It was a dark and stormy night. No, really.

It begins innocently enough.

It always does.

Like any horror tale.

The Denver map.

It looks like any city map.

Until you open it.

First time I did, I fell on the floor. Then draped it over me like a blanket.

That mother measures 3 feet by 4 feet (.91 meter by 1.21 meter).

For perspective, lemme place it on the bed and pull back until I am one with the wall and even then I cannot get the entire map into the frame:

And here’s the back side:

And where I’m staying is on the flip side while every destination is on the other side. Of course.

The yellow and white portion is the streets. We’ll return to that momentarily.

I’ve seen a lot of maps. I’ve not seen one as big as Denver’s.

This is not a map you open while driving. This is a map a child wears as a Halloween cape.

It’s not just that Denver’s map is huge and unwieldy. It’s that it’s filled with tiny little streets that go every which way into infinity.

not even a blip on the map

Notice the circular sections on the upper left. I ain’t even gonna attempt to go there. I don’t care who lives there. We’re meeting in a cafe on a major straight street.

I go nowhere without this map. Not that it makes any difference.

Tuesday I ended up on the surface streets in the commute from downtown. I didn’t mind at first. It’s one way — an important way — to get to know the feel and rhythm of a place.

Then I made a left turn.

The hallway in the horror movie that you should not have taken.

Wasn’t long before I was lost in the maze.

Had no idea where I was.

No notion of which direction I was pointing in.

No clue of where the motel was.

No one to ask.

I’d landed in a super-wealthy development where the value of a single home exceeds the GDP of Nigeria. A development that to the best of my ability I later determined to be Cherry Hill.

No where to stop for directions.

The advice received when I first arrived: The mountains are always to the west.

Well, that’s just dandy — when the skies are clear!

But they were not! It was a dark and stormy evening. The rain fell in torrents.

Just like in the movie.

And I broke down sobbing. Yes I did. Being lost and directionless is one of my nightmares. Actual nightmare in sleep time.

I pulled into the driveway of one of those uber-homes, a driveway measuring approximately half a city block, with tears streaming down my cheeks trying to orient.

I sat hoping my presence in their driveway might alarm a resident into thinking I was scoping out his place and incite him to emerge.

Or telephone the police.

Neither happened.

Instead, I remained helpless, the map useless.

I continued driving around crying and praying, crying and praying for help. Just like the film’s main character before the knife-wielding creepy guy jumps out from the shadows.

Only the guy who appeared had neither scar-embedded face nor blade. At the stoplight — bless the stoplight! — I lowered my window. He must’ve seen the abject teary panic painted on my face because he lowered his.

“What direction is blah-blah?” I pleaded.

He pointed. I thanked him profusely and went on my way.

Mind you, my predicament was far from over. I was still woefully and desperately lost but had gained a footing. I was no longer clutching the window sill with my chewed nails, dangling over the vast black void chomping its fanged jaws in anticipation.

At the first sign of civilization I pulled in. A supermarket. An oasis in the desert. Where the Starbucks’ lady, patting my arm in response to my distress, and young male clerk with his smart phone (god I must myself one!) together got me pointed in the right direction WITH directions.

Still in the thunderstorm. Because in horror movies, the rain never abates now does it.

Like the heroine, I did make it back alive.

Only to turn to leave 15 minutes later to view a room clear across town in the other direction.

I got a bit lost. But nothing like the 1-1/2-hour nightmarish attempt to traverse 10 miles of the Denver streets.

Remember the aforementioned yellow and white portion, approximately 2+ feet by 4 feet?

Those are the street names. You might as well be reading a friggin’ phone book! With a magnifying glass. Borrowed from Mr. Mustard. With the pipe. In the parlor.

{fade to black}


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Invictus
    Jul 16, 2011 @ 14:09:03

    Yeah, the last time I was in Denver, the family and I had an exciting time trying to escape the city. We got off onto the surface streets at about 10 at night, and drove around the city center for a while, trying to regain the freeway, any freeway. It was like Canavan’s back yard, except with stoplights. Then again, we were in no hurry, so there wasn’t any pressure. Still, Denver’s the second-hardest city I’ve ever tried to get around in; only Seattle was worse.


    • allycatadventures
      Jul 16, 2011 @ 20:28:27

      @Brandon – I’d agree with that assessment. Pierce County (Tacoma etc.), hampered by frequent road name changes and wacky layout, was no day in the park; Boise as well could be challenging with name changes and now with the explosive growth into beyond Nampa, well, I barely knew where I was at any given moment!

      Denver looks deceptively smaller on the map than it is in reality. Just last night a local informed me of the Denver north vs. south mind-set. Nothing hostile or akin to northern vs. southern CA; rather it’s based strictly on geography and travel distances.

      I can relate to the search for a freeway, any freeway. That very thing happened last night. Construction-related detours left me wondering whether I was even heading south any longer and/or whether I might see the freeway ever again. Like the blind monk, I followed the detours and was surprised as all get-out when I ended up on the southbound on-ramp. Fluke. Total fluke and impossible to retrace!


  2. aubrey
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 02:20:11

    It’s no comfort, but I’ve often found that a hands-on fight against being lost – while a fearful hell on the outset – is often the first step towards acclimating yourself to your surroundings.

    But that was getting lost while on foot. I can’t imagine the horror of being lost while driving.

    Looking at the closeup of the map I can’t help but wonder how the city was laid out. It’s not a neat grid – it must have had parts and layers added as the years went by…winding up with a nightmare of circles and curves!


    • allycatadventures
      Jul 17, 2011 @ 08:05:55

      @aubrey – The original Denver was platted on a diagonal, with perpendicular cross streets; soon thereafter came a second platting that followed the four cardinal directions. So the city’s actually laid out on two distinctly different grids. THEN came fast growth where land was platted with minimal government direction, with developers doing basically whatever the heck they wanted! It’s one crazy system here! The folks so far who seem to know it best are those who were raised here — though at least one fellow told me he’s from here and he still doesn’t entirely know his way around!


    • allycatadventures
      Jul 17, 2011 @ 09:30:17

      @aubrey – P.S. I often welcome being lost for that very reason — serves to acclimate. And because I love to walk, it’s quite common that I set sail into foreign waters for my love of adventure, discovery, orientation and intimate connection with a place. Driving, however, has a very different feel, is a very different process from walking and made more intimidating by the simple fact that it involves a 2,000+-pound piece of machinery amongst many more of its ilk. I’ve been lost on trains and buses too and those too feel very different from being lost alone in a car in a wacky city in the torrential rain. Try it sometime! It’s memorable!


  3. longeyesamurai
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 19:04:10

    Oh man, now I want a map of Denver… in puzzle form…
    Weird to see my father’s name on the small part of the map you put.

    And from the wiki-entry: “Confusion may arise where the two grid systems meet, especially given downtown Denver’s one way streets. The system can be easily navigated with the help of directional signs. The mountains to the west also offer a great compass-point for those attempting to drive in the Mile High City.” Spooky


    • allycatadventures
      Jul 17, 2011 @ 21:30:36

      @Capra – You simply cannot leave me hanging! What’s your dad’s name? As for the mountains to the west, as mentioned, all fine and dandy until they’re obscured by weather conditions …. saaaaaay, daily thunderstorms! 🙂


  4. Drude
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 02:40:09

    If you ever go to Europe… this is how ALL major cities look… they just grew like this over the centuries with very little planning it seems… or different planning at different times. Only where major disasters happened and whole cities had to be rebuilt quickly or where some military genius decreed a city should be built for defensive purposes are the roads on any resemblance of a grid…. and what’s even funnier… I can’t find my way around in a grid lay-out city… everything looks exactly the same – nothing tells me what end of town I am in… if you are used to curves and weird shaped roads as landmarks… everything being all straight is a frigging nightmare.


  5. Trackback: A. Big. Surprise. « Barefoot Blogger

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