On Old Maps

I have this ridiculously tattered old atlas under my bed. It used to live under the seat of my car, but I brought it in one day to use for an art project, and I never took it back out. I unearthed it this week because I was making room for some under-bed storage, and it brought back so many memories. My dad gave me this atlas when I went away to college. It was our family’s old atlas, long since replaced, filled with coffee stains and a thoroughly worn out Tennessee page. It amazed me to remember that it was not so long ago that we actually relied on travel atlases instead of smart phones and GPS units and google maps. We used to view space, and even time, differently, I think: it was all spread out before us, instead of cropped to a two-mile radius on a screen. I can remember tracing our travel routes with my finger as a child in the passenger seat, marking the tiny towns we passed on the way to our destination and feeling thrilled that I had my very own place in this kaleidoscope of twisting lines. I can remember pulling over when I got lost as an adult to look at these maps, squinting at them in the darkness. And I remember how the path between our driveway and Oberlin College became engraved in my mind over the four years I spent there, driving back and forth more times than I can recall. It’s exactly 678 miles. I could still tell you exactly how to get there, even in my sleep: 40 East to Nashville, 65 North through the rolling hills of Kentucky, hooking into 71 North at Louisville and continuing over the bridge into Cincinnati, and then straight up the entirety of Ohio to 89 to 58, through the cornfields and all the way into campus. I remember how I’d put the windows down and blare my tape player when I reached that peaceful home stretch. When I turned to the Ohio page in my atlas and saw this marking, my eyes filled with tears. It has been nine years since I set foot on that campus. I’m daydreaming away about our reunion this May. If we’re able to go, I am pretty sure I will die of joy showing Eric the places where my feet fell, the library carrel where I practically lived, the comically leaning house where I spent my senior year, the dining hall with the best cookies, and the little cafe where I used to try every roast of coffee before heading to the library.

But the wonders of this atlas continued. When I picked it up, these papers fell out. Maptuit! Does that site even exist anymore? I printed these maps out in 2004, when I’d just come back from Russia and was driving from Memphis out to Berkeley to start grad school. I left at 7am one August morning and drove that first leg to Oklahoma City, where I picked up my brother.

This car, all loaded up with my meager worldly goods, is the same car that Eric and I drive around Pasadena today. It has an awful lot more scrapes and scratches, but it has served us so well.

My brother, who is such an amazing trooper, got off a Greyhound bus in Oklahoma City and drove us all the way to Albuquerque. I mostly remember the heat and the never-ending desert and the peanut butter crackers and how my brother made me laugh. He is the best.

The next day we made it into LA, where we stayed with my awesome cousins and got to see one of my best friends and learned that California can be rather cold at night, at least on the water.

The third day we made our way up to Berkeley. My landlord called to see what time we’d be arriving right as we were driving over the Bay Bridge. We moved all my stuff in and went out for Indian to celebrate. And then my long-suffering brother slept on the floor until my bed got delivered, at which point he was moved up to the air mattress. It still touches me to this day that he did all that for me, and all that boring Target and grocery store stuff you have to do when you move. He helped me heft a giant orange chair that the university was retiring into that same little two-door car, and a dresser too. He really is the best. I looked back through my old photo album to see the pictures I took of that trip, and there were only three. One of a desolate desert, one of me in said desolate desert, and one of some palm trees in LA. These were the days before digital cameras, when we didn’t snap away with glee, but carefully conserved our 24 exposures. All that is to say, I am so very happy that I have these maps. There must have been countless times I almost threw them away, but I am so glad they became little treasures buried in my atlas. These are human documents, these are relics of an era gone by, these are memories in the form of ink and paper. I am so grateful for them.

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