Off the Map

Don’t trust the GPS if you want to get there from here

illustration by brad fitzpatrick

There’s a joke that begins, “Our town is so small —”

Audience: “How small is it?”

“It’s so small that nobody uses directionals because everyone knows where everyone is going.”

I thought of that joke one Saturday as my husband Don and I were having lunch in the Village Green Café on Main Street in Center Sandwich. We’re Laconia natives, and when we returned to the Lakes Region 40 years ago, we decided to settle in this small town, one of New Hampshire’s prettiest, which was close to our hometown but not too close.

So there we were in the café, glancing occasionally out the window. I thought I recognized a car approaching, though from our angle I couldn’t see the driver. I said, “There’s Joe.” Then I corrected myself, “No, it can’t be Joe, it’s coming from the wrong direction.” That is, not from Joe’s house.

Then Don and I both remembered today was Saturday, so of course we said, “He’s coming from the dump.”

During our Saturday errands, we ourselves had been to the dump — aka the Sandwich Transfer Station and Recycling Center. Afterward, at the post office and the library, we’d seen some of the same people we’d seen at the dump, doing the same errands as we were doing. Directionals weren’t needed (however, I hasten to say we did use them); we all could guess where we all were going.

Sandwich has grown since we moved here, but it’s still a small town.

During the early GPS years, we had to rescue lost guests who thought they knew where they were going. Instead of taking their usual routes to our house, they followed their GPS directions onto a little dirt road that led them to a three-way corner of two more dirt roads. Here, the three road signs on a post only added to their confusion. We got bewildered phone calls asking, “Where are we? Where are you?” If we couldn’t talk them through the maze, Don drove off to fetch them.

GPS directions also caused trouble on the Sandwich Notch Road. A couple of centuries ago, this was a busy route. It is no longer. It still runs nine miles west to east between Thornton and Sandwich, but the old dirt road is more suitable for a hike, such as the link in the Mount Israel hike in my father’s “50 More Hikes in New Hampshire.”

My sister Penny and I have done that hike. Don and I once hiked the road’s entire length, meeting my father and stepmother midway, having an amused reunion, and exchanging car keys. We saw the road’s history that my father describes: “Chopped from the forested notch about 1800, the road became a thoroughfare for people of remote northern settlements. Those pioneers needed markets and products available only in towns settled earlier to the south and even as far as the coast and Portsmouth. By 1850 well-established families occupied the notch. They logged and operated farms, sawmills, a tavern, a whiskey still, and schoolhouses. Now all that remains are a cemetery and cellar holes.”

However, the GPS people seem to have thought it was still a main road. Suddenly, Sandwich folks were telling tales of seeing the cars that managed to get through from Thornton, their mufflers missing, their drivers ashen.

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