Four months and change into my time at the Gateway, I’ve begun to feel acclimated to the sometimes challenging geography of our coverage area — the way the meandering Key Peninsula Highway deceives you into thinking you’ve already driven past your destination, or the vital importance of writing down whether the address you’re looking for is on an “Avenue” or a “Court,” because there’s probably two identically named streets next to one another with only that suffix to separate them.
I’m getting the hang of it. But I’ve been relieved to hear, from a few of the longtime residents I’ve interviewed in the past couple weeks, that some locals share one of the gripes that still plagues me as I plug addresses into Google Maps: the nonsense of designations on the Key Peninsula.
I drove to a place in the heart of Key Center last week, except the address told me it was in Vaughn. I’ve been to spots up and down the peninsula listed as Gig Harbor, Longbranch or Lakebay, labeled seemingly at random and by someone with only a passing familiarity with the area.
The randomness of town listings has been enough to cause the previously unthinkable — I’ve started to doubt the accuracy of Google.
I understand a somewhat undefined map is a common feature of more rural parts of the country, where small communities easily blend into and overlap one another without clear borders. Drawing up postal districts was never going to be an exact task, especially when much of the land is remote and distant from any central community.
One person with whom I spoke about the frustration of a vague map suggested the post office reconfigure its definitions so the entire peninsula is assigned a “Key Peninsula, WA” address. That could help — you could pay attention to the street numbers instead of trying to figure out if what says Home really means Lakebay.
As I’ve thought more about this (sometimes I have a lot of time to think, as I drive helplessly around, looking for an address on Cramer Road), the recent news about the U.S. Postal Service canceling its Saturday service feels relevant.
USPS has been struggling financially for years, and the Saturday change won’t be the last of the cuts the department will be forced to make as it tries to adapt to a world in which fewer people have use for snail mail.
Addresses are for more than mail delivery, of course. But the idea of postal districts — of assigning specific locations to places that don’t really fit in one town or another — might be fading out along with everyday mail service.
Just as email and social media make people need the mail less and less, the interconnectivity the Internet provides gives us less of a need for arbitrary boundaries between communities. If you can Skype with someone in Cairo, how much does it matter if your house on Creviston Drive is considered to be in Wauna or Glen Cove?
The idea of a more universal “Key Peninsula, WA” address, then, goes beyond the confusing and outdated difference between town names that were assigned based on settlements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We’ve modernized our communication technology to better represent our world; it might be time to modernize our maps to better represent our local communities.
It also would make it a lot easier for me to get to my assignments on time.Off the Wall columnist Will Livesley-O’Neill can be reached at 253-358-4152 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him om Twitter, @gateway_will.