Thursday, February 23, 2012

The way streets ought to be

Did you ever take something for granted?

Consider streets, for instance – those thoroughfares that get you from here to there and back again, going north and south, east and west, intersecting at equal intervals, punctuated only by an occasional stoplight or stop sign, and going on until a cornfield jumps up and says, “Far enough.”

I sure did.

The first 29 years that I drove a car, I lived in a town with nice straight streets. In many cases, you could start out at one end and get almost across town before you reached the other end, whether you were going up and down or back and forth.

The other towns I’d lived in or visited were much the same. Some even had the courtesy to name the streets with numbers or letters in accelerating order, radiating out from a main drag.

Consequently, I lived more than four decades of my life, believing this as truth – all towns are on a grid.

Well, aren’t they? It only makes sense, right?

Oh, there might be an exception here and there – a place where a "grand" avenue seems all confused, crossing the others at an angle, or where other streets stop so they won’t run into the schools placed squarely in their paths.

In case, as I did, you still believe the fallacy that all streets cross each other just so, I’m here to tell you the truth as I’ve discovered it.

It “ain’t that way” everywhere else.

Almost 30 years after I learned to drive, I found myself living near a pair of adjoining cities where it seemed as if I could count on one hand the number of streets that went straight though town – and some of those only went one direction. We won’t talk about how many times I looked up to see that every car except mine was going the other direction.

Streets in these cities usually ended after a couple blocks or went in circles, triangles or assorted strange trapezoids even a geometry professor would have trouble identifying. I learned not to venture far from the two major north-south streets and two east-west streets which I trusted myself to travel, believing I’d surely get so lost even bagel crumbs wouldn’t help me find my way home.

One day, though, trying a new cross street in the twin-cities, I found an obstacle in my way, one I hadn’t stumbled upon for at least a decade. Creeping across the street was a moving train.

I felt as if I were home again – nonsensical streets or not. I got so excited that I had to call the first person to come to mind who would understand my excitement – a teen from my hometown.

I should have expected his reply, one of the few words in a youthful vocabulary, “Uh.”

I knew he got it, though. After all, he answered me, didn’t he?

A few days ago, I found myself again in the town where I learned to drive, the one with the nicely laid-out grid. But, what did I encounter on a major north-south street?

You got it – a train, stopped dead in its tracks, blocking the roadway.

The good thing about Galesburg, though, is that I know how to get around obstacles – because in The ‘Burg, the streets make sense.

They did something right when they built that town.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

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