Chaps with maps win the day
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.