Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lost in Stinky Decatur

I needed to go to the Decatur Conference Center for a work thing. So I typed "decatur conference center, decatur il" into Google maps and asked for directions.

It gave me an address and clear directions to it from my house. I printed them out, including a map of the Decatur area where I was going, in case there were some complications. It looked pretty straightforward, as Google Maps directions usually are.

So I left early, followed the directions, and got to the location early enough to allow for any unforeseen complications. As I got off the exit and drove through Decatur, I mused at what a gross, depressed city it was. Near my destination I passed a huge-ass factory.

Isn't Google Maps' webcam amazing?

I have no idea whose factory it is or what it makes. All I know is that it was huge and belched lots of smoke (from several different orifices) into the gray Decatur sky.

As I got closer to my destination, I noticed a stench that was inhuman. It vaguely smelled like a fast food restaurant, but only if you took all the good smells out of it. I know that doesn't make sense, but that's how it felt. Take whatever unpleasant smells come out of a processed burger, fries, and a coke, mix them together and magnify it by 1000. That's what it smelled like.

I put one and one together and assumed that the smell was coming from the factory. There were houses (and even a park) nearby and I thought, "Do these people have to live with this smell all the time?"

But I had other things to worry about. Namely, finding my destination. I knew at some point I was supposed to turn left into the conference center parking lot. But when I came to that point where I needed to turn, this is what I saw:

Not only was it impossible to turn left, there was no sign of the conference center. Was it behind those trees? I kept driving, thinking that maybe the map had misjudged where to turn. The center must be somewhere around here, I thought.

I drove around and around. Three blocks down the road, then back, then circled the area where the map said the center was supposed to be. I drove through a park. Onto a road called Lake Shore Dr, which I thought was funny, since I've recently spent a lot of time on another Lake Shore road-- the one in Chicago. This one in Decatur was less impressive.

I drove around a neighborhood, cursing the whole time. WTF, Google Maps? Where is this damn conference center? There were a few buildings around the park, like this:

Is that the conference center? I asked snarkily. I parked outside this building. I don't have a smart phone, so I couldn't consult any web sources. I tried to call people at my work, but no one was answering the phone.

Finally, I swallowed my pride and asked a local man. He said that the conference center was on this same road, but on the complete other side of town. I would have to drive all the way through town to get there.

Both of these locations are the conference center, according to Google Maps. Same address, same name, but they're 6.2 miles away.

WTF, Google Maps? I've had small issues with using web map directions before, but nothing of this epic FAIL proportions. What could it possibly have been thinking?

But that's the problem. It doesn't think. It's just a computer program, and in this case it couldn't interpret 4191 US 36 West.

As I drove to the correct location for my meeting, and showed up about 15 minutes late, I pondered who was at fault for this snafu. Was there something I should have done differently? Was I negligent in letting Google Maps tell me where to go?

What did people do before there were online mapping tools? Twenty years ago I surely would not have been expected to look up the address of a conference center in another city and find the directions on my own? No, whoever organized the conference would have sent me directions. In this case, they didn't even send me an address. All they said was "Decatur Conference Center." And in this day and age, that should suffice.

But it didn't.


If you're dying to hear about the elusive Decatur Conference Center, it's about as impressive as it sounds. Which is: not very. On their website they claim to be "down-state’s largest conference center and hotel." I think about the best thing it has going for it is its central location. After my adventure in finding the place, it was also hard to find my way around inside it. The signage was spotty and the place looked pretty run down.

Even their website is cheap and hard to navigate. They don't list any directions, or even an address, that I could find easily.

So I think I'll blame them for the Google Maps FAIL.

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