Here are 13 really aggravating things about the map of the United States

Look at this mess. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

I've just returned from two weeks on the road in the United States. Mostly I was thinking about the election (and in the unlikely event you want to know what I made of that whole trauma, you can find out over on the New Statesman website), but obviously I also spent a lot of time thinking about maps.

Specifically, I was thinking about quite how ludicrous the map of those United States actually is. To whit:


Why is it even a state? I mean, really? Ether it should get to have the whole of that peninsula it sits on, or it should stop mucking around and become part of Maryland. The current situation is just ridiculous.


You know how long it takes to cross Delaware by car?


Fourteen minutes, that's how long it takes.

The only reason they let Delaware be a state is because it was the first one to ratify the US constitution and now everyone's too embarrassed to tell them.

While we're at it:

That ridiculous peninsula that Delaware sits on

The Delmarva peninsula includes bits of three different states. Why? Just why?

I'll tell you why: because they named it Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) and now it's too awkward to change it. Think before you name, guys.

What’s more:


What the fuck is this?

Just look at it:


You know what this reminds me of?

Turns out, the US came pre-gerrymandered.

West Virginia

Okay, this one's not really a geographical point, but there are places in West Virginia, as there are all over the south, where you can find the Confederate flag.

Which is odd, in its way, because: West Virginia was never part of the Confederacy. More than that, the state only exists because it split from Virginia because it wanted to stay with the Union.

So today in West Virginia there are those who profess loyalty to the ideas of a rebellion that their forefathers explicitly repudiated. Which is nice.

The Florida panhandle

Fun fact! If that sticky-out-bit was part of Alabama and Georgia, as it very obviously should be, then Florida would have voted Democrat, and Hillary Clinton would, well, she'd still be nine electoral votes short of being president elect right now, but she'd be a damn sight closer. (Yes, I had to correct this bit after a reader pointed out it was wrong. Don't judge me.)

Upper Michigan

Look at this:

Dividing those two peninsulas are the Straits of Mackinac, which divide lakes Michigan and Huron. The straits are five miles across at their narrowest point – indeed, on some definitions, Michigan and Huron are actually a single lake.

Which begs the question: why is the northern of those two landmasses a part of Michigan at all? It should obviously be part of Wisconsin. This is a very poor show.

(Upper Michigan, incidentally, contains nearly a third of the state's land, but just 3 per cent of its population. Don't say we never teach you anything.)


The southernmost tip of Alaska is approximately 510 miles from the nearest point of the continental United States. Alaska is "in" the US in the same way that Essex is "in" Switzerland. Give it up, guys, you're part of Canada.


Oh, Hawaii gets to be a state, but not Guam? It’s a US territory, and home to 160,000 people. Where's the love for Guam, guys? Why doesn't Guam get to be a state? Really at this point I'm just enjoying the excuses to keep saying Guam. "Guam".





New York

Okay you're just taking the piss now.

The entire west

Here's Utah, an apparently average sized western state, placed over New England:

I mean, it's about the same size, right? Except that New England contains six different states, and Utah contains just one.

It's like, the further west the US got, the less effort it could be bothered to put into creating new states. An area bigger than Great Britain? Shall we carve it up? Meh, who has the time. Just call it Nevada.

The sheer laziness of it.

The square states

The US has not one, but two, states that are, in effect, perfect rectangles.

The whole West is one big grid system. 

I mean, they're not really, because they're big enough that the curvature of the Earth comes into effect. But nonetheless – what kind of ludicrous country is this?

Anyway, I’m home now. It’s fine. Everything is going to be fine.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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Maps courtesy of Google.



Vanilla Skybus: George Romero and Pittsburgh’s metro to nowhere

A prototype Skybus on display near Pittsburgh. Image: BongWarrior/Wikimedia Commons.

The late director George A Romero’s films are mainly known for their zombies, an association stretching from his first film, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, to his last as director, 2009’s Survival of the Dead.

But many of them are also a record of Pittsburgh, the city he lived and worked in, and other locations in the state of Pennsylvania in the late 20th century. Martin (1978), for example, isn’t just a movie about a kid who thinks he’s a vampire: it’s a moving portrayal of the post-industrial decay of the Pittsburgh borough of Braddock.

Though born in New York, Romero studied in Pittsburgh and stayed in the city after graduation, shooting commercials as part of the successful Latent Image agency. It was in collaboration with advertising colleagues that he shot his debut Night of the Living Dead. On both that movie and subsequent films, Romero and his colleagues used their experience and connections from the agency to secure cheap and striking locations around the city and state. 

It’s in Romero’s little-seen second film, 1971’s romantic drama There’s Always Vanilla, that a crucial scene touches on a dead end in the history of urban transport in Steel City.

In the scene Vietnam vet Chris, only recently returned to town after a failed music career, sees his father off on a train platform, after an evening where Chris got his dad stoned and set him up with a stripper. (It was the early 1970s, remember.) An odd little two-carriage metro train pulls up on an elevated concrete platform, Chris’ father rides away on it, and then Chris literally bumps into Lynn, whom he then both gaslights and negs. (It was the ‘70s.) You can see the scene here.

A screenshot from There's Always Vanilla, showing the Skybus through a chain link fence.

If you don’t live in Pittsburgh, you might assume that funny little train, still futuristic forty years on, is just an everyday way of getting around in the exciting New World. Who knows what amazing technology they have over there, right?

In fact, the Transit Expressway Revenue Line, more snappily referred to as the Skybus, not only doesn’t exist today: it hardly existed at all, beyond what we see in that short scene. In the 1960s there were plans to replace Pittsburgh’s street car system with a more up to date urban transit system. The Skybus – driverless, running on rubber tires on an elevated concrete track with power provided with an under rail system – drew enough support from the Port Authority and Federal Government for them to fund a short demonstration track at the Allegheny County Fair, at that point a local institution.

It’s this demonstration track and train that appears in There’s Always Vanilla. Film makers love isolated systems like this, or the UK’s many heritage railways, because they allow for multiple takes and a controlled environment. So it made sense for Romero to use this local curio rather than seek access to an in-use station.

The sequence in Vanilla shows that the Skybus system worked, and as a potential metro system it looks quite striking to this day with its curved windows and distinctive logo. But the proposed system wasn’t popular with everyone, and cost concerns and political wrangling stalled the project – until it was finally rejected in favour of a more conventional steel wheel on steel rail transit system.

The demonstration track was pulled up in 1980, although the small station and platform seen in the movie remains: Romero expert Lawrence Devincentz narrates a photo tour of the building on the blu ray of There’s Always Vanilla.

Vanilla was renamed and barely seen on release, but is now available as part of a boxset of Romero’s early works from Arrow Video, in ridiculously pristine 2K digital transfer. The Skybus is there too, a curio of Pittsburgh history caught on a few short minutes of film. Neglected back then, both seem considerably more interesting now.

‘There’s Always Vanilla’ is available on blu ray as part of Arrow’s ‘George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn’ box set, and will receive a standalone release later this year.

Mark Clapham used to work in rail regulation, but now writes things like this. He tweets as @markclapham.