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Filler: Marriage without maps

Garmins, Tom Toms and other GPS devices are

Garmins, Tom Toms and other GPS devices are nudging aside printed maps Photo Credit: CNET

That Garmins and Tom Toms and other GPS devices are nudging aside printed maps is no surprise. The question is whether the new stuff can stop the shrieked belittling:

"And I'm telling you that if the sun is setting directly behind us, we're not driving west. I get that you don't know how to find Cedar Rapids, but how do you not know where the Earth and Sun are located?"

Can GPS replace the timid and disastrously timed whisper from the navigator in the passenger seat? "I think that's our exit on the right, across four lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic going 85 miles per hour, about . . . oh, you missed it. That's OK, the map says just take the next . . . oh, you missed it again."

Can GPS prevent hundreds of miles of stony silence, broken only by the murmurs of the children in the backseat as they debate which parent they want to live with after the inevitable post-vacation divorce?

Sister: "Maybe it's not over. Maybe they can work it out."

Brother: "She called him a Ramen-brained, testosterone- addled nincompoop. He tried to argue that he thought you can ignore detour warnings if you don't feel like taking any tours. We slept in a ravine, and lapped water out of puddles like dogs. It's over. My advice is to start planning manipulative Hanukkah gift-getting strategies immediately."

Transportation departments around the nation are cutting down on the number of maps they print for curious travelers, both because money is tight and because demand is down.

In Georgia, officials say they will print 1.6 million maps to cover the state's needs for the next two years, about half of what they produced 10 years ago. In Pennsylvania, demand is down 75 percent in a decade. Washington State stopped printing maps entirely a few years ago. But it's not maps that need replacing. It's the humans who are so terrible at reading them, interpreting them and, yes, folding them.

The reason map reconstruction makes people feel so stupid is the seemingly informative pattern of folds between each section. No one can fold a fitted sheet either, but people don't have complexes about it. They just sort or squish them up and wedge them in the back of the linen closet.

But the series of creases along each section of my largish maps are like a set of seemingly simple instructions, delivered by the arrogant British schoolmaster who lives in my head (you have that too, right?) which can't possibly be followed.

"It's quite elementary, Filler," my internal John Cleese intones. "Simply take the portion of the map where the indentions between the sections are raised and bend those sections away from each other, while folding the sections between which the indentions are depressed toward each . . . I say, Filler, are you even paying attention?"

I love my Garmin, and I adore my maps, but for different reasons. Good maps are, first off, works of art, colorful and expressive, resonant with the possibilities of places near and far. They are also explanations of our world. They tell us where humankind settles, and we see the patterns.

Above all else, they allow us to understand the geography of the world, our place in it, and how it all fits together.

They are not, however, particularly good at telling us we need to hammer out a hard left in 300 yards, nor are the people trying to read them.

I like nothing better than to sit sipping coffee and studying a map. But when it comes to getting us where we need to go, my family relies on Garmin.

That way, the wife and I stay on friendly terms, and the daughter has yet to spend any vacations sleeping in ravines or lapping at mud puddles.