You Can’t Get There From Here

The small town I grew up in had streets that ran north/south, east and west, and were a block apart.  The small town I was bussed to, to attend high school, had streets that ran north/south, east and west.  The small city we drove to, to shop, had square-meeting, compass-point streets.  The city I moved to for my first job embraced a long narrow bay.  There were a few streets that had to make allowances for shoreline, but again, geographical neatness was the order of the day.  I almost thought that this was a fortuitous law of the universe.  Then I moved here, and found the chaos capital of Ontario.

Several hundred years ago, the King of Holland gave several thousand in excess population, to his cousin, the King of Germany, who marched them several hundred miles, to settle an area emptied by plague.  They and their descendants lived there for more than a hundred years.  They were Protestants, surrounded by Catholics who hated and abused them.  They spoke Dutch, though, over the years their local dialect absorbed German words and phrases.    As soon as they were allowed to, these religiously persecuted people moved to the new world, and settled in Pennsylvania.

They became the Amish, speaking Pennsylvania Dutch, their Dutch-laden and accented German dialect.  Soon, a young preacher named Menno had an ever-growing group convinced that the Amish ways were wrong, so the peace-loving Amish persecuted the splinter group, now called Mennonites.

The Mennonites heard that there was good farmland for sale in this area.  They purchased a tract and moved north in their Conestoga Wagons.  The British government eventually sent out surveyors who laid out neat roads, and village streets, everywhere but here.  The original name of our ancestor village was Sand Hills.  The hills were not as big as the mountains of Pennsylvania, but the newcomers did as they had down south. 

If Klaus wanted to go to Gunter’s house, he just took the quickest, easiest way, which might not be a straight line,  If Gunter wanted to go to Horst’s house, he did the same, and Horst’s path back to Klaus’, just formed a sloppy triangle.  As the city grew, these trails/cow paths became the streets.  Germans have a reputation for being neat and orderly, but visitors and newcomers are driven crazy by the lack of road logic.  I was going to use the word, “layout”, but that implies that somebody actually laid them out.  These streets are more like the character Topsy, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, they just growed.  No street in either of the Twin Cities runs more than a couple of blocks in any direction before it angles off, only to swoop back even farther a few blocks ahead.  The street map resembles a plate of spaghetti.

We have an impressive collection of three-point, and five-point intersections.  If streets cross at 90 degrees, it’s more by accident than planning.  The only street that runs due north and south, is a four block section of Lancaster Street, and it is labeled Lancaster West.  Our twin city to the north used to be five miles away, but over the years the two have grown, till now there is no separation.  This just makes matters worse, since streets in one city continue in the other. 

King St., the main street of our city runs south-east, to north-west.  Just as it enters our twin, it takes a 45 degree jag to the right.  After another three blocks in the new city, it jags 45 degrees right again, now running south-west to north-east.  Our portion is King St. East and West.  Theirs is King St. North and South.  Try explaining to someone why and how one street apparently runs in all four directions.  Its mate, Weber St. (pronounced wee-brrr), does exactly the opposite, producing a map that looks like a DNA molecule.  These two streets cross three times, once here, and twice to the north.  I once had a new salesman call me for directions to my plant.  When I asked him where he was, he told me, “King and Weber.”  I had to ask him to describe the nearby buildings, to know exactly where he was.

Streets in different areas grew to meet main roads at the same point.  Chopin Dr. goes through a traffic light and becomes Brybeck Crescent.  Strange St. runs past the daughter’s place and becomes West Ave.  Queen St. one-ways around the huge island a hospital sits on, and becomes Queens Blvd.  We must have a dozen examples like that.  Right downtown, Frederick St. and Benton St. didn’t meet King St. by a hundred feet.  Over the years, each has been widened toward the other, till now the intersection is perfect, just with different names on each side.

A block down the street, at the main intersection of King and Queen Streets, there is a twenty-foot difference on the two branches of Queen.  Two hundred years ago, there was an apple tree on a founding father’s farm.  The cows went around the tree on their way to the pasture.  The dog sent to fetch the cows, went around the tree.  The farm-boy who chased the dog, went around the tree.  The tree is long gone, but the S-bend in the road is still there.  Other towns have streets laid out by surveyors.  We got roads laid out by livestock.

The Region is the first and the fastest, in North America, to install roundabouts, as they have in Europe.  We now have dozens of the infernal things.  Drivers here have little enough ability to drive through normal intersections.  The learning curve is a lot slower than the ivory-tower traffic planners anticipated.  More accidents, just less property damage, although a female high-school student was seriously injured by a city bus, and is suing for $17 million.

Even in the new subdivisions, the city continues to cause Find-it problems.  Just west of me, they finished a street which forms a large 0, half a mile wide, and a mile and a half long.  Take more than a J, but less than a U from the ellipse, and it’s called East Forest Dr.  The remaining little J is called West Forest Trail.  This is another street that has two names, depending on which side of the main road you’re on.  And the chunk to the west, is the East Forest, while the piece to the east is named West Forest.

It’s no wonder you can’t get there from here.  You’d have to be a Zen driver, and most of the drivers in this town can’t even spell Zen.

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8 thoughts on “You Can’t Get There From Here

  1. kayjai says:

    Yep…sounds familiar…*sigh*

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  2. Jim Wheeler says:

    Having lived in some dozen or so cities over the years I am inclined to think pasta-inspired street design may directly correlate to latitude. The prime example of that came when we lived in the Boston area in the late 1970’s. Bostonians exhibit considerable pride that their street design derives from the original cow paths.

    Coming from the center of the country and compass-correct design, we encountered conditions similar to what you describe in Ontario, but exacerbated by a further strange custom. The street signs for the major arteries were omitted except for major intersections, so if one weren’t already familiar with an area, one was left befuddled in the twists and turns. The omission might be one more version of the Yankee proclivity for penny-pinching, and besides, (unspoken but perceived) ” . . . if you were one of us and actually belonged here, you’d know where you are.”

    Roundabouts abound in the Boston area, but I think they call them “rotaries”. Driving there is video-game action. Eye contact is a sign of weakness. We left after two years, feeling lucky to be alive. Here in Joplin, roundabouts are beginning to appear, but the streets are still compass-straight.

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    • Archon's Den says:

      I guess anywhere the people got there before the surveyors would tend to have pasta-streets. And you need to Belong in Boston?! Go down to Bob’s house, turn left and drive out to the Johnson’s. Rotaries sounds more Boston-ish than the British, roundabouts.

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  3. I enjoyed that little tour. It makes me glad I don’t drive.

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    • Archon's Den says:

      It’s a good thing I know my way around the towns. I’m the designated chauffeur. The wife’s doctor is in the next small city over. It was three large towns, in a five mile triangle with typical Mennonite confusion, that were the first in Ontario to be forcibly amalgamated, in 1973. If anything, even worse than Kitchener/Waterloo.

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  4. whiteladyinthehood says:

    Wow! I am unfortunately someone who gets lost really easy – I would be in big bad trouble….

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    • Archon's Den says:

      Apparently you’re not the only one, judging by the number of folks who ask me for directions. The thing that gets to me is the (Two Cities) concept. I know they’ve grown together, but signs are up. Would it make it easier for the dummies if Waterloo named their main street Johnson N. and S.? Then again, the brainy female with 96% average in high school couldn’t keep the French “et” straight, from the Latin “et”.

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