Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Three Cheers For Google Maps

~ One of the best online resources for planning any trip is the powerhouse that is Google, and the innovations that have come out of that company’s buildings.

One of those great innovations is Google Maps.

Like thousands (millions?) of users around the world, I often use Google Maps to plot imaginary journeys, search for exact locations in far flung cities, and print maps of unfamiliar neighbourhoods.

I was thinking about this today, and remembering my first visit to New York City where I landed on a freezing Spring day late in the afternoon of Monday, March 17, 2008.

The flight from London was uneventful, long (but nowhere near as long as the 24 hours it took me to reach London from Adelaide), and bearable thanks to some classic movies (All The Presidents Men) on the in-flight movie channel.

Getting through US Customs and Border Protection was no problem, except that it took so long – close to an hour. This was due to the new heightened security measures then – and still – in place for foreigners like myself, where each index finger was scanned and a photograph of my face taken and added to what is no doubt a huge Customs and Border Patrol database.

By the time I got through Customs and to the baggage carousel to pick my luggage up, it was sitting on the floor with a bunch of others that had simply been off-loaded by (presumably) baggage handlers, and left there for anyone to pick up and walk away with. At least it hadn’t been destroyed in a controlled explosion by paranoid, over zealous security staff!

If getting through Customs seemed like a big pain, it was just a taster for the waiting that had to be endured as I lined up for a taxi outside in the late afternoon cold. That took another half hour before I could finally get a cab to the Greenpoint YMCA. I had to wait, not because there were no taxis, but because the queue was so long. As I patiently waited in line, I couldn’t help wondering if long queues where going to be a defining factor of my New York visit. Happily, it wasn’t.

Having scored myself a Yellow Cab, I told the driver where I wanted to go, and he seemed to be making good progress getting there by the quickest, most direct route – until he got lost in a warren of narrow, traffic laden streets close to my destination.

The driver knew the general location of Greenpoint, the Brooklyn suburb the YMCA is located in, but that seemed to be all. He kept stopping to ask the locals where the actual YMCA was, but most of them had no idea themselves. Even the information that the 94th Police Precinct Building was directly opposite the ‘Y’ didn’t seem to help.

However, all was not lost. Thanks to Google, I had printed out a map of the area surrounding the YMCA. This map had just enough information on it for me to help the driver find the building. Once we were on Manhattan Avenue and heading in the right direction, I was able to guide him to Meserole Avenue, the street the ‘Y’ was on.

I thought it quite ironic that having just arrived in New York for the first time, it was I who actually found the way for the taxi driver. If I hadn’t printed that page out via Google Maps, who knows how long we might have been driving around for!

The lesson here is to make use of these simple, cheap and incredibly useful online resources, whether provided by Google or other online mapping sites, and there are other mapping sites. They can save you a lot of time, stress, and money, and that can’t be a bad thing now, can it?

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