Monday, April 09, 2007

Directionally Impaired

I’ve been busy shuffling family members from one place to another, mostly doctors’ offices lately, and this week is shaping up the same way. I can find my way around my own town reasonably well, but I get lost easily when I leave town. I used to make sure and conscientiously get Mapquest directions, then I’d highlight them to make the important turns more obvious, and I’d even trim off excess paper for easier in-car handling. Sometimes I still got lost either from reading something wrong or because the roads had changed since they were charted by Mapquest.

I get lost less often these days, but it has nothing to do with Mapquest. Last Christmas, my husband got me a Garmin GPS Navigator and stuck it to my windshield. Hubs is one of those guys who, even if I give him color choices and catalog numbers, will go shopping for me at Ace Hardware because that’s where he feels comfortable, and it’s got stuff he feels comfortable buying. He has bought me something wonderfully feminine (a purse with beads) exactly once in our marriage – otherwise it’s appliances, electronic doo-dads, or other things that whirr or clank.

Well, the Garmin looked like a pretty good compromise – something I would probably actually use, plus, even though it doesn’t whirr, it does require a power supply, which fits his criteria. He was very excited and drove my car all over town, plugging locations into “My Favorites” for which I don’t need directions, since I already know how to get to all of them. I thanked him nicely and didn’t use it for a month.

One day I got a little curious, so I turned it on and thought, “OK, let’s see if you know how to get to the middle school.” A female voice advised me on how to properly leave my driveway and what to do once I did. I got a slightly eerie feeling creeping up my neck, but I ignored it. I followed Garmin’s directions, which were perfectly accurate, up until I was ½ block away from the middle school. Garmin advised me to “TURN LEFT.” I replied, “I can’t, that would put me in the middle of a baseball field. Damned high tech crap!” Garmin shrieked that I must immediately “TURN LEFT, TURN LEFT!”

I didn’t turn left. Garmin sulked. After I had turned into the parking lot for the middle school, Garmin announced that it was “RECALCULATING,” and I swear I could hear it making noises of disgust and impatience. The now distinctly creepy female voice advised me to drive a half a block back east and TURN RIGHT. I cut off its power supply instead.

I used Garmin another couple of times that same week when I went out of town on errands. Inevitably, the navigator has been dubbed not only female, but shrewish as well. In all fairness, though, she managed to get me to and from my locations with no detours through sports fields or children’s parks. Another month went by before I powered Garmin back up again.

This time, I wanted to see what she’d do if I put a destination in and then ran other errands first. She didn’t like it much at all – she shrieked, “TURN LEFT! TURN RIGHT!” and then repeatedly mumbled and spat about how I was forcing her to begin “RECALCULATING”. I could hear the “DAMMIT” under her digital voice. I was reminded of the Star Trek episode where some bright spark gives the ship’s computer a personality and it then either flirts, pouts or refuses to do as asked. I wondered if I was pushing Garmin to her limits, too. She tried to send me down the right street the wrong way, and I’d have been unable to park from that direction, and she wasn’t happy with me. I felt I’d gotten the upper hand, just a little, on my home turf. It wasn’t much of a victory, but I felt triumphant nonetheless.

So, last week Garmin snoozed while I trundled Doodle to the dentist, Bunny to a friend’s house, myself to the hospital, and ran a thousand ordinary errands. I woke her up on Wednesday and told her that we were going to be taking some very important cargo into Joliet – my Dad had an appointment with his cardiologist. As I poked her buttons, I reminded her that this would not be a good time to play any pranks involving streets under either construction or water, and that I really needed her help this time. I always get lost either coming or going because of the one-way streets. I apologized for muting her voice; I didn’t want it to startle or confuse my Dad, who, with his Alzheimer’s taking a circuitous route through his brain, startles easily at some things and becomes extremely perplexed and eventually upset over other things.

Garmin didn’t let me down. The route in was a little different from my former Mapquest routes, and the route out was a little different, too. I don’t care; I got there and back in good time, confidently, and with Dad in good humor and spirits. I can forgive Garmin for being kind of a stress monkey from time to time, and for being occasionally inaccurately programmed (by yards rather than miles), as long as I can get my Dad and other loved ones where they want or ought to be.

So, if you see me, or some other person, arguing vociferously with an empty car, and you see a little black circle on the windshield, it’s not Rush Limbaugh who’s set us off, it’s probably Garmin. And, we will get where we’re going, especially after all the “RECALCULATING!”

1 comment:

Knitnik said...

My hubby has a Garmin he relies on too much. It has done such wondrous things as suggesting we "turn left" into a field full of cows.

We recently returned from Charleston, where we counted on Garmin to get us around. Problem is, Garmin's software is over 3 years old, and Charleston's roads and bridges have all basically been moved. We were constantly driving on "non-existent" road according to Garmin, and she frequently shrieked at us (in her British accent - he drives a MINI, and insists on the British version) to turn, then recalculating. I, too, heard the dammit under her voice too many times, and at one point I thought she might just seize control of the car to save the stupid humans. I of course was knitting through all of this, but was quite distracted!