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  • Writer's pictureTony

Navigating Atlanta via the Damned Tome of Maps

Back in a time of the ‘Dark Ages’ before GPS mapping…


Oh hell, let’s get real and admit that it was only about ten years ago when we used a navigational device called a ‘mapbook’ to drive to EMS calls in the city of Atlanta. Now, allow me a few moments of time to explain this arcane device to all of young young’uns out there. This was an actual book of maps with a massive index of streets found in both Fulton and Dekalb counties. Yes, you actually had to be able to spell the street name yourself for you to be able to look up the proper location in the index of streets. Once this was accomplished, you had to figure out where you were currently located within the mapbook to go from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’.


Here’s where you need to pay attention; you can’t have one large map of entire city of streets that is a single page. Nope, you often found yourself tracing a route with a fingertip over several different pages to find the fastest route to your destination. If you had to go from Grady Hospital on a call to some Godforsaken location in Palmetto, Georgia; you would often find yourself entertaining the idea that your life would be simpler if you immediately had a seizure or stroke.


In a (failed) effort to make life simpler for the navigator sitting in the passenger seat of an ambulance, the mapbook was a large 14” x 18” hardcover book. Let’s do some math with this equation; a 14 inch wide book opens to a full 28 inch width. Therefore, the easiest way to pick out a new employee was simply to glance at the windshield for a gigantic blue block filling half of the ambulance. New hires out of orientation typically cover the dashboard with used tissues holding their tears of frustration.


Another trait of new employees is to watch the rotate the map 360 degrees in all directions with constant motion as the ambulance makes turns onto side streets. Most new hires look like an old sea captain spinning the ship’s wheel in a powerful storm at sea. It was a frequent discussion among the more experienced Grady Medics as to exactly how long it would take the newbie to figure out that tracing the route with a finger while saying ‘left’ or ‘right’ was a less frustrating method of navigating the ambulance.


Just when the newbie begins to figure out how to navigate, the concept of ‘jumping’ streets is entered into the navigational puzzle. A ‘Jumping’ street means that the street suddenly ends and may start again several blocks away via connecting streets. Personally, I am of the opinion that the people who decided that having a street jump sideways or forward probably have an alcohol problem while working in their dismal little office cubicle where they name the streets. The alcoholic’s brother is the drug-addled idiot who issues the letters and numbers used in apartment complexes throughout Atlanta.


One should also bear in mind that the dispatcher plays a pivotal role in arriving at the proper scene and location. The dispatcher is the link between the person calling and the moving ambulance. In a city filled with semi-literate people, the dispatcher is tasked with figuring out ‘what the hell’ an excited person is trying to communicate as a street location. One man became so frustrated with attempting to pronounce a street’s name that he drug his gunshot friend over to Elm Street to wait for the ambulance. Spelling is a two-way street between the dispatcher and navigator. You might be stunned to learn that many streets have similar pronunciation and different spelling; a point where N/E, S/E, N/W. and S/W play a key role.

Additional notes on map reading:


It also pays to remember that Atlanta has a few thousand streets with the word ‘Peachtree’ in the name scattered about the city. A new Mayor or City Council virtually assures the responding paramedics that familiar street names will be replaced shortly thereafter by the names of the campaign contributors on a 4 year cycle. An experienced Grady Medic will direct new drivers with the perfectly legitimate terms of ‘take the jog to the right’ or a vague hand wave associated with ‘it’s over yonder’.



Dispatch, we fell off the edge of the map and found an injured Elder God.
Dispatch... Where THE HELL are we?!

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