“Right now there are thirty-one satellites zipping around the world with nothing better to do than help you find your way to the grocery store.”Ed Burnette, Hello, Android: Introducing Google’s Mobile Development Platform
The Highlands of Scotland are filled with magic and mystery. The hills fairly echo with legends and tales of clans and kings, so it’s rather fitting that it was in the Highlands that I first heard that disembodied, decidedly British voice that would eventually entice me to listen for and respond to its every command.
In the summer of 2004, Dave and I, together with our son, and soon-to-be daughter-in-law, made our first unescorted trip to Scotland. We were all so exhausted and jet-lagged when we reached our first night’s lodging that our heads barely hit the pillow that night before we were asleep. The next morning refreshed and fortified with a full Scottish breakfast we followed the map north to Cawdor Castle. We had a lovely time exploring the castle and the grounds while talking of Shakespeare and Macbeth, but like many first-time tourists to the Highlands, we could hardly wait to reach our next destination…the famed Loch Ness.
As we prepared to leave the car park at Cawdor Castle, Jeremy and Jenna…driver and navigator respectively… suggested that we try out the GPS system that came with our car, after all, why not? At that time…sixteen years ago…none of us had any experience at all with a navigational system. How difficult could it be? It might be fun. Confident that like most techy things programming the guidance system would be rather intuitive, Jenna plugged in our desired destination, and within minutes we were off. Our British friend guided us skillfully through the twisting streets and roundabouts of Inverness and in less than forty-five minutes we arrived on the eastern end of the northern shore of the Loch Ness. Easy Peasy.
We found a wayside pull-off where we parked the car, looked for Nessie, posed for pictures, and collected pebbles from the shore. It was blissful to be on this amazing adventure together at a place we had all heard about from childhood. Such a delightful morning. As we listened to the waters caressing the shore someone shared that they had read that the southern, less-traveled side of the loch was even prettier than the more populated side. “Sounds good.” we agreed. “Let’s go that way.”
“Two Roads Diverged In A Wood And I – I Took The One Less Traveled By, And That Has Made All The Difference”Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
“Sometimes The Road Less Traveled Is Less Traveled For A Reason.”Jerry Seinfeld
We planned to go south to the ruins of Urquhart Castle, around the end of the Loch near Fort Augustus, then turn north again along the quieter side returning to our B and B for a much-anticipated nap. We’d rely on our new found friend…Gladys…to guide us. Surely, she’d know the best route.
Well…actually…maybe she did, but there was a slight problem in communication.
Somewhere near Fort Augustus, we made a wrong turn. What we didn’t know at the time was that Gladys would recalculate the original route and find a new way to get us to our destination. What a disaster! Bliss became calamity. We tried to self-correct using instinct, our maps, and the conflicting and confusing instructions we were getting from Gladys. We never saw the loch again. The roads were narrow, twisty, and unmarked. We were completely lost. Filled with frustration, Jeremy pulled the car off the road and asked to see the map for himself.
“I’m 100% sure this is where we are,” said Jenna pointing confidently to a thin blue line.
“Jenna,” Jeremy laughed, “That’s a river!”
With perseverance and pure dumb luck, we eventually made it back to our B and B well past nap time. The next morning at breakfast as we were lamenting our experience a fellow traveler overhearing our dilemma clued us into the rerouting feature. We had been fighting against poor Gladys for hours. She must have been so confused. At this point, Dave mentioned that perhaps we should look at the manual.
“There’s a manual?” J and J said in unison. “There’s a manual?!
”Well, yes,” Dave replied.”But I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.”
The kids just rolled their eyes.
“When all else fails, read the instructions”Annonymous
Navigational systems have made advancements since those early days, but I think they could be still be perfected by the addition of an elementary school teacher to the design team. A teacher would add features that could make the entire experience smoother and much more pleasant. For example, when making a turn or exiting a round-about successfully, a friendly voice would add words of confirmation and support to let the driver know they were on the right track and that they had made the maneuver correctly…Excellent, Nice job, or Way-to-go. If an error was made the voice would remark in calm, reassuring tones…Whoops, Almost, or Sorry, not quite. To avoid panic she’d quickly add…Relax. We can figure this out together. Give me a minute to find the best way to help. Then as the route was being recalculated the driver would hear a few bars of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. “Don’t worry about a thing ‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright.”
For the most part, I have found my experiences with GPS to be very satisfying. The Voice-in-the Box has directed me safely through city traffic at rush hour and on backcountry roads that have no obvious names, but every so often that sweet little lady has led me on some wild adventures as well. For example: repeatedly directing Dave to turn the wrong way on a one-way street in Amsterdam; leading us to the terror-inducing pass in Colorado widely accepted as the highest standard passenger vehicle road in the United States; twice taking us to ferry crossings where the ferries were no longer running; and once in Vermont on my way to a bridal shower I was routed past two naked bike riders on their way to the Montpelier segment of the World Naked Bike Ride… yes, there really is such a thing…through a trailer park, and ending in a gravel pit with a cheerful…”You have reached your destination”.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.“Helen Keller
I have never worried too much about taking a wrong turn or misreading the map. Perhaps that comes from growing up in Michigan which is divided into mile-square sections and bordered by the Great Lakes. Finding your way primarily involves following roads that are laid out in right angles. Go too far in nearly any direction and you’ll eventually come to one of the big lakes. Of course, go too far south and that’s another story. Hello Ohio and Indiana.
Once, when my children were small, I became disoriented in an unfamiliar city and we found ourselves in a parking lot instead of on the highway.
“This is what I call an adventure,” I said cheerfully.
“It’s also what we call lost,” replied my young son.
True, I suppose, but the best adventures and the most interesting stories always seem to involve getting lost..literally or figuratively… and then finding your way again.
During the last several months I have often felt lost, disoriented, and adrift. Frankly, I could use some help. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we had a GPS to help us find our way through these distressing COVID times? Sometimes it feels like I’ve lost contact with the satellite without a clue of how to proceed. Am I heading in the direction of the beautiful side of the loch or just wandering aimlessly on the back roads? I would happily make a legal U-turn as soon as it is safe to do so if I had any idea when or where that might be. Like everyone else, I want to know how much longer I’ll be on this highway before my next maneuver and when I could expect to reach my destination. I’d also be grateful to know what other obstacles, delays, and detours lie ahead and if there is an alternate route.
I really, really want someone to give me the kind of message I would get from OnStar. “You have left the planned route. Directions will resume automatically when you return to the route. Do you need updated directions?”
Oh, Gladys. Where are you when I need you.
We’ve all left the planned route and yes, we need updated directions.