Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Life by the Numbers

One of the things that drives many visitors or new residents crazy about our fair city is the preponderance of street and place names containing the word "Peachtree." As of late 2021, there were 71 streets in the Atlanta area bearing that name or some derivative of it. If I just think off the top of my head to streets which I travel on a normal basis, I come up with the following:

  • Peachtree Street
  • Peachtree Road
  • New Peachtree Road
  • Peachtree Corners Circle
  • Peachtree Parkway
  • Peachtree Battle Avenue
  • Peachtree Industrial Boulevard

You get the idea. On top of this, we are also one of those cities that appends quadrant identifiers (NE/NW/SE/SW) to many of its streets, although in most cases, that designation is unnecessary and is generally ignored. Oh, and also, we're not on a grid system. With all this in mind, giving directions to a newcomer or visitor is quite a challenge, since almost no one says things like, "Head east on New Peachtree Road," although in truth, that would be a perfectly adequate directive. But such is life in Atlanta, and hey, snow is a rarity, so we aren't complaining.

I find it curious to contrast this with navigation in other cities, and since I write mostly about what I know, Chicago comes to mind. Chicago, unlike Atlanta, is built on a grid system, and to locals, that is a very necessary fact of life. The good thing about it is that it's actually somewhat difficult to get totally lost in Chicago. If you drive far enough north, south, or west, you'll eventually come to a cross street that you're familiar with. It is worth noting that driving east is limited: go too far and you'll splash into Lake Michigan.

Chicagoans, of which I was one for most of the 70s and into the early 80s, tend to navigate by numbers and compass directions. It may sound a little daunting, but it actually is quite handy. First, know that in Chicago, there are eight blocks to a mile, and each mile contains 100 address numbers. This numbering system also works heading west, where numbers get larger.

If, for example, I say that I live at "3400 North, 900 West," that will indicate to someone familiar with the city that I live a little over four miles (3400 divided by 8) north of downtown. It also means that I am actually within walking distance of Wrigley Field. How does one know this? Because Wrigley Field is at 1060 West Addison, and in the 3600 North block. It's walking distance because 3400 North (where I live) is not that far from 3600 North, and 900 West is not that far from 1060 West. It's about a half mile walk. 

Let's take another example. Say you want to meet friends at the Giordano's Pizza in Rogers Park. The address of Giordano's is 6836 North Sheridan Road. That tells you that a) it's on the North Side, b) it's definitely in Rogers Park (because anything with a high 6000's number is in Rogers Park), and c) it's about 8-1/2 miles north (6800 divided by 8) of downtown. Depending on where you're coming from, you can get a pretty good idea of how long it will take you to get to Giordano's. And all this is without using your phone's GPS. Pretty cool, huh?

The other thing you learn, and this is a skill acquired only over time, is which areas, i.e., number ranges, to avoid. Like any big city, Chicago has its share of rough neighborhoods, and they can pop up within the space of a few blocks, so it's good to know where you're headed. If I am a new acquaintance who tells you that I live at 1150 North Lake Shore Drive, that will indicate that I am pulling down some serious paper, since that is right downtown and on Lake Shore Drive (which locals sometimes humorously abbreviate as LSD). In other words, you probably need to bring wine with a cork vs. a screw-top bottle. Also, you can bring your little dog that fits in a basket. If, on the other hand, I ask you to meet me at Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, at 5757 South Woodlawn, you will want to be keenly aware of your surroundings.

Although this whole system may sound rather arcane, it actually makes its way into daily conversation and is sort of fun. If, for example, a friend tells you that she has just bought a condo at 2200 North, 1100 West, you'll want to head up there, since it's not far from downtown, and it's a pretty vibrant area. If someone says they bought a house at 7600 North, 6900 West, you'll know they're out in the northwest suburbs, and if traffic is bad, you might want to pack a snack.

And that's all there is to it. Now to get to my house from downtown Atlanta, head north on Peachtree Street until it turns into Peachtree Road, then stay on that until it turns into Peachtree Parkway. About the time you run out of "Peachtree" street names, you'll be at my front door. And if it's a weekend night, we'll order pizza. Ciao.