Sunday, September 30, 2007

Where Rhode signs used to be

Ask a Rhode Islander for directions, and the response will likely include the phrase "where X used to be". In my 7 years living here, I've been told to make turns at landmarks like "where Joe's barber shop used to be" and "where the little place with the really good fried clams used to be". One day, Shriram and I came across a sign on a major street reading "former bus stop" and figured it was there to help people who had been given directions by locals (especially as there was no indication of the current bus stop location).

This weekend, I was reading on the front porch when a trio of women on bicycles pulled up and asked

"Excuse me, can you tell me where the John Howland school used to be?"

Our condo sits on the former site of the school. They were trying to find an old house of personal interest and the school was one landmark they recalled from visiting the area years ago. It was the first time I'd heard anyone turn the phrase back around to be what one sought. But it struck me, if you can get directions to where the place used to be, what difference does it make whether you ever actually knew the original place? All you need is one Rhode Islander to give directions, and another to resolve the level of indirection. Computer science exploits indirection all the time, so surely I can make good use of this. Besides, who knows what interesting place now sits where the place with the really good fried clams used to be ...

No comments: