One day when I was about seven, I asked my dad to draw me a Blue Angel. Not an unusual request. My father was a Marine pilot, and we had just returned home from an air show where the Blue Angels, the Navy flight team, had preformed.
Instead of drawing one of the iconic blue jet planes we had just seen, he drew a lady in a blue flowing gown with wings. “That's not a Blue Angel”, I told him. “Of course it is”, he said. “She's an angel and she's wearing a blue dress.” Well, I couldn't argue with that. She was flying with her arms outstretched, and in one hand held a rectangular book. “What's the book for?”, I asked. He said it was her map book, so she could always find her way. That made sense, because he used maps when we traveled in the car.
I was fascinated that my dad could drive from Florida to California and never get lost. We had a coast to coast trip coming up and he promised to show me how to read the map and a compass. I'd never even heard of a compass!
Every morning on the trip he showed me the route we would take that day, and told me to look for the highway signs. I could also tell what direction we were traveling on the compass. It was a great game. We arrived in North Carolina without a hitch!
Dad eventually taught me how find a direction by the sun. There are a few ways to do it. He taught me if I knew my general location, (in relation to the north, south, east, and west), and time of day, I could find my direction by locating where the sun was in the sky. It's very useful, and a skill I thought most people had. Can you do it?
I learned all these things way back in the 1960's. There were no cellphones, GPS, or a little compass LED on the console of your car that told you what direction you were driving. It was just you, your map, your car, and the road.
I was a late convert to GPS...sometime around 2010. I slowly became farsighted and couldn't drive and read the map at the same time. Then one night I was driving to a craft show in Lancaster PA, and took the wrong turn. It was Amish country, very dark, with few road signs. Looking for the sun wasn't going to help me. I couldn't call the hotel for directions because I didn't know where I was. Eventually I got myself back on the right road. I bought my first GPS the next day. But the maps stayed in the van.
Sometimes the trusty GPS fails. A few years ago I was driving home from a show in Pittsburgh. I 81 north was closed because of an accident. I continued north-east on I 78 until it was closed because of another accident. The detour was a little road in the mountains and it got smaller. I lost the GPS signal, and this van didn't have a little compass LED in the console. For some reason the paper maps were also gone. There were few helpful road signs, but it was a sunny September afternoon. All I had to do was drive north-east and keep the sun slightly behind me on the right. It worked! In about an hour I merged on to I 84 east in CT, back on the right road home. I was never really worried. Dad taught me well. Getting lost is just another adventure.
My father liked to talk about all the gizmos we'd have in the future: driver-less cars, portable computers, and TV phones. But he never saw them. He died of Meningitis in 1969. He was only 38 years old. He'd love cellphones, GPS, and maybe even Zoom. Sometimes I feel he's with me on those long drives to and from shows. The Blue Angel is always there with her maps, ready for another adventure.
I hope you always find your way,
November 1, 2020