The last time I used a GPS in-car navigational system, it routed me down a street that was closed off by construction. I didn't have a map with me ”relying on the GPS, of course ”and spent so long arguing with the device about which way to go that I almost missed my cousin's wedding.
Fast-forward four years. We recently rented a car for a trip from Washington, DC to Pennsylvania, and found to both our delight and horror that it came with another GPS tool. But how bad could it really be? We ™d made the trip dozens of times, so help from the sky would just be icing on the cake. If nothing else, maybe it would be able to guide us through the complex maze of the DC street system. Surely a little extra assistance wouldn't be amiss.
The trip started off without incident, although it took a little while to get used to the GPS tool's unique commentary. For example, why did it tell us every half mile to not exit ahead, but didn't warn us we needed to get three lanes over to actually exit until it was too late? How could we feel such anger toward it, and yet such fondness when it helped us take the next exit and then figure our way back onto the highway and out of the city?
As time went on, the commentary began showing personality, and we began referring to it not quite fondly, but familiarly, as Madam. Madam was a contradiction. For instance, for someone connected with such high-end technology, she was very intolerant, particularly of any attempts to find alternate routes.
Because we wanted to avoid a toll road, we tried veering off Madam's proposed course. She didn't realize my husband had grown up in the area, and her voice grew more and more pained as she begged, As soon as possible, make a U-turn and head west.
The more concerned she sounded, the more tempting it became to mess with Madam's mind. Wouldn't it be fun to, say, ask for directions to Maine and then drive down to Florida? If she sounded desperate after two miles, what would she do after 100 miles? Or 1,000?
Would she start name-calling or screaming invectives? If you eventually capitulated and turned around, would she say, Finally! or I told you so! ? If you typed in an overseas destination, would she tell you to swim?
We considered provoking Madam's wrath to its limits, but for the sake of our future insurance premiums, decided not to test her endurance to the point of an explosion. We switched the system off and made it safely to our destination without outside help.
On the way back the following day, we felt a little guilty about how we ™d mocked Madam's guidance. Perhaps she was only trying to help. We switched her on. Eager to please, she immediately showed us a shortcut onto a highway. Suddenly, we relaxed. Maybe Madam was a friend after all. Maybe she had our best interests at heart.
And we became wise to her ways, and she to ours. When we took a circuitous route to avoid another toll road, we switched Madam off so our inability to stay on one road wouldn't cause her any anguish. And when the road directions became static as we stayed on the main highway, we turned her off again to allow her to rest her voice for a while.
Our shaky foundation gradually developed into trust as we and Madam were lulled into an amiable relationship. As we reached the outskirts of the city, we switched Madam back on. With her guiding us, we were confident that we ™d easily find our way. She was that North Star that sailors used to find their way back to port. And she ™d guide us through the mangled maze of highways sprawling around the city back safely to our hotel.
Or so we thought.
We should have suspected her abilities when she told us to exit the highway earlier than we expected. But, duped into a false sense of security, we trusted that maybe this was a shortcut.
In fairness, maybe it was a shortcut, if you count the number of miles. But 20 miles on a highway is preferable to three or four miles through a stoplight-ridden, traffic-congested, shady neighborhood with drug dealers and prostitutes on every corner.
Was Madam in cahoots with a drug dealer? Were we their next victims? Or was she guiding us toward some hit man she ™d paid to avenge her feelings after our mean-spirited teasing the day before? We made sure the doors were locked and drove straight ahead, hoping that eventually the area would start getting friendlier.
Then, Exit to the highway, 0.5 miles ahead, Madam said, and we breathed a sigh of relief. But it was the longest half-mile we ™d ever driven, and I ™m sure Madam was enjoying every minute of our misery. We were furious, but how do you sue a satellite for intentional infliction of emotional distress? The minute we turned onto the highway, Madam was unceremoniously dumped from her place of honor and respect as we pushed the “off” button in disgust.
Then we tried to find the right exit on our own. We ended up on a dirt road. Should we put on Madam? I suggested tentatively. We both guffawed.
But it raised the question ”would we have taken the wrong exit if she ™d been switched on? By the time Madam rebooted, we would probably have passed our exit five miles ago and been on our way to the opposite side of the city. But that wouldn't have been so bad. Because no matter the one-way streets, weaving highway exits, and poor signage, we ™d still have Madam to guide us through another burned-out neighborhood toward our destination.