In the olden days, people navigated the earth using a combination of maps, agreed-upon street numbering and naming conventions, and indicator signage. When folks wanted to go somewhere, first, they would consult a map. Then, as they drove, they would follow the map readings to identify turns along the way, helped by signs which indicated the location of the turns.

In the US,we have a convention where a yellow sign like this means, “127th Ave SE ahead!”

Historically, this would cause a traveler to slow down in preparation for a turn, and look for a green sign like the below, that means “127th Ave SE: turn here!” And,this is where the traveler would turn in pursuit of his ultimate destination. That was how the world once worked, and it was very orderly.

As you may be aware, this navigational skill is nearly a lost art; due to the invention of GPS and navigation systems. Kirk and I are able to observe firsthand the disappearance of the ability to read and follow street signs, due to the location of our driveway in relationship to the above-pictured yellow “ahead!” sign.

You see, our driveway is very close to the sign, adjacent to the brand new, freshly-creosoted power pole we funded when our barn was constructed. Up until a week ago, the sign was positioned just beyond our driveway. It never ceased to amaze us just how many people would turn into our driveway, thinking it was 127th Ave SE. We can suspect this is because their Nav system was telling them “turn right onto 127th Ave SE! Turn right!” They heard this, started decelerating, saw the yellow sign, and boom, they’d turn. Right away. Before they even passed the yellow sign which indicated “127th Ave SE ahead!” Before they ever spotted a green sign that indicated “127th Ave SE is right here!”

Ok, so minor mistake maybe, if you are yakking on your cell phone while driving, texting, filing your nails, or eating a bowl of cereal. Understandable. But once they  turn in, this is what they see:

Here we have a gravel driveway. It  has no road paint lines or turtle thingies. There is a farm gate, with a street address on one of the gate posts. And a residential house dead ahead. Almost always with a car or two parked out front.

You would think most people, at this point, would stop the car, and think “hmmm. This doesn’t look like a street, this looks like a residence. It might have been wrong to turn here.”

But, no. They usually confidently drive all the way up to the house at 25mph, and then they stop, as if this is the first moment any hint of confusion has crossed their minds. Some of them finally realize their mistake at this point, and take advantage of our roomy front yard to do a big turnaround operation so they can exit. (Which is extra great when their headlights shine in our front windows at night while we are watching a movie.)

Some of them still do not mentally tumble on the problem after reaching this point, however; maintaining a bewildered enough state to ask for directions if we happen to be outside. Often they ask “is this 127th Ave SE?” So many sarcastic counter-questions arise in my mind when this happens. “Does this look like a street? Do you think I’d stand in the middle of a public street just hanging out confirming to people that it is the street they are on? Have you ever seen a street with a house in the middle of it?” But, (most of the time) I bite my tongue, and just get them going where they need to go.

The most frustrating bad navigators are the ones that not only buzz up to our house at a good clip, but they keep going. As you may be able to discern in the photo, we have a narrow driveway which passes our house on the left, passes our barn, and ends in a circle around our old silo at the back of our property. And I’m talking a narrow driveway, it’s maybe only 15’ wide. Far narrower than a county road. So they are driving really, really close to our house at this point. Right past our bedroom window, our bathroom, our dog potty yard, the 120 foot length of our barn. Right until the driveway peters out into grass pasture and subsequent woods. Many, many people get all the way back there before there is any apparent indication in their minds that they are indeed, not on 127th Ave SE. Usually once they get back there, they kind of speed around the silo, and drive a little too fast back out to the road. Probably feeling the pressure of realizing they are driving in someone’s yard; but also not respecting the fact that they are driving in someone’s yard, and should probably slow down. If we are out there, they usually do not make eye contact, hopefully because they feel the hot embarrassment of being complete navigational imbeciles, not to mention, trespassers.

This problem was present but infrequent when we first moved here nine years ago. Maybe one car a month; and usually an elderly driver was the culprit. But, the phenomenon has been increasing over the years. One could theorize that it’s directly correlated to the rise in the use of GPS and Nav, along with the complete and utter dependence and reliance upon Nav, to the point where some people will obey it and drive off a pier into the ocean. Or into the desert to die. And, it is likely reverse correlated to the retention of the societal skill of being able to interpret and follow street signs and old-fashioned maps.

Last week, for some reason, the county moved the yellow sign; to right before our driveway, instead of right after it. Now, we’re up to 10-20 cars a day mistakenly turning into the driveway; and a good half of those are making it up to the house or all the way past the barn. I’m not kidding. I think there are only a couple hundred household destinations off of 127th Ave SE, but they certainly seem to have a lot of out-of-town visitors who don’t already know where the road is or what it looks like. Or what a road looks like at all.

So, here we are; we clearly have to do something. I’d call the county, except, I’m not really sure where to suggest they put the sign that would alleviate this problem completely. We wondered if they added an “AHEAD!” string to the yellow sign, if that would help, by redundantly and explicitly reminding people what yellow signs mean. So, we may ask about that (or maybe we’ll just sneak in our own mod to the sign as a hypothesis test).  We could complain to them about how so many people are so dumb, but of course, they can’t help us with that.

So, we are concluding that we need to do more at the cusp of our driveway, to nip in the bud the tendency to get further into our drive than just the turn. Some ideas tossed around: one-way tire spikes, a toll gate which traps them and requires payment to exit, a motion-activated speaker system that hollers insults about their driving skills, land mines, an informational interactive touchscreen kiosk which gives them directions to 127th Ave SE (as well as answers other FAQs, like the whereabouts of the Gyr Falcon or the wedding venue next door, or that we have sheep, not goats); or, possibly, an automated machine gun ala the final episode of Breaking Bad. Each of those ideas has its pro’s and con’s.

As an easy, but less interesting short-term experiment, I bought two “Private Property- No Trespassing!” signs to put on either side of the gate posts. I nudged the gate panels inward, to create a Y-chute look, which at least pressures livestock to slow down and think; we’ll see if it works with humans in cars. Hopefully this will be a visual clue that this is a residence, in addition to the, er, residence.

Longer term, we’ve always talked about making a fancy gate entrance, with an electric gate opener. Because we are not like some energetic folks who are willing to jump out of their car twice to drag open and shut a gate every time we come and go. This backlogged task may have to escalate in priority, given the new influx of navigationally challenged drivers and the world dominance of Garmin.
Eh, #firstworldproblems!

Update from late July: I did finally call the county roads department and beg for intervention. The engineer there was very nice, and somewhat jovially explained that he’d changed the signage to address a problem with the house just *beyond* 127th, that was having a similar problem, of people missing the turn, and turning around in his driveway! So, he is working on improving the design further: tree trimming to make the green road sign more visible. And this last week, they added another sign just beyond our driveway, encouraging people forward. It turns out, upon further reflection, likely many of these lost people are indeed not from around here, and they are looking for the regional park entrance off 127th, which leads to hiking, biking and horse riding trails, as well as geocaching sites, I’m sure.

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