On the road to Oil City, via perdition

A few months back, we bought a GPS device for the car — one of the lesser-known, cheaper brands — because I can get lost going around the block, am forever printing off online directions, and wouldn’t it be nice to have that sense of know-where-you’re-going security at your fingertips? My sister had just gotten one, and friends of Mike’s parents swear by theirs, so we were intrigued.

It took about 15 minutes for me to learn to dislike Thomas (the British “navatar” we selected) on our very first outing. We wanted to travel from a store in Latrobe to a restaurant in Mt. Pleasant. Forty minutes and myriad winding back roads in the dark later, I was over him, sexy accent and all.

Still over him on our trip to North Carolina, where he once had us exit a major highway, tour through the center of a small town, and get back on the same highway at the next exit. (Presumably to save 1/10th mile or something.)

We’ve played around with all possible settings on the thing (fastest, least miles, most economical) and still he leads us astray.

Yesterday was the worst yet: a simple trip to my brother’s in Oil City to watch the Steelers and spend the night. Instead of going the “usual way,” I had found a shortcut last time by looking at a map (of all things, an actual map) and tricking MapBlast or MapQuest into giving me directions for that route (they both want to go the usual way). My way was faster and more direct — 2 hours door to door, instead of the 2 hours, 10 or 15 minutes their way takes.

But do you think I could find those directions yesterday? We were already late leaving, and didn’t have time to figure out the faster route again. So we decided to “trust Thomas.”

After ignoring his attempts to get us to go the usual way, we thought we had him on the right track. We remembered part of the way, but not a couple tricky turns. (No matter which way you turn, he recalculates the route. In theory, you can never get lost.) When he had us leave a major highway to get on a smaller one, my inner “danger, danger Will Robinson” kicked in. Soon the roads got progressively smaller — 2-lane country roads, to 2-lane dirt roads, to 1-lane muddy messes where the next stop surely involved overalls and banjo playing. At one point we had to pull over to let a kid on a dirtbike pass us (with Mike snapping at me to put down the PA map I was pouring over “so we don’t look like idiots”). And of course, instead of my sturdy all-wheel-drive Subaru, we had Mike’s sporty low-to-the-ground Dodge — mud flaps scraping at every bump.

Maybe you have one of those relationships where driving challenges are met calmly and rationally, with hmmm’s and oh honey’s and cheery we’ll get there’s. Considering one of us thinks being on time is almost being late and the other has no sense of what “on time” means, this would not be our relationship.

Two tense hours later, blood presssures somewhere between pulsating-temple-vein and burst-a-jugular, we finally got onto a real road again — near Emlenton — nowhere close to Oil City. I insisted we give up on Thomas (harboring fantasies of what it would feel like to hurl him to the ground and stomp him under my heel), followed the signs to I-80, back-tracked 16 miles or so, and proceeded to go “the usual way.”

We arrived 1 hour later than on time.

Thomas survived the trip better than I — Mike still likes him for some reason I can’t figure out (the accent?). But I’m back to never getting in the car for an unfamiliar trip without first printing off “real” directions from two different sources (so I can compare). Cheerio, Thomas.

Trust, but verify.
                                       ~ Ronald Reagan’s policy toward
                    the Soviet Union


  1. robbie said,

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    I love maps. Can’t get my eyes off one if opened or being used. We stick with maps (more to being technical neanderthals). Once in England we were traveling back roads to make the trip shorter to Blenheim Palace when we realized the road numbers had changed since we purchased our map. With our natural male/testosterone directional abilities in full swing we managed to pull up to the front gate without stopping to ask directions (and not being late either). Better have Mike’s levels checked the next time he gets a physical.

  2. WritingbyEar said,

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    Happy to report that at Mike’s annual allergy evaluation/physical a week or so ago, his BP was low (as it typically is). His doctor was delighted. I always wonder what happens to one’s BP “in the heat of the moment.” I assume deep breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth) are always in order.

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