Monday, April 28, 2008

GPS: Rise of the Machines

© 2008 Leighann Lord

I bought my Husband a GPS (global positioning system) for his car. With all the driving we do for gigs, I thought it would make a great gift, and save him from the oft joked about male indignity of asking for directions when lost. I should have known better.

The mechanical female voice is loud and clear, but has a tendency to mispronounce the names of local streets. Foch Boulevard becomes Foesh, but we figure it’s because she’s not from around here. Overall her voice is vaguely pleasant and non committal, but only when you do what she says.

If you don’t turn left, when she says turn left, her tone changes. She sounds annoyed, judgmental and down right cranky. Surprisingly this happens a lot since my Husband doesn’t always listen. She may have the benefit of orbiting satellites, but he’s got his gut. Listening to them argue I wonder who’s married to whom:

"In 300 yards, turn left."

"I don’t think so."

"Turn left."


Ominous silence.


"Wow, do you two need a minute alone to work this out?" I ask. They both ignore me.

If you’re familiar with a GPS you’re probably wondering why my Husband just doesn’t turn it off. Well, first he’s never been one to shy away from a verbal joust no matter who it’s with. Second, I think he enjoys playing out the epic battle of man versus machine. Turning it off is the coward’s way out. He prefers the challenge.

When my husband gave me a GPS for my car, I protested saying one couple does not need two GPS units. But as he pointed out, we both travel a lot, and not always together. The voice on my unit is male. He has a calm, cool, confident delivery, no attitude, but that’s probably because I pretty much do what he says, until recently.

I was headed out to an appointment on Queens Boulevard. Queens Boulevard is a perfect example of why people hate Queens. The numbered street signs repeat ad nauseam. There’s 63rd, street, road, and avenue. As a bonus, the addresses don’t necessarily correspond with the street numbers. Although we natives don’t like to admit this, we too are perplexed by Queens Boulevard. It’s the Rubik’s cube of roadways.

This swiftly moving seven mile, 12 to 16 lane stretch has a strict 30 mph speed limit. It’s not NASCAR, but that’s a pretty brisk pace when you’re looking for an address. So, this seemed like a perfect job for the GPS; but sadly it just wasn’t up to the Queens Boulevard challenge. Instead of arriving at an office building, I ended up in front of a diner. You don’t need a GPS to find a diner in Queens.

I was angry and very disappointed with myself. Me of all people blindly put her faith in a machine like I’d never read Brian Herbert’s "Butlerian Jihad;" like I’d never heard the silky and yet decidedly menacing voice of HAL in Stanley Kubrick’s "2001: A Space Odyssey;" like I’d never seen "Terminator;" like my computer isn’t held hostage by Microsoft Windows. And I call myself a sci-fi fan? I may never be allowed into another "Star Trek" convention.

Naturally, my relationship with my GPS has changed. Now I’m not so trusting.

"Turn left."

"Really? Are you sure?"

Rather than argue or turn the machine completely off, I make liberal use of the mute button.

"GPS signal lost."

Yes, but I’m not.

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