Friday, March 13, 2009


Don't Leave Home Without A Map

You read it here first. Driving tests will soon have you demonstrating that you know how to use a GPS as well as park.
Countless people are wondering how they ever managed to drive to another city without help from the four satellites in the sky. How quickly they forget that learning period where they really wanted to throw the damn thing out the window when it chirped at you that it was recalculating the route because you were too stupid to follow the first directions.
It doesn't exactly say that, but the woman's voice can sound like a nagging wife.
I was given a Magellan Maestro 4210 by my oldest son, John Henry, a scarred veterans of the Downing fights in many of the countries of the world when I tried to drive and Mary tried to read a map.
I still think it wasn't an accident when in the south of France, in the middle of a debate about why she wasn't allowed to drive in Europe, she told me to take a right turn at the next intersection - right into the maw of a one-way street delivering five lanes of angry motorists right to my bumper.On another trip, we went around the Arc de Triomphe twice - in Friday evening rush hour traffic - with Mary announcing she couldn't see the street our hotel was on but she didn't really care because she was getting out. The fact she then wouldn't know where I was in Paris didn't concern her much.I have plenty of stories like that but I will refrain. After all, some female reporters once posted a petition on the bulletin board announcing that the Editor was a jerk because I had written too many columns, or so they felt, on Mary's problems reading maps.
So the GPS seemed like a God-send. Trouble is there was no book of instructions. So after I downloaded 60 pages of instructions from the Internet - actually my son Brett did that for me after I failed several times to make Acrobat do the proper somersaults and produce anything for me - and I then spent several nights trying to figure them out, I figured I was ready for just about anything.Now once upon a time I drove from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale without a map. Someone had left the bundle behind from the CAA. And once I drove from Zagreb to the north of Slovenia without a map and then went on to Budapest still without a map. In those days in Hungary, there were few service stations and no maps to be had at the few there were.
So I can manoeuvre without a map. And I thought with my new GPS I wouldn't need one. Turns out you do. I'm sure after a few expeditions, I will have mastered feeding info into the GPS, but right now I need a map just to make sure the GPS has me in the same state.
We were driving from Howey-in-the-Hills, which is a vacation hamlet northwest of Orlanda back to Tampa, when I discovered that there was no Florida map in the car and the GPS seemed to have me going southeast instead of southwest. So I watched the Toyota compass and kept driving west while ignoring the GPS chirping away telling me to make legal U-turns or recalculating the route at every intersection. I figured at worse I would end up in the Gulf, at best I would cross I-75 flowing south to Tampa. I hit the interstate before the Gulf and all was well.Later, looking at a map, I found I had driven about as far as you can go in Florida without hitting a major settlement. I was in a triangle between I-75 and Florida's Turnpike. Now I wouldn't have worried if I could have placed all these towns I was going through, like Linden and Mascotte, somewhere on some map. But we had left all ours back at the rental condo. After all, we thought smugly, we have GPS.
At one point we drifted through the Withlacoochee State Forest, which seemed like I had driven off the end of the world. If I had known that the forest was supposed to be in my vicinity, I would have relaxed and enjoyed the drive.I suspect I will become a big fan of my GPS, But right now, I drive along with a map at my side and the GPS chirping at me from the dashboard. And judging from the conversation around the pool, most of the vacationing Canadians seem to be having the same problem. It's not as simple as putting in your home address and driving for two days without a worry. My main problem is the screen is hard to read, except at night, because of glare.
I find my Magellan functions wonderfully 90% of the time, but it's the other 10% that worries me. We go from being told to keep left at the next confluence of roads to silence for half an hour or so. Now technocrats will say that my device will only work well if I know exactly how to use it. You know, garbage in, garbage out. But I'm still puzzling my way through the instructions. Maybe there's a course I can take, a new form of driver's ed.
On my trip home from Florida to Toronto, the GPS gave me heartburn twice and was wonderful the rest of the time. I decided to take a shortcut up 301 to the north-east instead of taking a longer route running through Gainesville. My GPS simply didn't understand and kept urging strange turns on me. Then while driving along the south shore of Lake Erie, expecting to cross at Fort Erie, the GPS gave us mysterious directions which finally had us crossing at Lewiston.
The reward was a shorter trip home, up I-95 through the more picturesque mountains, rather than the winter route south from Detroit on I-75. About 120 kms and a good hour shorter. And done with a lot less tension than the last time before the GPS.
Now I feel like tackling the roads again in the south of England. The last time, we almost divorced.

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