A machine replaced me. Hallelujah. I couldn’t be happier.
I am no longer responsible for road-trip navigation, having happily outsourced the (non-paying) job to the satellite-directed voice that lives in my phone and car. (To be clear, I was entirely ill-suited and unqualified for the position.)
That GPS voice reads maps, gives definitive directions and suggests alternative routes. It’s been a game changer for the navigationally challenged community.
I grew up with those intricately folded regional road maps, trying to pinpoint a.) our current location; b.) our desired destination and c.) a suitable correction.
There was no GPS, Google Maps, Waze app or location services. We had only the paper maps and anecdotal instructions from gas station attendants (and other customers in line) who tried their best to send us in the right direction.
But let’s not let the nostalgia of simpler times distort the truth.
How many road trips nearly ended in divorce or disaster before GPS started guiding our travels? How many lengthy detours did we endure before that capable computer voice took charge?
The retrieval of a map from the glove compartment inevitably meant things would get worse before better, and they were clearly already falling apart. You don’t consult a map when you KNOW where you are and where you’re going. We only unfolded it once we were already lost, stuck in traffic, rerouted by construction or bewildered by the directions we’d written on the back of some envelope.
By then, the driver was pissed and the passenger was in a losing position, facing a microscopic, multicolored spider web of intersecting roads. There was no way to zoom in. We couldn’t Google a location or expect an orbiting satellite to pinpoint our planetary location.
I CAN read a map. Truly. I can figure out whether we need to turn left or right. I can figure out where the turnpike intersects the side roads. I can discern a major highway versus a county road that’s likely littered with traffic lights. Eventually.
But I can’t do ANY of those things while blowing past every exit and highway sign at 75 mph with an overwrought driver demanding instant directions.
We navigators often sought reassurance that we were reading things correctly while the driver frantically called out exit numbers and road names as we flew by.
The driver couldn’t look away from the road to consult the map we were forever trying to shove in their face, yet they refused to slow down or pull over for a brief conference, ensuring the car went farther off course.
The tension invariably thickened. Voices tightened. Exasperated sighs filled the car, until someone (me, always me) gave up. I’d crumple the map into the backseat, prepared at that moment to start a new life wherever we happened to be.
Finally, the driver would acquiesce and pull over to regroup and assess the map together. The navigator (me), still a bit huffy, would smugly enjoy the driver’s difficulty in interpreting the same spider web of roadways, even while stopped.
Say what you will about simpler times, but I’m not willing to go back to the time before GPS. Ever.
Those satellites in geosynchronous orbit led Stan and me to and around Tampa last weekend for an utterly fantastic wedding. They found our AirBnB. They rerouted us around gridlock on I-75 (or tried to, as people insisted on driving into each other).
I’m no longer the one saying we’d missed our turn. The GPS dings mildly while rerouting. It tells Stan to do a U-turn, then instantly figures out where we are, where we went wrong and where we’re supposed to be.
When all’s going smoothly again, there’s time to play the “GPS challenge.” That’s what I call our innate desire to “trick” the satellites, speed up and outrun its estimated time of arrival.
“Sure, we’ll get there at 8 p.m. IF we go 65 mph. But we can do better. We can beat that,” the driver says, straightening up and glancing at the speedometer.
Shaving a minute or two off the predicted ETA is cause for celebration on an 8-hour road trip.
Last weekend’s journey gave me plenty of time to think: It’d be funny to hear the GPS respond to us like a real person.
“Hey, dumbass, I TOLD you to turn left. Ding ding. Rerouting. Now ya gotta do a U-ey. Good luck with that on this divided highway, ya chump.”
“OK, tough guy. I see you speeding up. I’ll give you a few extra minutes. I’ll update your arrival time. But guess what? There’s congestion up ahead that’s gonna slow ya down. You can’t see it now, but I see everything, and a sea of brake lights in three miles will have you BEGGING me for an alternative route.”
Yes, times have changed, and when it comes to road trips, I’m thrilled to have been replaced by technology.
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