Monday, October 11, 2010

Navigating the Nation's Highways with the 'RarelyLost'

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published February 11, 2010] © 2010

Forget iPhones, iPods, iPads and Wii. My husband and I agree that no techno gismo ever invented compares to GPS. But then, we’re not called the Bobbsey Twins of Directional Disability for nothing.

When Hertz first introduced the NeverLost GPS systems on rental cars some years back, Olof arrived home from a business trip looking like he had just cracked cold fusion. Despite a degree in reactor physics and ten years as an Air Force pilot, he can barely find his way out of a rental car lot. Fortunately, his Air Force planes included a navigator, whose most frequent communication was said to be, “No, your other right.”

As for me, if there is a 50% chance of turning in the right direction at an intersection, I will get it wrong 90% of the time.

We sure could have used a navigator all those years our younger son played soccer, instead leaving two hours early to allow time to get lost in North (also South, East and West) County in search of what we still maintain were criminally secreted youth soccer fields. Even so, the kid didn’t always get there for kick-off. Bad news since he was the goalie.

Good as the GPS systems are, we’ve found they sometimes get lost too. Leading us to the Denver airport, the disembodied female voice in the NeverLost savvily guided us to a road that dead-ended onto open prairie. Good thing we didn’t have four wheel drive on our vehicle or we might have thought, “Well, we did opt for `Shortest Route’.”

Of course, the GPS lady is used to people second guessing the directions, but if you don’t go where you’re told to, she gets peevish - some would say outright testy - before finally recalculating the route. We can hear her mumbling under her digital breath, “OK, you idiots, we’ll go your way. But if you thought the Richmond Bridge was bad, wait’ll you see the Golden Gate!”

We suspect once she gets back to the rental car return, she personally commiserates with the other ladies who live in GPS units. (”Oh, no, you got them again!”) We also think that they can be vindictive. (We’re not entirely sure that Denver thing was an accident.)

GPS systems are also not at their best in sparsely populated areas. A few summers ago, we visited a relative’s home in darkest, ruralest Ohio the directions to which mostly involved big trees. My husband cranked up the GPS, which said something akin to “Please proceed to the highlighted planet.”

After getting hopelessly lost in the dark for two hours in Beverly Hills a few months ago, we have finally acquired a portable GPS since neither of our cars has one. Of course, one can use the GPS on a cell phone, but we prefer the bigger screen, and if we’re honest, the comforting abuse of the GPS lady. As our younger son, who has long lobbied for us to buy our own navigation system, pointedly observed, “It allows people like you to ‘boldly go where they have never gone before’ – and actually get there.” We think he’s still mad about the soccer games.

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