I love Dallas and practically everything about life in it except for the problem of getting from one place in it to another. In fact, if it weren’t for Southland Corporation-which has bestowed upon Dallas its many fine 7-Elevens from which to call someone to talk the directionally impaired through the final leg of a journey to parts unknown-I might long ago have been lost to the wilds of the city’s byways.
Of course, it’s true that much of the problem resides within my own self, not our fair Metroplex. I was born anxious, and the day they handed out senses of direction in drivers’ ed, I was absent. Hence, my life as a driver has not been a happy one. Hurtling along in 2,500 pounds of metal on an unforgiving freeway is not my idea of a good time.
Accordingly, I share with my friend Pat Koning a severe mistrust of directions that involve any previously unessayed thoroughfares. Pat says: “I will go the most circuitous, stupid way in the world to duplicate a route that I know works from previous experience, rather than improvise. Consequently I’m routinely thirty to forty minutes late.”
So, okay, I’m no roads scholar, but Dallas doesn’t do much to help out the dense driver, either. For starters, the absurdly short on-ramps to Central Expressway are sufficiently terrifying to the timid so as to create an immediate aversion to Central. Add in a Stemmons phobia (I acquired this one after an eighteen-wheeler changed four lanes swiftly and horizontally, nearly taking me with him), and it starts to get altogether too complicated to get around town.
And then when Dallasites give directions involving freeways of any kind, they like to call them by pet names-Central, Stemmons, LBJ-not the numbers-75, 35, 635-that are on the signs when you have to choose in which of four lanes your fate lies.
Writer Gerald Nachman is right. “Road signs should be more specific,” he says. “It does nobody any good to be told ’Downtown Dallas Next 38 Exits.’ What we need to know is which exit goes to the cute part, which one to the boring part, which one to a charming coffee shop, and which exit leads directly to six miles of auto dealers, garages, and used-car lots.”
As a result of my bad luck with freeway road sign interpretation, I now know how to get practically anywhere via the Tollway. Ahh, the Tollway: it’s simple, runs in a straight line, and doesn’t turn into anything else until you get way out to the Parkway-good value for fifty cents. The only confusing part is that some of the entrances aren’t also exits, like Lovers Lane, where, if you’re going south, you can get on, but you can’t get off.
Even if you forget the freeways, Dallas doesn’t let the ditz-on-wheels relax on surface roads. Oak Lawn is bad enough, with its streets that capriciously change names and segue in and out of one-way status. (Trying to sort out the Fitzhugh-Avondale-Wycliff weirdness could confuse even the marginally competent navigator.) But East Dallas is a nightmare. As far as I can tell, it’s laid out spirally, like an Escher etching. Wherever I think I’m going in East Dallas, I end up mysteriously shunted onto something called Jupiter, which, the last I heard, was supposed to be a planet, not a street.
And then there is North Dallas, where the problem is that once you get north of Belt Line, everything looks exactly the same. The unsuspecting driver tends to fall into a hypnotic trance and wake up somewhere around Campbell Road, without a clue as to its position relative to the international date line.
Until I can afford one of those dashboard direction computers, it’s just me and my MAPSCO, up against it. MAPSCO, for the benefit of newcomers, is a wonderful local product: a spiral-bound book of maps that can actually be read. Here is my advice for newcomers, or at least the easily befuddled ones: get a MAPSCO, Make all your acquaintances get them, too, and have them tell you in which grid they reside-35Q, 54B, etc. Then, rather than having to follow cavalier directions that involve veering this way and jogging that way. you can work out your own hard-won passage and say, I got there my way.