­cane tech­nol­ogy.

They favour iPhone map apps and pre­fer a sat nav to their par­ents’ old-fash­ioned printed maps, un­earthed be­fore each hol­i­day from the fam­ily’s vault of 20th­cen­tury cu­riosi­ties and re­quir­ing a de­gree in origami to re-fold.

But an in­ex­pertly folded map is in­fin­itely prefer­able to the sat nav ( or GPS) we have at home, jammed in the Ger­man mode ( efficient, no doubt, but how would I know?), and cer­tainly su­pe­rior to the slew of mis­guided, in­ept and rude de­vices used dur­ing a fam­ily hol­i­day to Cal­i­for­nia.

Cal­i­for­ni­ans drive fast and hard (fu­elled by those su­per-sized take- out cof­fees); free­ways are poorly signed; there’s merg­ing and con­verg­ing and end­less in­tri­cate ma­noeu­vres re­quir­ing some pretty deft, speed map read­ing.

So we ca­pit­u­late and take on board an an­noy­ingly chatty GPS we call Linda, who re­minds us, ad nau­seam, to stay left be­cause in 400 feet we will be bear­ing left then turn­ing right, then ex­e­cut­ing a quick pirou­ette be­fore leap­ing, Evel Knievel-style, sev­eral lanes of traf­fic on to an­other free­way.

We are in­structed to turn right into fields and vine­yards, bul­lied into chang­ing direc­tion count­less times, yet al­ways we are bound not for Sonoma (as pro­grammed) or the home of our friends in Marin County (where son No 2 hopes to stake out the neigh­bour­ing com­pound of Me­tal­lica front­man James Het­field) but for West Sacra­mento.

No mat­ter what ad­dress we re­quest, and each route is care­fully cal­cu­lated by Linda (I can see her now, brow fur­rowed, tongue pok­ing out), we are sent to West Sacra­mento.

In LA we take on board a new GPS that we dub Martha Ste­wart; it’s a softly spo­ken but rather grumpy de­vice, spit­ting out in­struc­tions at high speed and in a hu­mour­less voice. ‘‘Sounds just like you, Mum, when you’re nav­i­gat­ing,’’ says son No 2.

Things are not go­ing well with Martha so I put son No 1 (and the fam­ily’s des­ig­nated techno troubleshooter) in the front seat to deal with her. But he has no more luck than me.

We em­bark on a one-hour and 20-minute loop of Pasadena, alight­ing at an ad­dress in a rather du­bi­ous neigh­bour­hood only to dis­cover there is an al­most ident- ical ad­dress (and the one we ac­tu­ally want) else­where in Pasadena only five min­utes from where we set out at Hunt­ing­ton Botan­i­cal Gar­dens. Go fig­ure, Martha.

LA sat navs, we de­cide, are ob­sessed with free­ways. If there’s a free­way within cooee they’ll put you on it, even if this makes for a longer, less di­rect and cer­tainly far less plea­sur­able jour­ney.

We dis­con­nect Martha, go back to our AAA map, get off the free­way and be­gin cruis­ing LA’s by­ways, Sun­set Boule­vard end to end, and Wil­shire, soak­ing up those too-trim, palm tree-lined thor­ough­fares that just ooze ex­cess. And when we do hap­pen to find our­selves on one of the con­gen­i­tally clogged ar­ter­ies that are LA’s free­ways, there is more than am­ple time for our newly fledged car­tog­ra­pher sons to con­sult the map while stuck in traf­fic.

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