Monday, August 17, 2009

Techno-dummy vs. the G. P. S.


This weekend has really tried my patience. A family wedding took us to Indianapolis, which, as everyone knows, is home of the Indy 500 Motor Speedway, by the way, a piece of cake to drive compared to the mess that is the I-65/465/865 interstate system that rings the city. Want to get to the west side? That doesn’t necessarily mean you take 465 West. How about going south? Well, um, maybe try 465 East?

So using a GPS navigation system sounded like my idea of heaven. No more getting caught in a never-ending circuit of highways until the car ran out of gas. No more off-ramps that lead in the wrong direction, with no way to get back on. Plug in the address and away we go.

Except that, as we discovered, this particular built-in system has its limitations. For instance, it wants to take you on the most direct route, even if that route is through a cornfield. Or around a golf course. And should you forget to tell it that the street is North Illinois St., not plain ol’ Illinois St., South Illinois St., Illinois Ave., Illinois Ct, or a dozen other choices, you’ll be on a wild goose chase that might cause you to miss an important event. Like a wedding. In our case, a post-wedding brunch. (Food is an event to my family.)

Our GPS also doesn’t have the option to go the fastest route, only the most direct. Hildegard is stubborn that way. I named her that because the voice is female – in a disturbing techno-monotone kind of way - and the car is German. And then of course, there’s the human error aspect, such as my daughter transposing two numbers in the street address. The navigation system got us to the address we inputted. It just wasn’t the house where we were supposed to be.

But the biggest limitation is that I relied on Hildegard totally instead of using my brain and a map. She led us out of the city and home with no problem, but I have no idea how. I couldn’t picture it in my head to get the “lay of the land,” so to speak. If I study a map, I can get a sense of where I am in relation to where the downtown is. And then if I get lost, at least I know what direction I should go to get back.

Now I just listen to Hildegard’s eerily soothing voice: “Prepare to turn right. Move into the right lane. You will turn right in 500 feet. Now turn right. I said NOW! Turn right NOW, dumkopf!”

Sorry, Hildegard. The corn was just too high.

Do you use a GPS system? Are you directionally-challenged? How do you cope with a strange city?