What would’ve happened if I’d thrown Lady Garmin out the window?
It was a battle that raged for nearly two hours, and much of the time I was either yelling or pounding my fist. But the voice I kept hearing was relentless: low-pitched, authoritative, and unimaginably annoying. I really wanted to kill.
The voice seemed to belong to an extraordinarily demanding woman, but of course she wasn’t real. She was computer-real, however, a voice that translated satellite beams into travel directions, a voice that seemed to say, “You must do what I say, else your ass’ll never get where you want it to go.”
Actually, I did know where I was heading. The kicker was that on each previous visit I’d missed a tight right turn onto an unmarked country road near the end, causing an annoying delay, and since I’d gotten a late start, I wanted nothing to further delay my arrival this time. So I programmed the GPS the moment I started my car.
The device had been a gift, and my wife and I decided, early on, that even if we knew the way we should hear Lady Garmin out every time, so we could get used to her commands and her timing. So whenever we take even a modest excursion, we link the Garmin to the dashboard cigarette lighter and vow that we’ll heed every command the gadget gives voice to.
“Turn right on. . . and then turn left. . . then turn left again.”
I was heading north, toward the top tip of Manhattan, and if I’d done what the voice demanded, it was clear I’d be heading south, which I didn’t want to be doing. So I acted like a gentleman and just nodded quietly—until it snorted in what seemed a contemptuous tone, “Recalculating.”
I would hear that word repeatedly during the 85-mile drive, and being aware that the voice was not sounding forth from some actual person, I ignored it—or tried to—at first. But as time wore on and other odd, idiosyncratic instructions poured out, I found myself answering back.
“Shut up. Go ‘way.”
Then, since I was alone in the car and there were few other cars on that particular road, I could indulge the desire to shout: “Jam it, bitch” and “Shut the fuck up!,” which were among the choice invectives I heard myself use.
I thought of turning the system off and stashing the gear in the glovebox, but of course I was still concerned about making that crucial final right turn. So I left the system on, popped in some music, and turned up the sound.
Shit, I could still hear that voice: “Recalculating!” It was like having the flag of failure flapped in my face every time I tried going my own way. But I knew that despite the utter confidence expressed in that electronic voice, mistakes were often possible. I remembered preparing to leave the Jersey shore one summer (before the cable series kicked off) and wanting to avoid the inevitable Sunday-night, home-bound traffic.
I consulted Lady Garmin, only to have her insist that, in effect, I turn around and head east, instead of west toward a major highway. To travel east meant I’d be heading directly for the ocean. Why would anyone do that? Had the satellite spotted some sandy road in an area of beach I was unfamiliar with? No way.
Then there was that time in Florida when a cousin lent us his car with an onboard GPS, which was much handier than ours but—in tone of voice—absolutely the same. “Make a left turn, then turn right,” we were told at one point. But where we were supposed to make that right turn there was a gate and a security guard whom we queried.
“Yeah,” he said, “this used to be a public road, but now it leads directly into a residential development, and you can’t enter without a pass.”
Somebody should’ve told the satellite? But how?
I thought of such lapses on my recent trip out of town. Clearly, I was in my rights following my own star, as it were, and ignoring the directions spewing forth. Except that I couldn’t. Each time I heard something I didn’t like or agree with, I’d howl and maybe bang a fist against the steering wheel rim.
Predictably, I felt played out when I reached my destination. My host, the man I’d arranged to interview, thought I had a cold—my voice sounded so raw. Valiantly, I cleared my throat, insisting that my voice hadn’t been the same since I’d been at a Knicks game a week or so earlier.
It gave me real joy to disconnect the GPS for my return trip to the city, and with every turn that I knew went against the prescribed itinerary, I found myself yelling, “Take that, sweet tits.” I felt like Mel Gibson, that time he was apprehended in Malibu.
When I got home, my wife said, “I hope you got there without any trouble.” I lied and said that I had. “You know, “ she added confidentially, “you shouldn’t do everything the voice tells you, but I guess you figured that out.”