Issue III - Special Insert
Consider these identical, easy-to-use road maps of the state of Arizona designed and printed by Rand McNally. If this object feels a little antiquated, a curious relic of a bygone era, that’s because it is. A good road map could be found in the glovebox of every American car in the 1950s, a time when people were moving from cities to the suburbs and driving became a way of living if not a reason for living, an entire culture. Think muscle cars, woodie wagons, and pink cadillacs. James Dean playing the chicken game in his 49 Mercury.
As a technology, road maps might seem a little outdated, but as a historical and aesthetic object, its meanings accumulate: optimism, nostalgia, frustration, youth, money, or freedom, depending on whom you ask. A road map of Arizona can evoke daydreams of speeding under big blue desert skies, or stifling in the gridlock and pollution of a Phoenix rush hour. It might remind you of the simultaneous fear and excitement of being lost, or accessing something previously inaccessible. Outdated or not, a road map is a technology with a specific use and experience. No smartphone can emulate the annoying but pleasurable process of trying to get that old road trip to fold back in place (it never does).
What a road map maps is very much in the eye of the beholder, which is where you come in. We’re inviting you to take your very own road trip through the American West, eschewing your smartphones and dashboard navigations in favor of this Rand McNally map of Arizona. How you use it is up to you. Search for an abandoned mining town. Flip through it while you wait in line at the gas station and consider whether you really want a pack of Hostess Cupcakes to go with your instant cappuccino. Use it as a fan when your AC breaks.
After we mail you a copy of this map, you can use it however you want, but this is not to say the way you use it doesn’t matter. The way you use it will dictate what you encounter, and how you encounter it; what and how you notice what you notice. This is why we’re also asking that you document your trip in some way. Report back with field notes. Write a pastoral poem about the emu farm you stopped at for directions. Transcribe and annotate the conversations you overhear at the roadhouse diner. Inventory the trucker hats at every gas station convenience store between Tucson and Phoenix. Be creative and have fun.
As you document, you may turn back to the document itself. Think of the map not just as a tool for navigation, but a part of the trip—an objective and an object. Trace your journey on the map. Use it as a notepad. Mark important points the map doesn’t, the borders it would have you think don’t exist. Or the opposite: break up the borders and territories the map would have you assume. This map is your palimpsest. Scrub its surface. Rough it up. Build upon and take from it so that you might create a new map, which in turn describes a new territory. This will be the Arizona you raise, something new and yet so very old.
Contributions to this project are by invitation only at this time. If you've been invited and you're interested in participating, all we need is your current address (email us) and we’ll take it from there.