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Farewell to the Trusty Map Book

From the years roughly spanning the invention of the automobile to the invention of the smartphone, every driver in Los Angeles traveled with a Thomas Bros. map book. Those days are gone, but nostalgia for physical maps remains.
April 13, 2015, 7am PDT | Josh Stephens | @jrstephens310
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The Thomas Guide used to be the mulit-hundred page key to the city of Los Angeles. Page after page detailed every mile of Los Angeles' freeways, boulevards, streets, and alleys. Almost no one who has lived and driven in the city was without one. They waited patiently on passenger seats, seat back-pockets, floors, and even laps until an unfamiliar address required them to spring into action. 

It was a necessary piece of navigating what may be the world's most confusing city. And it gave only so much. The Thomas Guide could tell you what the roads looked like, but it couldn't tell you which ones to take. Not so with GPS, writes Megham Daum in the New York Times Magazine. GPS turns the driver into a passive autopilot. "The city belongs to GPS....driving is less about the big picture than about the next move." 

In lamenting, mildy, the demise of the Thomas Guide, Daum longs for the sense of discovery that comes from comparing the real city to the paper city rather than just following the "optimized" route dictated by a computer. And she longs for the intuitive local knowledge that all L.A. drivers eventually develop. Instead, "entire generations are growing up cartographically challenged, if not downright illiterate."

"Out-of-town visitors to Los Angeles like to say things like “driving here is a sport.” But really, it’s an art. It’s an art that requires intuition, patience and a sense of the topography of the region. It means knowing that no matter where you are, there are mountains to the north and an ocean to the west."

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Published on Friday, April 3, 2015 in New York Times Magazine
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