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Posted: October 29, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Adventure lost on the highways with GPS

I heard last week that Rep. Jim Marshall (D., Ga.) is no fan of a GPS system. The Vietnam vet is still partial to an old-fashioned map for navigating his way up, down and across his meandering Eighth Congressional District. One aide told me that a staffer recently tried planting one on the windshield of the congressman's car as they set out for a day of campaigning and Marshall swiftly snatched it off and tossed it into the backseat with a warning not to bring it out again.

Lots of people have grown attached to their GPS systems. Mapmakers must be worried. We've got one, and my husband calls the seemingly knowledgeable female voice that gives instructions "Mabel." Until this past weekend, he's been very happy with Mabel, but Mabel seriously under-performed for us in the mountains of north Georgia. Not once, not twice, but three times, Mabel sent us to the same Wal-mart parking lot in Dahlonega. We were looking for a particular vineyard along Georgia's Wine Highway outside of town, but Mabel was insistent that we needed to go shopping at Wal-mart. Not. We actually wondered whether all-seeing, all powerful Wal-mart might have an inside track on this particular GPS brand and could submit directions to all its stores. Nothing surprises me anymore.

We also caught her giving instructions that were impossible to follow, such as to turn left across the grassy median to get to a road on the other side when there was no turning point in the median. At times, she had us turning around and re-tracing our just-covered route for no good reason. Bad girl, Mabel!

After a while, we considered her to be an evil passenger along for the ride, and we took delight in making her "re-calculate" as we made turns she didn't recommend. The dialogue with Mabel got pretty hot and heavy, until we finally turned her off, shut her up and made our own way home on a route she obviously knew nothing about. Maybe Jim Marshall has the right idea: Get thee behind me, Satan!

It must be said, in all fairness, that the "Mabels" of the world do offer some interesting and helpful benefits. They can point you to the nearest location for dinner, a pharmacy, a fill-up, a hotel, a movie theater, recreation or a route to avoid a traffic tie-up. We program our GPS's for a particular need or route, then can be easily lulled into a sometimes misplaced sense of trust, even complacency, by that nondescript voice in the box.

So much for the thrill of the open road. So much for not knowing what's around the next bend. Now we know, but does it make for a more interesting ride? Where's the spirit of adventure? Some might say we leave nothing to chance anymore. We go like armed warriors out on the roads with our GPSs, cell phones, Bluetooths, I-phones, I-pads, laptops and other electronic gear and gadgets with which I'm not very familiar.

I've got a brother, yes, it's Buddy again, whose passion it is just to pick a place on a map - often somewhere out west - and then set out with his wife as navigator to see what there is to see on the way there and back. It's the journey more than the destination that inspires and drives him.

I think about the road less travelled, and I think about the road not taken. I think about how a decision to go this way and not that way - in all the choices we make in a lifetime - becomes the script for our lives, full of twists and unexpected turns, steep drop-offs, soaring peaks, flat straight-aways, near crashes, slowdowns and speed-ups, some rear-end collisions, some rollovers, some gently winding pathways and rest stops along the way. And would we have been brave enough to make the journey if we'd known all the potholes on the way?

Barbara Morgan is a resident of Covington with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. Her column appears on Fridays.

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