Monday, May 04, 2009

Place names

As I wrote recently, the drive home from a vacation always leaves me anxious and eager to arrive, wishing that it would turn out we were actually closer than I'd figured we'd be so we'd get home early, my mind bouncing around without anything good to latch onto. As I'm watching the road signs and recalculating how far we are from home, I can't help notice how many place names are the same as those near home. We are in New England, after all; and just as there are a jillion Springfields in the United States, New England has even more repetition of names.

These ideas always come together to imagine what it would be like to be able to jump, as by a teleport, only from one place to another of the same name, any time you take a highway exit. For instance, if you're in New Brunswick, Canada, and you see a Woodstock exit off the interstate, imagine if you had the power to take it to a different Woodstock, like for instance Woodstock, Vermont. Getting around in New England would be really easy, though it might be pretty complex to figure out the optimal route; better to drive a ways to Norwich, Vermont, to jump to Norwich, Connecticut, or do a shorter drive in Vermont to get to somewhere with a longer drive in Connecticut? What about multiple-hop trips? It's the same problem as routing on the normal roads, just with some extra connections. But while we all take for granted that this incredibly complex problem has been solved for us by Google Maps or your favorite GPS, no version of Google Maps would include these shortcuts, so figuring out optimal paths is suddenly very hard.

New England is also a great place to start to get to places in England, and a few other parts of Europe. And from there, you can get to lots of other places in the world, like Australia. But there are places that this shortcut technique wouldn't help terribly much with. Still, there are few places you couldn't get to in a day if you worked at it. For instance, to get from Vermont to Reykjavik, Iceland, in just a few hours, you could go by this route:
  • Drive to Chester, Vermont
  • Jump to Chester, Pennsylvania
  • Drive to Eddystone, Pennsylvania
  • Jump to Eddystone, Manitoba
  • Drive to Reykjavik, Manitoba
  • Jump to Reykjavik, Iceland
There's probably a more efficient route, but that's still a half-day or so. If I can do that trip in a few hours, I wonder if there's anywhere I couldn't get to in a day, short of places without handy place names, like most of Antartica. (The nearest thing to a real city there is McMurdo Station, and even if you count that, there are no cities I could find named McMurdo.)

And that's not even considering taking a "Main Street" exit to get to the Main Street in any other city!

Yes, I really think about things like this.

1 comment:

litlfrog said...

The form of this that I sometimes think of involves teleporting by highway numbers. It'd be great to go from Highway 117 around Essex to Highway 117 right in front of my mom's house in Louisiana.