What’s wrong with GPS?

Yes, if you’ve been following along, you can guess that there must be something wrong with GPS if I’m writing about it.

Being one of those XY types, I’ve never cared for asking for directions. Being one of those old fashioned XY types, I typically know where I am, and where I am going, before I start out. I once drove from New Jersey to California with only the knowledge that the interstate road system connected the coasts, I should drive West until I see the ocean then I can find where I’m going on the Pacific Coast Highway.

The United States Air Force decided to spend a fair amount of money teaching me how to read maps anyway. It was in that class that I learned that many people cannot read maps. Many people do not in fact have any idea where on the planet they are. I can recall speaking out, rather loudly, “For Christ’s sake, it’s a picture! Just point out Kabul!”, to a young man in the class. He wasn’t even looking in the right hemisphere. Fortunately, finding Kabul was not a life or death exercise that day.

When I lived in Philadelphia, and earlier explored Manhattan, I was impressed with the thoughtful numbering of streets. How could anyone get lost?

Enter GPS. Much like the way the hand held calculator caused simple mathematical skills to atrophy, the GPS has been like a flashlight without batteries to the lost.

One day in Philadelphia, a coworker called and asked “Where is 510 Walnut St.?” Just a little background here, like most cities, in Philadelphia the even number addresses are always on the same side of the street (South side on streets running East to West), and the “odd” side of the street in the block in question is a park. So feeling that I was giving a rather obvious answer, I said “Between 5th and 6th Streets, Walnut is two blocks down from Market St.”, just in case he didn’t know where Walnut street was. He responded “But it’s not on my GPS”. Well then, obviously, they had moved the building. I told him that the building itself was actually located at that address, which happened to be on the Southeast corner of 5th and Walnut regardless of what his GPS had to say.

When I moved to New Jersey, I decided to break down and buy a GPS. We tried a variety of voices on the unit, but eventually decided to turn off the volume, because my wife would argue with it. She knew better shortcuts, and to get her to stop calling the unit “The Bitch” I named our GPS “Gertrude”. Gertrude continues to be annoyed with us, we consistently choose different routes, but she’s helpful in a pinch. Except today.

I had a job interview in Jersey City, after which I was meeting a friend in Manhattan. I printed a map with the directions to the interview and the Jersey City train station so that I could take the train into Manhattan, and figured Gertrude would get me back to the turnpike for the trip home. I should have known when I looked at the ETA for the return trip that she was getting back at me. It had taken an hour to get to Jersey City, but the return trip was estimated at an hour and a half.

The path Gertrude chose took me through Staten Island ($13.00 bridge toll, what I was avoiding when I took the train earlier) and through some interesting neighborhoods. It’s a cloudy day so there is no Sun to give me a directional clue. I’m too far away from Jersey City for my original maps to be of any use, and I’m a man damn it, I’m not turning around! I knew Gertrude would get me home eventually, and I was in no hurry. It was when she told me to take an exit for 440 North, when I could see a sign for the New Jersey Turnpike, that I told her she was fired. I got onto the Turnpike, she recalculated and the ETA dropped by fifteen minutes. Ah, what may have been down the road not taken?

I’ll be purchasing a compass for the car, but I’ll keep Gertrude. She’s taken me on some interesting rides.




5 comments on “What’s wrong with GPS?

  1. Paul and Kayla says:

    We also refer to out GPS as “the bitch”, unfortunately, having grown up with one always handy, I have a terrible sense of direction. I can find my way on foot, but as soon as I’m in a car I’m clueless.


  2. kblakecash says:

    Reblogged this on KBlakeCash and commented:

    As part of the “Saturday Rewind” series.
    Yesterday Gertrude took us to and from Red Bank New Jersey. Other than the Count Basie Theatre and Teak restaurant, I have no idea where I’ve been or how to get there.


  3. Alice Sanders says:

    I have a GPS, and it has been sitting in my bedroom for almost 2 years. Since, I don’t have dreams, I haven’t been on any interesting trips yet. Just joking, but bought it in case I need it in the future. I have a terrible sense of direction, and I find that apparently it is inherited…I know the sun rises in the east and sits in te west, but need a compass to tell what side north and south are. You know when you have only two choices, it is much more difficult. Only one of my brothers don’t get lost, so I am wondering if he really belongs to the rest of the family.


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