Map it out first: It beats finding dead-end road

October 16, 2006|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Columnist

Before I get all gooey about my love affair with MapQuest, let's begin with a confession.

Until a few years ago, I was strictly old-school when it came to driving directions.

My car's glove compartment was crammed with the usual assortment of Rand McNally road maps, the kind you spread out over the steering wheel until they were about 6 feet wide, all creased and torn and yellow with age.

You needed to take an origami class just to refold them.

But not anymore, my friend.

The road maps are history, strictly a backup, gathering cobwebs in a closet somewhere.

Now I'm all about MapQuest.

Now, cruising down the highway with a printout of MapQuest directions in one hand, I'm confident that I'll get where I want to go - provided I don't plow into a ditch when I take my eyes off the road to read the printout.

Am I hyping this too much? Is it too over-the-top? Sorry.

But MapQuest has - OK, you're going to laugh - changed my life.

No more squinting at the tiny print on road maps when planning a trip. (Look, I know my eyes are going. But can they make the print on these maps any smaller? You can't be over the age of 10 to see anything on these maps.)

No more stopping startled strangers by the side of the road for directions and having them jump back because they think it's some kind of kidnapping attempt.

No more pulling into gas stations when I'm lost and asking the bored fat guy behind the plexiglass for help.

Nope, those days are over, my friend.

OK, I know this is gushy. I know what it's starting to sound like.

No, I'm not getting a kickback from MapQuest to write this. No, I don't own stock in the company.

Look, I'm shilling for free here. I just really love this Web site.

And it's so easy to use, even a Luddite like me can't screw things up.

On your computer, you go to the MapQuest Web site.

You type in the starting location with your fat little fingers.

You type in the ending location.

You click "Get Directions."

What could be simpler?

Oh, I know, I know ... the world has moved on, you say.

Now there are in-dash navigational systems and portable GPS devices to help you get around on unfamiliar roads.

That's OK.

I'll stick with MapQuest - for now. (Yes, that's a threat. More on that in a moment.)

Sometimes, when I'm feeling daring, I go to MapQuest and click on Advanced Options.

Have you done this yet?

Oh, it's exhilarating!

In terms of getting directions, it's like going from middle school to Yale.

Click on Advanced Options and now, instead of getting directions from Point A to Point B that involve the shortest amount of time, you can get directions that involve the shortest distance.

You can get directions that avoid highways.

You can get directions that avoid tolls.

You can get directions that avoid seasonally closed roads.

Oh, it's a beautiful thing. Sure, I hardly ever use it. But just knowing it's there is somehow comforting.

OK, I do have one problem with MapQuest. And it's a big one. (See, I told you I'm not on its payroll. Not that I'm above that sort of thing. ... )

The problem is this: Like every other corporate entity in existence, MapQuest has sold its soul for the almighty dollar.

I say this because the advertising on the site is out of control.

I clicked on it the other day to get directions to my kid's high school soccer game, an away game in another part of the county.

And up popped a snippet from the new Robin Williams movie Man of the Year.

Hey, MapQuest. When I click on you, I don't want to see snippets from the new Robin Williams movie, OK?

I don't want to see ads for Sprint Nextel's new phone with in-car navigation system, which just happens to contain MapQuest.

I just want to get directions.

Don't make me go back to those Rand McNally maps.

Because I will do it.

Providing I can remember what closet I stuffed them in.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, click on baltimoresun.com/Cowherd

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