Tuesday, March 30, 2004

An Important Distinction

As you might of guessed, the 4-day trip I was hinting at on Monday will be to Washington DC (one of the destinations chosen for THE LIST). I've been threatening to visit my friend Tara for years now, ever since she first moved there (almost 5 years ago?!), and I haven't had a good opportunity to go until now. Anyway, I've been scurrying around over the last week or so getting ready to go, making sure I know how much carry-on I'm allowed, finding out about the airports I'm visiting, figuring out transportation once I get there, etc. And, of course, if you know me well, you'd know I needed a map.

I love maps. I can't really explain it, but it certainly has an awful lot to do with my choice of Geography as a major in university. Irony is cruel, sometimes; the study of Geography at the university level has very little to do with map reading (that would be cartography), but that's beside the point.

Ever since I was very young, maps fascinated me. My family traveled an awful lot by car, from one side of the country all the way to the other, on various moves and vacations, often covering thousands of miles in a week or two. But no matter where we were going, one thing was certain: no one was getting the roadmap out of my grimy little hands. Unless I was asleep: then you could go nuts. And even after I became a driver myself, I always liked knowing where I was going and what was coming up next, much to the frustration of some people who have tried to navigate me along the way.

So it shouldn't surprise any of you that I wouldn't dream of going to a new place, especially one in another country, without pouring over a few maps first. I found some maps of Washington online and have been familiarizing myself a bit with the layout of the city and its surroundings, but when given the choice between something grainy that I've pulled off the bubble-jet printer to something professionally printed, I'll take the real map every time.

I knew that as a member of the largest auto club in Canada, I could get free maps of almost anywhere in North America by flashing a card, so yesterday, I got off work a little earlier and made a special trip over by bus. I haven't had much experience dealing with their travel personnel, but I figured that since they dealt with traveler's information every day, they're probably fairly knowledgeable. After looking at the travel guide section and not finding very much to work with, I asked the 18 or 19-year-old clerk at the counter for a map of the Washington DC area. She looked at me blankly like I'd just asked her to divide 372895 by 345.7 in her head.

"Did you say you wanted a map of Boston?"

No, I replied, staying patient, I want one for Washington. Another blank stare. I became concerned.

She wandered over to the wall o' maps, and after staring vapidly at them for a few minutes, put her hand on the pile of maps for Washington State and Oregon.

I waved my arms wildly to attract her attention. No, I said, not Washington State, I want Washington DC. I could see that a slight furrow was deepening in her brow as she tried to comprehend the gravity of what I wanted.

She went back to the wall, shuffling a few random maps to appear like she was looking for real. Every once in a while, her hand strayed towards that same pile of Washington State and Oregon maps and she would look back at me for approval. My look of horror was enough to deter her.

Eventually, she turned to me and said "I don't have one for the city. This is all I have!" exasperatedly showing me the map for Washington State and Oregon. I can only assume that this negligent, woefully incompetent travel agent thought Washington DC was the capital of Washington State.

I tried to explain it to her in ways she would understand. I told her they were on opposite sides of the country. I pointed to both places on the big wall map of North America behind her. Using drawings and pantomime, I desperately tried to explain to her that Washington was the capital of the United States and was in a separate district all on its own. The more specific I was getting with the information, the more confused she got.

She went back to the wall. "Is this it?" she asked, holding up a map of Boston.

I was defeated. Later, I realized I should have asked for a map of Baltimore and area in the hopes of getting Washington on the same map. At least there isn't a state named Baltimore.


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