Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 30, 2012

"You have arrived"

For many years, an essential step in getting ready for any major trip was packing the maps. Some were huge paper affairs that had to be folded just so to make them a manageable size. Others came in book form.

But early in our marriage, husband Art discovered I was not the one to use them. To begin with, I do not have a good sense of direction. And as soon as I pause to look at some sight going by, I forget where we were on the map. The fact that the writing on them seems to get smaller every year hasn't helped.

Oldest daughter Mariya is not so afflicted. Almost as soon as she was able to read, she become our navigator. Her "training" consisted of Art telling her she had to speak up confidently so he could hear her over the road noises and in a manner that separated normal conversation from directions.

Things changed some a few years ago when Art bought a pocket-sized electronic gadget that contains a Global Positioning System receiver. He immediately downloaded various domestic and international maps into it. So now before we leave, instead of reaching for the paper maps, he stores important destination milestones into the unit. They appear as "push pins" on the device's electronic maps.

But Mariya's job is safe. Since she is also better with gadgets than I am, she remains Art's co-pilot.

The unit was particularly handy on our trip to Krakow, Poland a few years ago. Rampant road construction near that city meant that any printed maps would have been woefully out of date. Many times, Art questioned Mariya's choices, but she confidently gave new directions with every unexpected detour. Once we were home, her relief that all had gone well was obvious. But she was not nearly as relieved as I was that I hadn't had her job.

On our trip to Vermont last week, Art took the unit along, but he decided to use the GPS unit in our Hertz rental car too. I think the engineer in him wanted to test it out. So every time we got into the car, he used the "Neverlost" GPS' touch screen to load our destination. He entered the state, the city and even the street address, if he knew it. Then he'd make a choice from: "shortest distance," "shortest time," "most use of freeways" or "least use of freeways" menu, usually selecting the latter.

The unit had what sounded like a woman's voice, but the intonation varied. Sometimes "she" sounded bright and perky, while at other times "her" voice sounded downright sultry. Often it would change mid-sentence.

Typically, audio directions were issued two miles and a half mile before some important action was needed. "Turn right at Morse Hill Road in two miles," or "Turn right at Morse Hill Road in zero-point-five miles."

As we approached a turn, the screen would switch to a large yellow arrow pointing in the proper direction. The "woman" would then say "approaching right turn" or "approaching left turn," as was appropriate. A little "bong" sound meant we had arrived at the turning point.

Art enjoyed talking back to it, particularly when it pronounced names in an unusual way.

"Approaching right turn at Bah-lah-sum (Blossom) Road in zero-point-five miles," or, "Turn left at Moun-tin-dependence (Mount Independence) Road in two miles."

If Art chose a route different from the one suggested, we'd hear, "Calculating route." This was usually followd by, "When possible, make a legal U-turn." A yellow U-turn arrow then appeared on the screen. At other times, we were advised to make three right turns followed by a left to effect a U-turn.

Occasionally, I think Art went a different way just to see how long it took to re-calculate the route. Sometimes he would get irritated with the instructions. In one instance he asked, "Can I get a different voice?" Another time, he said, "Oh, shut up!" as he turned it off.

Even youngest daughter Katie became frustrated at times.

"Don't listen to her, Dad! She's trying to lead you astray!"

One example of that was when the voice instructed us to go on Endless Brook Road near the chalet where we were staying. It turned out to be a slushy, slick, muddy mess. Art called it "Endless Slushbucket Road."

Another day, it suggested a muddy, rutted, tree-lined road. Art was skeptical. But when it followed up with a left turn onto Woodway, Art and I just laughed. Woodway was just that ... a grassy path that disappeared into the woods.

We turned around and backtracked to the main road, all the while being serenaded by a steady stream of, "Calculating route," followed by, "When possible, make a legal U-turn." After each, Art would say, "Well, thank you."

Our little navigator was also a source of amusement on our excursion to the Danby marble quarry - the source of white marble for both the U.S. Supreme Court Building and the Jefferson Memorial. Art didn't have an address, so he just put in "Danby, VT." We arrived in the village, but the unit instructed us to continue. Well outside of the hamlet and partway up a mountain road, the voice said, "Approaching destination." A bit farther, quite in the middle of nowhere, "she" calmly announced, "You have arrived."

Art and I laughed.

And then we followed the posted signs back through town to the quarry.

Art with the "Neverlost" GPS unit at the far right.

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