Thursday, September 08, 2005

Real Residents Don't Ask Directions

One important thing to remember about driving around in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is that Mall Drive does not go to the mall. Once you remember that, well…you know how not to go to the mall.

We had lived here for several months before we learned that there USED to be a mall on Mall Drive, so they cleverly named the street after it at that time. Then someone built the Oakwood Mall in a different section of town. This is what we in Eau Claire today refer to as “the mall.” The old mall on Mall Drive was shut down and razed. So now Mall Drive goes to, among other things, a big field and an old parking lot with faded yellow lines and weeds pushing up through the cracks.

But if you really want to go an existing mall, you can take Golf Road. This street will also, for the time being, take you to a golf course.

We moved to Salt Lake City almost exactly ten years ago, and while it was a bigger city than I was used to (having grown up in western Oklahoma where we thought anything over 10,000 people was a city), it wasn’t too difficult for me to learn to navigate the place. After a year in Salt Lake I felt like an old pro at the area, and even occasionally ventured downtown or other far-away and exotic places like Taylorsville. The system of numbering streets in Salt Lake County (as well as in other cities in Utah) made it relatively easy to figure out where I needed to go. Still, we laughed the lack of “real” names for most of the streets. Did the Mormon pioneers who designed the town not have any imagination? Were they so sick of moving around and building town after town that they didn’t feel like coming up with any other names besides “100 South” or “900 West”?

Well, we’ve been living in Eau Claire for a year now, and I must say that I’m missing the street numbers. Sure, “Fairfax Street” may have a more poetic ring to it than “7th East” or “10600 South,” but it doesn’t give you a clue where it is. I did learn that “Water Street” is near the water. So that helps a little, as long as I can figure out where the water is and which water it’s referring to. Western Wisconsin has some very picturesque areas and is full of lakes and rivers, so there’s plenty of water they could name streets after.

To make things even more interesting, streets here in Eau Claire have a habit of starting and stopping and curving at random. Part of this is due to the fact that they’ve had to build the streets around all these non-linear bodies of water. I am not sure what the rest of it is due to. There is one neighborhood here that I always, always, get lost in. I try to turn toward major streets and I only end up going deeper into the neighborhood until I hit one dead end after another and finally have to attempt to go back out the way I came in. It seems like no matter where in the city I am venturing, I always end up in this same neighborhood. And I still don’t know how to get out of it. Yes, some street numbers would be very helpful about now. (So would carrying a map of the city in my car, but that would be too easy.)

On another note, as for why we needed to take our trip to Seattle last month, I still haven’t seen any big reasons. Perhaps it’s just a quiet thing, like the need for our family to spend more time together. Perhaps it was for a reason we’ll never know.

But we did learn that an apartment building down the street was struck by lightning and caught fire while we were gone. So we avoided being caught in that. But, hey, that was all the way down the street.

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elvin69blair said...
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