Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Blame the Machines

The title of this blog was taken from a song on Duran Duran's latest album. Blame the Machines is a (supposedly true) story of a German man who was killed after driving the wrong way up a highway on-ramp after being mislead by his GPS. One of my favorite authors, Jennifer Weiner just released a new short story called "Recalculating" about a possessed GPS. This is all confirmation that I am not alone in my refusal to trust or depend on these "navigation systems." They say that "real men never ask for directions." In my experience, however, men may not stop to ask a real human being for directions, but they have no problem plugging an address into a GPS, and they will unquestioningly follow whatever directions are given. It's almost as if they are so hypnotized by "Jane's" seductive voice that common sense takes a vacation of its own.

I am very fortunate in that Rob and I rarely argue. We've been together for 22 years and I can probably count on my fingers the number of true "fights" we have had. Ironically, several of them have involved his placing trust in the GPS over the woman he has chosen to start a family and spend his life with (who, often, is holding a map). Our first battle was fought on the confusing, notoriously congested highways of Los Angeles. We were trying to make our way to Long Beach. Rob was driving and listening to the directions being spoken by the GPS, while I was paying attention to the street signs that clearly guide motorists like ourselves onto the correct routes. A sign announced that we should take the exit to get on the 405 Freeway heading toward Long Beach. Rob drove past the exit, because "that's not what the GPS says." I got mad.  He pulled off the highway and told me to get out the car and drive myself. For the next few years, any time I suggested a vacation, I was told that I "don't travel well."

There have been other incidents along the way, my own GPS has taken me off course into dangerous 'hoods in Miami, nearly lead me the wrong way up an on-ramp to I-95 (just like in the song) and got me all turned around in Orlando. For the most part, I've learned to MapQuest addresses when I can and get a feel for where I need to go BEFORE heading out. I only use GPS-guidance as a last resort.

My latest GPS-related battle with Rob occurred just last week. Alana asked us to pick her up from her girlfriend's grandmother's condo on A1A - less than two miles from our house. She texted me the address, which I gave to Rob, then offered to ride with him. As soon as we got in the car, Rob enters the address into the Navigation app on his phone. I shake my head and say, "You have GOT to be kidding me - we've lived here for over 30 years - you don't know how to get to an address on A1A?!" His response, "But Nance, it's so cool! Listen, it'll tell me exactly where to go, and when I get to my destination, it'll show me a picture of it!" I still rode with him, but it was a quiet ride. Lucky for us, we made it there and home (with only the minor hitch of Rob entering through the exit of the parking lot (because the GPS didn't tell him to turn into the entrance). I'm not kidding...

My latest GPS encounter involved not my real husband, Rob, but my friend/co-worker/travel partner, Bob. We have often joked that Rob and Bob are "brothers from different mothers," because they have a lot in common. UNfortunately for me, this includes the whole GPS obsession. Keep in mind, my hackles were still up from the whole A1A incident just a few days earlier. Bob and I were wrapping up our business trip in New Jersey. The convention (in Atlantic City) ended at 3:00 and our flight was due to leave Philadelphia at 7:10 that evening. Bob really wanted to go to the Shore Store in Seaside Heights to get a t-shirt for his daughter. I had mapquested the route and learned that Seaside Heights was over an hour away from Atlantic City. We also had to ship all of our conference stuff via FedEx before going to the airport. I found a FedEx location in Toms River (just west of Seaside Heights) where we could ship the stuff. I knew we'd be pushing it, but we figured we'd give it a try. By the time we made it to Toms River, it was after 4:00. This was complicated by the fact that the GPS instructed us to take the westbound exit on Hwy 37 instead of the eastbound exit, which would have dropped us right into the parking lot of the strip mall where FedEx was located. Once headed westbound 37, there was not an opportunity to make a U-turn for a few miles. This should have been a sign...

Our GPS-Guided Tour
of New Jersey
Anyway, after shipping our packages, Bob realized (and I totally agreed) that we didn't have time to go to the Shore Store. I had MapQuested our route before we left the convention center and saw that the most direct (and fastest, according to MapQuest) route would be to take Highway 70 to Philadelphia. Granted, it was a country highway, so we might not be able to drive as fast as we could on an Interstate. Bob decided to consult his GPS. We ended up heading north (which made NO sense, since Philadelphia was southwest of where we were). The GPS was taking us up to 195, then west to the NJ Turnpike, then back south toward Philadelphia. I tried to tell Bob that it was taking us way out of the way, but he insisted that it would be faster because it was all highway driving. Needless to say, it was a long, QUIET ride to Philadelphia. We still had to fuel up and turn in the rental car, check in and go through security. We got to the gate just as the plane was boarding. 

Bob (and his GPS) did get me to the airport on time, but I was not a happy woman. Bob lives with four females - he knows when he hears nothing but silence and gets the occasional icy stare of death he's in trouble. ;) He bought me a beer on the plane and I accepted his apology and we were able to joke about it on the flight home. He promised me it would never happen again. I don't believe him, but we're still friends. Just like I know that Rob will continue to listen to the synthetic song of the siren that is the GPS even when his flesh-and-blood road sign-reading wife has MapQuested the heck out of the trip. But it's all good...they're just men, and the GPS is their way of not asking for directions.

With Love and Aloha ~ Nancy

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