A spectacularly bad sense of direction has plagued me for years. You can’t even imagine how much time I lose on a regular basis because of my inability to navigate, not to mention the psychic toll I’ve paid over the course of many years of being lost (and completely losing it) on beltways, highways, byways, and windy back country roads…
When we first moved to Charlottesville, before the GPS existed, I would call Colin from the road in a panic. A typical call would go something like this:
“I have no idea where I am! I’ve been driving for an hour and a half and I can’t find my way back home!”
“Where are you now?”
“What do you mean?! I just told you I have NO IDEA where I am! That’s why I’m calling you!”
“But can you see any road signs? Do you recognize anything?”
“Ummmm…OK, wait…There’s a fire hydrant on the right. Uh…I’m passing a big oak tree on the left. There’s…a field with black and white cows in it.”
It wasn’t as if I could go somewhere once, twice, or even three times and then be able to figure out how to get there again. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this has been a fairly serious handicap in my life, one which could easily have turned me into a homebound recluse. I was extremely reluctant to go anywhere I hadn’t been before, and stopped going anywhere alone at night.
In those early days there was one particular class I really wanted to go to, but after repeatedly getting lost en route there and back, I was going to give up on it. That’s when Colin came to the rescue with an ingenious plan. He made a recording of directions for me, with a sensitive understanding of the kind of directions that would be meaningful to me.
“Go down a steep hill, and then up a hill. Pass the house on the left with a giant pumpkin,” I’d hear on the tape. (Long-time Charlottesvillians may remember the house on Rio Road that used to always have a huge papier mâché pumpkin in the front yard around Halloween). “Now turn off the tape until you see the traffic light at the T-junction.” On the flip side he recorded directions to get me back home, because: yes, I needed them.
It worked! I got to my class and back without any problems! I continued to rely on my tape for the next week or so. One day I was on my way to class when I felt around for the tape so that I could pop it into the cassette deck. Suddenly, I remembered with horror that I had taken it out when I had cleaned the car and had forgotten to put it back in. My heart started hammering and I considered just pulling over, but as I continued to drive I realized I could hear Colin’s voice in my head, narrating the directions. I had the whole thing memorized!
“Pass the house on the left with a giant pumpkin.” YES, by George! There it was! It was like a miracle. How did he know it would be there?! I never needed to use the tape again.
Colin bought me my first GPS in preparation for the sabbatical year we spent in Carrboro, NC four years ago. It was a revelation. I never felt so liberated in all my life. I spent the whole year driving confidently around the the Triangle with my new best friend, the GPS lady.
One day as I was about to pull out of the driveway, Colin appeared at my window. I rolled it down and he leaned in to give me directions. I raised my hand and interrupted him to say airily, “I don’t need you anymore. I have my GPS.” Honestly, he looked like he might cry.
Sure, I ended up in a corn field once when I was trying to get to the mall. Sure, I didn’t particularly appreciate GPS Lady’s tone of voice whenever I missed a turn she had pointed out to me. Her “recalculating”s always sounded slightly pissy to me. I was just waiting for the day when instead of “recalculating” I’d hear her say in her cool, modulated tone, “You Dumbass. I said, turn right onto Hillsboro Avenue.” But apart from a few hiccups here and there, the GPS was a rousing success.
And then came…the iphone! At first I tried to ditch GPS Lady, but the lack of voice directions meant that the iphone navigation wasn’t useful to me. Then with the latest upgrade, which included voice directions, Siri became my new co-pilot. I thought this was going to be another dramatic, life-changing breakthrough for me. I thought we were going to be BFFs.
But while GPS Lady and I had a tense, but cordial relationship, Siri and I have far stormier, conflictual interactions. Basically, we want to pimp slap each other on a regular basis.
This Sunday I was trying to get my kids to a roller skating birthday party at the Greenwood Community Center in Crozet. Here’s a transcript of the fight we had:
“Directions to Greenwood Community Center”
“I didn’t find any places matching Greenwood Community Center”
“Find Greenwood Road”
“Here’s Broad Ave., Charlottesville. I’m not certain this is where you meant. Though.”
(Now I know she’s just messing with me).
“GREENWOOD ROAD in CROZET”
“I don’t know what you mean by Kroes A”
“I said, ‘CROZET!’ C-R-O-Z-E-T!!!” I shriek, “Where is Greenwood Community Center in CROZET?!”
My three children are very, very quiet in the back seat.
“Sorry, I don’t know where that is.”
“What good are you to me?!”
“Checking my sources. Would you like me to search the web for ‘What good are you to me?'”
“I thought we were friends. You’re DEAD to me, Siri. Do you hear? DEAD to me!”