When work involves spending hundreds of hours plugging into the neighborhoods of unfamiliar cities, Google Maps quickly becomes your best friend. And now that bicycle directions are integrated into the iPhone app, I’ve become reliant on the tool when I’m here at home too. In reality, that’s also very natural for someone who has lived in three cities in less than a year. But do we not lose something when we let the computer decide every time how we get from point A to B? Is the most direct route really the best way to go? When we respond obediently to the automated lady as she tells us to turn left then right, what are we missing?
All of this is another way of saying that I decided to shut off Google Maps when I biked home yesterday and had a cool experience for it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not referring to anything transcendental here. Just ice cream.
I’d ridden out to Pewabic Pottery to check out a fundraiser for Windmill Pointe Brewing Company. (Windmill is relocating its brewing facilities to Detroit and will offset 50% of their electricity needs via on site bike-generated power. The rest will come from alternatives like solar panels on the roof. You should have heard my inner hippie rejoice when I heard that!) I’ll confess that I did check in with my good pal Google before hopping on the saddle to head home, so I knew, more or less, the route I was going to take. After a hairy couple of blocks along Jefferson, I cut north up to cruise through the tree-lined streets past the mansions in the mind-jarring oasis that is the West Village neighborhood.
Before long, though, I realized I’d been gawking too long and had missed my turn west.
At that point, I knew exactly where I was, exactly how I needed to go to get home, and that it was a safe route. But there was still a small moment of anxiety: I should look up directions. I’ll admit that since I started biking in Detroit, I’ve always been a little nervous about riding into a neighborhood where I shouldn’t be. Wrong place, wrong time kind of thing. I’m a white girl on a bike and could be an easy target. I get it. Sometimes it’s hard to shake the headlines, even when they don’t match your personal experience of a place.
Fortunately, before I let my Pavlovian need to consult Google kick in and take me out of the moment, I noticed a group of cars pulled off to the side of the road. Several kids and adults stood in line at the “Dairy” (no “Queen”). I really don’t even think this place had a business name, but one vanilla malt shake later, it was the happiest wrong turn of the afternoon!