When you see a particular item often enough in the same place, it becomes an ingrained tiny “icon” in your mental roadmap of a city.
Some shops have distinctive signage, other businesses or homes have something that marks them out so whenever you see their landmark feature even if you were a kid waking up from a sleep in the back seat, you could instantly know exactly where you were.
Mostly we are barely conscious of these micro-landmarks, they are just points on our journey that make us smile, or realise how far away or close we are to home.
Maybe they are items to be ticked off on a mental map, once we have passed this one, we know which other one will be next and thus we navigate around without having to bother remembering the names of every street we cross or pass by.
So strong is this way of people making their day to day journey’s that it brings to mind a funny incident from my youth in New Zealand.
I was living in Christchurch and going to a summer BBQ party at a friend’ place on the other side of the city. I’d finished work, popped home to make a dessert, packed it and meat for the BBQ into a chilli bin (cool box) in the car and set out for my friend’s place. This particular friend was the only person from our social group that lived in this neighbourhood and so I went here far less frequently than other parts of the city where several friends lived dotted close together.
Suddenly I became aware that I wasn’t quite certain of my surroundings. The street didn’t feel familiar but I couldn’t put my thumb on where I had lost my way. I looked around for a familiar landmark and saw none, then rounded a corner to see a small row of shops which I vaguely recognised, and as the shock set in, remembered roughly where I was and that it was nowhere where I wanted to be. I also had no clue how to get to my friends place from this direction. No mobile phones in those days but there were plenty of public phone boxes, so I sheepishly found one and dialed my friend, told her I was lost, could she please give me directions to her place?
Her first words in reply to this was a gwaff of a laugh and then an exclamation: “Another One!” to which I could hear a group of people laughing in the background. A few detailed directions and a little while later I was walking up to her front door. Out of about thirty guests, five of us completely lost our way that evening and the reason why turned out to be astoundingly simple: the landmark old red painted wooden fence around a house that we all used on a bigger street to tell us where to turn off had been torn down to make way for the owners garden landscaping overhaul. We were all so used to being on autopilot that we’d each driven past where we should have turned because we didn’t find it.
Most of the micro-landmarks we use every day are not so important of course but it’s humbling to know that changing them may well change the way people find their way around, or more commonly probably, give others directions. Today’s post is about one such micro-landmark: the white bike outside Kemper Fietsen (Kemper Cycles). Located on the corner of Waldeck Pyrmontkade and Prins Hendrikstraat, this company has been going for twenty-five years and is a well known bike company.
The white bike in question looks like a cross between a cocoon and something destined to break the land-speed record. It’s an enclosed recumbent cycle so you can cycle in the rain without getting wet. It’s certainly not your average everyday bicycle. Sometimes we see it parked with the other bikes. other time up against the shop… one thing is for certain, every time we pass, we look for it, our familiar little white micro-landmark.