Navigating by memory


Armistice Boulevard.

There are probably more than a few streets, roads and ways across the United States with Armistice in the name. But a quick and incredibly unthorough search reveals that only Pawtucket, Rhode Island, seems to have a boulevard. And itís a boulevard I know well.

Granted, I havenít been on Armistice Boulevard in roughly two decades. How long is two decades? WellÖ twenty years is essentially the rough estimate used to define a generation. Much like my dedicated efforts in finding boulevards though, the reality is that the actual length of time is slightly longer and varies depending on what types of math you wish to do. SoÖ for our purposesÖ considerÖ

In the span of a generation weíve lost the definition of the word armistice. And I say that simply because Iíd be willing to bet that if you approached a group of people, each about twenty years younger than I am, youíd find that the majority couldnít tell you the meaning of the word armistice. Itís not their fault. The word simply isnít used as regularly as it once was. (It also isnít the reason for this tangent.)

Armistice Boulevard.

Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

I havenít been there in twenty or so years. And the point is, thatís a long time.

Still, I bet I could do a fairly decent job of navigating most of it. My grandparents lived in Pawtucket, and after getting off of the highway we used Armistice Boulevard for the major length of the last legs necessary to arrive at their house. Head through some neighborhoods and houses, past a plaza and to a section with storefronts until we cross Newport Avenue, then back into rows of houses before making those final turns into a driveway.

The visual landmarks of buildings arenít the same anymore. Not even close. Restaurants and shops have closed. Some of been remodeled and opened under new ownership. Iím guessing a few have been torn down.

StillÖ itís Armistice Boulevard. And as long as thereís an entry to Slater Park located along its path, I should recognize it (and it will hold a special place in my memories).

And thatís the trick.

Because much as I could find my way into Slater Park without using a GPS or needing any refresher directions, there are a handful of other places that have special meaning to me. And there are places that would be immediately familiar even if much of the familiar has changed.

Every so often I wonder why certain places throughout my life have created such solid and lasting impressions while others havenít. Itís not always a case of excessive repetition.

Recently I was driving near the campus of the college I attended. I drove an ambulance around that campus, and used to know the roads so well I could not only rattle off the names of road after road, but also could predict where street numbers would be located. I donít even think it would be much of an argument that I knew the major roads and surrounding neighborhoods significantly better than I ever knew Armistice Boulevard. ButÖ

For my destination on that day, I wasnít certain of the turn I needed to make. I actually felt a bit lost, and ended up letting the GPS guide me.

Maybe the comparison isnít fair. In addition to people painting their homes and businesses changing, the reality is that many unpredictable changes take place over decades. Streets allowing two-way traffic flow might be adjusted to one-way onlyÖ roundabouts might be addedÖ Iíve even seen roads closed completely to vehicular traffic, including places where Iíve often driven in the past that are now pedestrian access only.

Thereís a crazy old expression about being able to drive with your eyes closed. Maybe that would help, as the recognizable sights in so many places that I have known over the years arenít the same. That doesnít change how right it feels to see them again. From a drive down a main road to a bike ride in certain parks to a walk across campus. The sights change. The feeling remains.

Armistice Boulevard. I remember it well.


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