I am a Human G.P.S.

Ever since I’ve known myself, I have always been interested as to which highways (and later waterways and railroads) go where. Even in my very early childhood, I would pay close attention to where my parents would drive and memorize the routes. Also, I remember asking from a very early age what were the names of certain roads we traveled on. The only explanation as to why navigation interests me is because I inherited this interest genetically from my dad. In the first half of the year 1991, he would drive me to a nursery/preschool at a church in Schriever, Louisiana. As he drove, he would teach me about the roads we traveled on to get there. I was only four years old, but I was paying close attention. It’s in my genes, I guess, but unfortunately, my brother and sister didn’t inherit this interest, as they take after my mom. In fact, as early as age six, in the summer of 1993, I was giving driving directions to my mom! Other family members recognized my skills with memorizing and figuring out routes. Many were impressed, but I’m sure others questioned why would a young child who cannot legally drive yet (not even reach the pedals) be interested in highway navigation.

The current route of US 90 in my area didn’t have its alignment until the late Summer of 1999. Between Raceland and Morgan City, US 90 was routed through Houma on what is now LA 182. When I was a young child, the highway that would be the new four-laned US 90 ended at its interchange with LA 311. Traffic wanting to continue west went North on LA 311 until Schriever then went West on LA 24 and finally West on LA 20 towards Gibson where it was connected to US 90 once again. Very slowly, and I mean at a snail’s pace, the new US 90, temporarily known as LA 3052, was being built and by 1998 it had reached LA 20 out in the Atchafalaya Swamps in Western Terrebonne Parish. In the defense of the government and the construction contractors, the swamp bridge that carries this highway is indeed one of the longest bridges in the world. However, when the railroad coming through this area back in the 1850s, it didn’t take anywhere near as long as long to build though. In fact, there was a railroad between Algiers (New Orleans on the Westbank) and what is now Morgan City completed between 1852 and 1857. Most of it still exists to this day. It took over 20 years to upgrade US 90 in my area. I remember reading a newspaper article in the Summer of 1998, that the New US 90 would be complete in 1999 and that its former routes would be known as “LA 182.” A year later, we rode to New Iberia and all of the westbound portions of the New US 90 were complete, but some of the eastbound portions still needed a little work. A few weeks later my dad was bringing me and my brother to the YMCA in Houma, LA, and some of the LA 182 signs were up. It wasn’t until December of 1999 that the route numbers of LA 3198 and LA 3199 (also part of US 90’s former route) in Raceland were changed to LA 182. I remember seeing those signs on a bus ride home one day. The change happened while I was in class. I was sure happy to see those new signs.

In my preteen years, I began to collect, study and memorize roadmaps. I would also go to the library, just to get on the computer to use the program Microsoft Streets and Trips 2000. If the library staff would have allowed me to, I could have looked at those maps for hours on end. That was also one of the programs my parents purchased when they acquired a computer in the Summer of 2000. Because of this computer program, I also began to memorize which waterways went where, though I wouldn’t get heavily interested in that until fifteen years later. I don’t remember if the said map program labeled the railroads, therefore I couldn’t figure out which ones went where. However, I do remember thinking about how most of the railroads were there before the highways and looking at them while passing by the Raceland Junction one day in the Summer of 2000 while coming back from my maternal grandmother’s house. It would be eleven years later from that point when I started memorizing the railroad lines and routes.

At age fourteen a fellow classmate referred to me as a “human GPS” while on a field trip to Baton Rouge. This was in January of 2001, though, and while I indeed knew what a GPS was, not everyone else did. Some people were annoyed at this hobby of mine, yet still impressed at least to a very slight degree. At the age of fourteen, I wanted so badly to be a truck driver, for the simple fact that I would get paid to travel the roads and collect road miles. My family wouldn’t hear of it though because they wanted me to go to college instead. Also, in the summer of 2001, however, things started to change. I had discovered radio communications while doing research online and began to forget about studying maps. This would go on for the next five to six years.

At age sixteen, I discovered writing and every now and then, my navigation hobby would inspire my writing. Certain highways in my area are the inspiration for certain highways in my works of fiction.

On December 30, 2003, just a few days shy of turning seventeen, I finally got my driver’s license.

In the Summer of 2006, at the age of nineteen, I got a hand me down 1998 Ford Taurus, but it wouldn’t be until 2007 that I began to start exploring on my own.

In late January of 2007, I drove myself and my girlfriend (now soon to be ex wife) to Kenner and we spent the day at the Esplanade Mall.

Another time in February 2007, I drove over the Huey Pierce Long Bridge (prior to the widening or traffic lights at the West Traffic Circle) and took her to the Clearview Mall in Metairie, LA.

Around Mardi Gras of 2007, I drove her to Morgan City, LA and Bayou Vista, LA but took the Old US 90 (LA 182) back home, all the way through Houma, LA, much to her dismay.

Around Easter of 2007, I drove her to Metairie, LA to show her the house maternal grandmother lived in and later the Riverwalk in Downtown New Orleans. We crossed the River back home on the Canal Street Ferry.

In 2008, I drove all the way to just north of Alexandria, LA to evacuate from Hurricane Gustav.

All of these trips (except the last one mentioned) had an ulterior motive and that was to hone my navigational skills. I pretty much knew how to get to these places by studying the map, but actually doing it was a whole new accomplishment for me. Many times my girlfriend got nervous because she doesn’t like riding in unfamiliar territory. This, of course, is where we butt heads frequently, especially now as husband and wife. UPDATE: My wife and I are in the process of getting a divorce. My heart is broken, but will heal eventually.

Believe it or not, despite being a human GPS, I have never driven outside of Louisiana and I am thirty going on thirty-one at the time of writing this.

However, I have indeed helped others, friends, family, and in-laws navigate through unfamiliar areas many times.

UPDATE: On December 30, 2017, the fourteenth anniversary of me getting my driver’s license, I drove across a state line for the first time.

For both waterways and railroads, my interest in learning their routes started at age thirteen, but they were forgotten about until my mid to late twenties.

I had been interested in trains from a very young age, probably because my parents read me children’s books about them, but also I had a few toy trains as a young child. As an older child, the interest went away, not to come back except slightly as a teen when I discovered that I could hear trains on a scanner. It wasn’t until age twenty-four that I became fully engulfed in my railroad hobby.

As for waterways it was seeing their routes on a computer that interested me, but it wasn’t until age twenty-eight that I became interested in them when I realized that railroads might upgrade their communications systems to where scanners cannot hear them, but VHF Marine will still be in the clear for years to come. To me watching barge traffic is almost as fun as watching railroad traffic.

In 2011 at the age of twenty-four, I began memorizing the railroad lines in my state and a few other states. Railroads are a bit tricky because they are mostly privately owned in the USA. Therefore getting too close to some of them is considered trespassing. Also, most railroads in the USA are used more for transporting freight and not necessarily passengers, though this wasn’t always the case.

In 2015 at the age of twenty-eight, I started to learn the [navigable] waterway routes of my area. Like railroads, [inland] waterways don’t really carry passengers anymore, rather they too carry mostly freight. Also like railroads this wasn’t always the case.

Being a human GPS comes in handy many times, I must say, though I think it is under-appreciated by most around me. This is especially true in the age of smartphones with built-in navigation apps.

I still like showing off my navigational skills when I can, but now I don’t give a damn whether others like it or not. If anyone is going to give me grief about it, I don’t need them in my life anyway.

Hopefully, I have been informative and maybe entertaining…

Back to “Personal Reflections”

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