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Do you have a GPS in your car? Has it tried to kill you yet? I only ask because a friend of mine, who uses his GPS all the time, said his device has twice tried to send him over nonexistent bridges. He considers the two incidents “honest mistakes” since both locations once had bridges at one time. The bridges were removed at some point but no one bothered to tell the GPS people.
Giving directions has always been a problem here in Maine. It’s often difficult for 'folks from away' to figure out where they're supposed to go because there are so few street signs in Maine. Your GPS may know some streets but not all of them and who knows if it’s right?
The lack of street signs is a problem in most Maine towns. The fact is, we don't like street signs here in Maine and therefore we seldom use them.
I once asked a Selectman back home why there were so few street signs in our town to help people tell one street from another.
He said: "Why waste time and money on street signs. Everyone in town knows what the different streets in town are called and those from away who don't know can stop and ask directions like they've always done.” The average Maine direction-giver is as accurate – on average – as your typical GPS.
A tourist recently stopped and asked me for directions to Freeport. Noticing they has a GPS I asked why they needed my directions. He said I don’t trust this thing and can’t stand the sound of that bossy mechanical voice. The Down East art of giving directions may be making a comeback.
What the article failed to mention was that in many small Maine towns giving directions is a small cottage industry; a finely honed skill passed down from one generation to another. What would happen to this traditional Maine 'industry' if towns started putting up clearly visible and mostly accurate street signs all over and confused tourists finally had a clue as to where they were?
A few years ago a new law required that that every street in a town be named and clearly marked with a street sign. Hollis Beal, the veteran town manager agreed to head up the street naming committee.
Well, almost immediately the street naming project became contentious and some members almost came to blows over one street name or another.
Among other things the committee was supposed to make the town's street names less confusing. For example our town had a Beal Street, Beal Road, a Beal Lane and Beal Alley. And right next to Beal Alley was an Alley Street, just to add to the confusion. No wonder our GPS devices can’t get things right.
Every time Hollis would make a motion to change a name the meeting would erupt into a heated argument. On a road where two old town families lived - the Strouts and Alleys for example - each family insisted that the road bear their family name.
The whole experience was so stressful on Hollis that he finally resigned in disgust.
Meanwhile, trying to decide if your GPS has absorbed all the new name changes is still a problem.

John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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