My Mental Map: Touring Before Smartphones
When I first hit the road, I had a cellphone, but the best trick it could do was send and receive text messages. There was no checking email, no GPS, no social media applications. If I saw an epic, glorious sunset, I had to pull out the hand-me-down camera my sister gave me and take an actual photo. There was no instant upload and multiple “likes.” I had to walk to school uphill both ways in the snow! Seriously.
In those days, when I was preparing my personal effects to go out on the road for any period of time, I would, with great attention to detail, include a very precious folder. This folder was full of Google map directions from each gig to the next. I printed out the location of the natural food store and heady coffee shop in each town. It wasn’t the most environmentally friendly method, but how else was I supposed to find my way?
My trusty co-pilot was a dog-eared atlas. Each page was covered in specks of adventure, whether dirt, food, or coffee. I have vivid memories of laying that atlas out on the dash and plotting my route. I tried to make sure to go a different way each time I returned to a city, if that was possible. I marked off each road I had traveled, aiming to collect them all.
The beautiful side effect of this method was that, by the second time I toured through a town, I knew exactly where I was going. I wasn’t just staring at the tiny screen of the GPS to tell me which way to go – I remembered the landmarks. I held close in my heart each unique tree, saved in my brain the signage of each street. When I had a new tour mate and could easily sail down the correct exit and dock us right in front of the venue, I felt like I held the lone key to some magical map. I’ve read that crabs carry a piece of sand with them at all times and they can tell what direction they are traveling based on where that piece of sand lays inside their body. That’s what it felt like: I have a super power, an internal direction system that allows me to find my way no matter where I am.
When I started touring with the loveliest Rebecca Loebe in 2009, she had both a smartphone and a GPS that attached to the windshield. It was much easier, required much less preparation. We could just look up the venue address and punch it into the device. That GPS told us about traffic and how long it would take us to get to our destination.
It’s been great to have these devices, but my brain stopped logging the directions. It didn’t need to anymore. I still haven’t decided if the ease is worth the loss of my mental map.