Adventures in GPS

I don’t recall a brand name mentioned in the 20/20 report about the ladies whose drive home from a tourist attraction included a horrific night in Death Valley, ending with a brief flight on a rescue helicopter. I truly wonder if the lost ladies heard the feminine voice, dripping in disdain, repeat even as they shared their last drop of water, “Recalculating… recalculating…,” which is one of the more unattractive features of the Garmin 260 I have suckered to the windshield of my Chevy TrailBlazer.

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The fickle fingers of technology.

It was not, I hope, a Magellan, like the one I recently gave my wife as a birthday present. Perhaps as a result of the 20/20 segment, however, I promise that both instruments contain the latest North American maps offered by their respective manufacturers.

Eliza and I had to drive from our home in northwest New Jersey to Lynchburg, Virginia, the other day—about an 8-hour drive (a calculation that, I feel certain, assumes a nonstop trip by robots without stomachs or bladders, accomplished at precisely the posted speed limits). It was a journey we had never taken, to a town we had never visited.

We took the Chevy with the Garmin onboard, and I knew before we left our parking spot that I was going to let her (the Garmin Lady) call the shots. We (my wife and I) actually discussed this, marveling how the travelers of yesteryear were forced to fumble around with paper maps, or at best a AAA TripTik. The emergence of the Interwebs later allowed near-miraculous printouts from MapQuest, with turn-by-turn instructions, each turn accompanied by its own inscrutable little map, if desired. How did folks manage to travel back then? we joked. But silently, we felt a little old.

I don’t think Eliza saw the 20/20 report, and I didn’t find an opportunity to mention it. About 2 miles from our home, the Garmin Lady suggested a twisty, 3-mile, over-the-mountain route with which I was already familiar. It’s her (the Garmin Lady’s) preferred route to I-80 on any trip headed in a southwest direction. I usually avoid the mountain route, knowing a slightly longer way less punishing to the Chevy’s aging shock absorbers, although it does require me to brace myself against Ms. Garmin’s peevish “Recalculating…” I didn’t want to put Eliza through that. It was morning, with the light of day full on. And we had recently survived the safari ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. And (did I mention?), as the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic United States lack anything approaching a Death Valley, I had decided to rely on Ms. Garmin and her magic halo of satellites.

Yet she sent us flying right past the familiar stretch of I-80, continuing down back roads for miles and miles, my confidence in her dwindling, until… until… until here was I-78, already well into Pennsylvania, and a stretch I recognized, and knew in my heart would have taken me much longer to reach had I gone the way of logic and safety. The stretch from home past I-80 included a tunnel, an actual tunnel in the New Jersey hills (county Rt. 517, I think). And on we went down I-78 to I-81, and forever south on I-81 for hours and hours, thinking maybe Ms. Garmin had lost her sense of adventure, when suddenly, wheeeeee, a ramp and a little back road and some twisty miles until… until… until the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Damn, I thought. You can get an app now that will give you a guided tour down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Back in the day of folding maps, it was a cassette tape sold at the information center where the parkway begins. That’s how the tourists do it now, the old, doddering tourists with their smartphone apps.

But I was not to be disappointed, as Ms. Garmin took us only a mile or two on this major artery to another ramp and, wheeeee, another back road that went down, down, with signs showing trucks’ brakes smoking, and trucks rolling over, and mom-and-pop stores with ice lockers out front and wooden mailboxes flying by, and the TrailBlazer went up and down and I knew it, knew it: only the locals know this shortcut. Only the locals know how to get from I-81 into Lynchburg, Virginia, passing rolled-over trucks, their brakes smoking. Only locals and Ms. Garmin.

So I trusted her all the way to our hotel parking lot—actually 100 meters to the south of the hotel parking lot (“Your destination is on the right“), but the hotel was in sight nonetheless. On the left. Ms. Garmin knew that. I was starting to understand her sense of humor. I knew that she was capable of leading helpless ladies into Death Valley, demanding turns on roads that haven’t existed for 70 years, only because she was high, high in the sky, bored and yes, a little disdainful. But she knew, she knew about the helicopter rescue operation only miles away as the crow flies. The ladies were fine.

The next day my wife and I drove back from Lynchburg, Virginia, to northwest New Jersey, and she took slightly different routes to avoid boring both of us. But they were much the same…switchbacks and shortcuts that only mom and pop knew. And she hit the same tunnel in New Jersey, not far from home, just because it was a trippy thing to do, and we both laughed, me with a human laugh, her with a spinning car icon and popup window: Satellite reception lost.

Finally, the 3-mile Disney Animal Kingdom safari stretch back to our home, turning left when Ms. Garmin told me to turn right, turning quick left again into our parking lot. You have reached your destination.

The Magellan is a newer model, with all kinds of alerts–for traffic jams and red-light cameras and speed limits. My wife should be fine so long as she avoids Death Valley. And if she grows bored of the default female voice, I think she can choose Tom Hanks or George Clooney or Yoda. Yoda would be a trip.


About Keith Croes

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Posted on April 30, 2013, in Autobiographical, Reviews, Technology, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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