On The Grid

I love this article simply because of the headline:

How Your Brain Is Like Manhattan

The Good Man and I have long debates about cities set on a grid. The very town where I grew up, Albuquerque, has a beautiful easy to navigate grid. I always figured it was due to the city’s start as a military town that roads are well organized into either north/south or east/west.

So simple. Easy. Really tough to get lost.

I gripe about the Bay Area and these roads that are all angled off to Joneses, changing directions midway and stopping suddenly. For example, there is an exit off of 101 where you have to choose the north or south bound exit. However…the road actually runs east west.

Combine this with California’s lack of mile markers and only sporadic use of street signs and I can go from zero to bonkers in about three seconds.

One of the many reasons I love Manhattan is that it’s set up on a grid. Navigating makes sense! A hayseed like me had zero trouble in the big city knowing where to go and how to get there. I never, not once, got lost while in Manhattan. And if I’m not worried about how to get there, then I relax and enjoy the journey.

The Good Man, on the other hand, has a brain that’s a lot more fluid than mine. Where I’ll draw a straight line, he’ll make expressionist art. He don’t need no stinking grid roads, he has a powerful innate sense of direction and an even stronger sense of joie de vivre when it comes to getting lost. He sees getting lost as a fun adventure. I see it as a teeth gritting bit of fear and misery.

Meanwhile both my brain and my road preferences tend to be a little more like the gorgeous city of Manhattan.

Image from Grush Hour.

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  • Frank Conway

    My brain is like Manhattan alright. It’s all in there, even, I think, the bars my friend Roger, a small town boy like me who came to the big city to come out, used to tell me about where strange, strange things happened in back rooms, before HIV. Central Park, yes, the MOMA, but the alleyways behind those bars, too. It’s all there. Just waiting.

    An interesting week for you, though, from a changing downtown SF to the city grid of Abq and NYC.

    I’ve noticed that many people here in Albuquerque give directions using terms like “the northwest corner of,” especially women. I grew up in Michigan, which is part of the Northwest Territories, the whole of which you may recall was surveyed and laid out on a grid, 640 acres to a mile square section and even country roads run along the edges of those one mile squares. Wherever you are, you know where you are.

    I’ve recently noticed that I’m old enough, 59, to remember things that are really, actually from a different era, the 1950s — before computers, color TV, before Watergate, before Kennedy, before Reagan — an era that now seems quaint, pretty near old fashioned, maybe old fashioned.

    My hometown, New Buffalo, has become a new town several times over. The natural outline remains, Lake Michigan, the sky, the dunes, and the man-made grid remains. The Albuquerque grid remains. Central Avenue will still be there. It will change in sections, sections of it will be the same for a long time and eventually those will change. The Rio Grande Valley, the mountains, will remain.

    The past with its grids and familiar slopes on the east and west sides of the valley becomes an outline, eventually covered in moss, but organizing our memory of the changes we can recall.

    Oh well. According to Jon Hamilton’s article, we’re organized whether we’re organized or not, which is long awaited, blessed assurance to me, and which may explain how your partner can sleep at night not really, truly, knowing where he is.

    • Karen Fayeth

      Frank – Awesome comment! Just right on stuff.

      This quote: “we’re organized whether we’re organized or not” really got me nodding my head.

      Thanks for giving me lots to think about!

  • Alan

    Salt lake is laid out very much in a grid as well. Not only is it easy to navigate, but someone can give me an address I’ve never been to, and I know right were it is based on its coordinates. I’ve heard out-of-towners complain about it, but I can’t imagine any layout being easier than SLC’s is.

    • Karen Fayeth

      Alan – I’ve only ever flown through SLC, never roamed the streets. I hear it’s beautiful (and some of your photos attest to that). If it’s on a grid, I think I’d like it!!

  • Peter

    Would you like “580E/80W” or “580W/80E”? Uh, I want to go south from Berkeley…

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