By Ron Scopelliti
Pawtucket. It’s a little-known fact that the name Pawtucket is actually derived from a Native American phrase meaning “How the hell do I get back to Rte. 95?” Or maybe not. Maybe, as our president likes to say when he’s caught in a lie, that’s just something that someone told me.
I bring it up because I seldom go to Pawtucket without getting lost, and I’m anticipating a trip to the Map Center, which recently relocated from Providence to Pawtucket. I looked the place up because I’ve been spending too much time using virtual maps, and not enough time with the good, old fashioned paper sort. I figured a trip to a map store would reignite my passion for real, physical maps.
Unfortunately, when I called to find out what their hours were, I was afraid I’d sound like a smart-ass asking the guy from the Map Center for directions to his store. So instead I’m in the counterproductive position of looking it up it up on my phone.
Not that there’s any guarantee that all the tech will get me there. I still have trouble finding the same path to and from my favorite Thai restaurant in Pawtucket, and frequently end up taking an unintended diversion through another city, or occasionally another state. I feel like I’d have a better time finding my way if I got back to using a real paper map, and breaking out of what’s become an unhealthy reliance on my cell phone.
And it’s an unhealthy reliance that’s ever-increasing. In addition to being my main map repository, my iPhone is now my most frequently used camera, my kitchen timer, my compass, my level, my social media hub … It’s nauseating to think that not only do I feel uneasy leaving the house without it – I now feel uneasy if I go to the basement to do laundry or work on my bicycle without my stinking iPhone.
The last pocket item I came to depend on so heavily was my Swiss Army Knife, but somehow I find that less disturbing. There’s something special about a knife. It’s one of the fundamental tools of humanity. When our ancient ancestors decided to upgrade from sticks and stones, what did they make? Knives.
I’ve owned the same Swiss Army Knife for about 30 years, and bought it back when I was a technician. In those days its numerous tools got heavy use, stripping wires, cutting tubing, adjusting process controllers, tightening terminals… And even though it’s now generally used for opening blister packs and enlarging the vent-holes on my coffee cups for optimal flow, I still feel uncomfortable if it’s not in my left pocket.
Shortly after I bought it, I learned about the now-defunct Swiss Army Knife Society. According to a 1993 article in the “San Diego Reader,” the society was founded by San Diego schoolteacher Rick Wall, and at that time had a membership of about 5,000. Members received a parchment certificate, a wallet-sized membership card, and a subscription to the society’s quarterly newsletter, “The Crimson Cutter.”
I never got around to joining, but I kind of wish I did. Which is kind of ironic, because I’d never consider joining an iPhone society. In fact, I often denigrate the Apple-flavored Kool Aid cult that’s developed around any tech device whose name starts with a lower-case “i”.
Maybe the difference is because the Swiss Army Knife Society had a sense of humor about itself, a whole hip-to-be-square attitude that’s the antithesis of Apple culture. But it’s more than that. A knife is just such a down-to-earth thing that I feel keeps me in touch with reality. I’ll never be able to consider my phone to be down-to-earth when it’s constantly trying to get me to join the iCloud.
I figure that, even if I don’t end up buying anything at the Map Center, being in a store full of good old-fashioned maps will help get me back in touch with the world. And who knows, maybe I will actually come home with something cool and unusual, like one of those amazing, annotated maps that George Matteson used to make of local towns.
That’s assuming I actually find my way to the place without getting lost in a wormhole, a subspace rift, or Woonsocket. Maybe I should stop in AAA and see if they’ll put together a TripTik to get me there.