Essay: When your GPS lady gives you wrong directions

Having a global positioning system in the car is fun – until the driver doesn't follow the directions it gives.

Rob Kuenstler/AP/File
Where are we? Geocachers use hand-held GPS devices while on a scavenger hunt in Wisconsin. GPS is also popular with hikers and drivers.

A few weeks ago I became the proud owner of a GPS unit. For those of you who are less cool than I, that's short for global positioning system, which means, in effect: Put me and my car down anywhere – Biloxi, Miss., or Trenton, N.J. – give me the street address, and before you can set the table, we're there. No stopping at a local gas station, dry cleaner, or pet shop to ask directions. No hassling about whether I was supposed to turn left or right at the third intersection after the fourth traffic light. All I have to do is rest my foot on the gas pedal and listen to the mellifluous tones of The Lady inside my navigational system, who, with no malice aforethought, tells me where to go.

Because I've had my device only a short time, The Lady and I are just getting acquainted. But no doubt about it, she's a take-charge gal. Amazing, really. All I have to do is look at the small screen (which is not unlike the one on my BlackBerry, cellphone, iPod, or hand-held Boggle) and touch the picture of a map that says, "Show Map" under it, or a house ("Address") or a map with a pin stuck in it (Points of Interest), and she does the rest.

For our first outing, I chose "Address" and at her direction, began touching the letters of my destination city: East Haddam. I pushed "E"; she said "E." I pushed "A"; she said "A." I pushed "S"; she said "S." I pushed "T"; she said "T," I pushed "H"; she said "H." I pushed "A"; she said nothing.

I tried again and again, but The Lady wouldn't let me finish. No way would she allow me to enter my "D." I can't be sure what she had against East Haddam, but she gave me only two choices: Eastham or Easthampton, Mass., neither of which had a regional theater I'd ever heard of, and they certainly weren't holding matinee tickets for my husband and me.

Through perseverance – and no help from the manual, which seemed not to have any precedent for my problem – I finally figured out that it was the "East" she didn't like. So I punched in H-A-D-D-A-M, by itself, and we were on our way.

Maybe not exactly the way I would have chosen, though. She couldn't have known about the construction on Route 7 near our house, or she wouldn't have tried so desperately to make me take that road.

I had to override her command, which apparently ruffled her feathers, because her voice went up at least two decibels. "Recalculate. Recalculate," she practically shouted, as if I was about to go over a cliff.

Every time I took an unauthorized turn, she tried to get me back on her road, and even though she was laying a guilt trip on me ("Why did she buy me, if she wasn't going to use me?" I could imagine her thinking), I couldn't give in because I was the one in traffic and she was the one all snugly inside that little 14-ounce wonder.

Finally, I did reach the main route and when I turned left, as she instructed, I could practically hear her sigh of relief. "Drive 19.2 miles on I-95," she said contentedly.

When it was almost time to get off the Interstate, she announced, ".5 miles to Exit 64." Then, "Turn right on Exit 64. Turn left at the foot of the ramp." And so the directions went until I arrived at my destination – within two minutes of the estimated time.

Since then, The Lady and I have made several trips together, and I have nothing but admiration for the system and its spokesperson. At times, she may offer a little more information than I feel is necessary. For instance, did you know there's a Westport not only in Connecticut but also in Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Missouri, Kentucky, Washington, California, Indiana, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee?

But that's a small price to pay for never again having to look for a red mailbox next to a crumbling stone pillar on a dark country road where you've been sent to pick up a fourth at bridge. And although there have been a few bumps along the way, my GPS unit and I are an item, and quite frankly, at this point I'm not ashamed to say, I'd be lost without her.

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