I have a new best friend because she always tells me where to go. My wife thinks she’s kind of dumb, but my kids think it’s the greatest thing ever.
My new best friend is called a GPS. It’s a perfect friend, sitting there on the dashboard of my car, guiding me through the peaks and valleys along life’s perilous journey.
My aforementioned family trio consisting of one wife, one son and one daughter, with great generosity and love in their hearts, gave me the GPS for my birthday after I whined and complained that I didn’t get one for Christmas.
I was not disappointed. My new global positioning system has guided me through the twists and turns of various random highways and byways of our great country. It has led me through the convoluted streets of Kelowna to the gravel grids of rural route roads that cause vehicles to manufacture layers of prairie dust and send it settling across the vast parkland. Thick air hanging around forever, like a visiting relative.
For the unfamiliar, a GPS is not some sort of hormonal disorder or the latest stock on the TSE. For those poor souls still navigating with ancient non-technological travel aids consisting of drawings printed on pieces of paper folded in complicated ways (often referred to as “glove compartment maps”), let me explain in accurate and professional scientific terms exactly what a GPS is. Technically speaking, a GPS is a Magic Box.
Mine is an amazing piece of plastic capable of mind-numbing feats — a magic box the size of a $6 chocolate bar, consisting of a touch screen and the ability to tell you where you are and how to get where you’re going at any time, at any place on the entire planet!
All you have to do touch the screen several times in meaningful ways while not driving, and Voila! the little plastic box plays all the songs from the Beatles White Album including the backwards versions that say Paul is dead. No, sorry, that’s my iPod magic box thingy. The GPS magic box thingy shows you exactly how to get to where you’ve asked it to show you where to go! So to speak.
And, get this — bonus! — my GPS magic box has a magic voice inside that tells you when and where to turn!
“In 450 metres, turn right …” the Magic Box says, and when I don’t turn right on account of the fact that there are three other cars and a truck the size of a shopping mall in between me and the right turn, the Magic Box forgives me and says, “Recalculating” without getting mad and throwing the glove compartment map out the window like I used to do,. And then the benevolent GPS voice tells you where to turn next, without adding so much as a “you moron” to the end of the sentence.
And that’s not all. I can choose whether I want that voice to be an attractive female with a lovely British accent, a mean American female with a somewhat impatient U.S. accent or a generic male. And who wants to listen to a generic male?
I chose the voice of the British female, of course, whom we named Gina on account of it starts with G, as in “GPS.” Although I’m not sure where this thing about naming inanimate objects came from, but personification of favourite manufactured or inert items has always been a quirky human trait, at least in my family. Well, at least with me.
True story: I named my old car, a 1967 Mercedes, Michigan J, after the singing frog in the Bugs Bunny cartoons. I know what you’re thinking. Your thinking, of course naming an old car after a singing frog is perfectly normal, but what person in their right mind would name a navigational device?
Thing is, every time Gina speaks to me, steering me efficiently and effortlessly through unfamiliar territory, I shake my head and gaze to the heavens. Because somewhere up there is a satellite orbiting around providing my whereabouts to a small chocolate bar-sized Magic Box, and then telling me how to get where I’m going. And that is just a smidgen or two beyond my comprehension.
Not everyone is as impressed with the GPS phenomenon as I am, however. My friend Dave tells of the time his GPS led him off a highway and across a field and onto narrow dirt roads with boulders the size of Holstein cows, finally ending at a vacant ski hill in the middle of summer. I believe he was looking for a popular restaurant at the time.
And my wife thinks that Gina is dumb because she (my wife) is never quite sure how far 450 metres is to the next turn, and once in Edmonton Gina led her the wrong way down a one-way street. Even though the voice did take her straight to the destination, albeit from an illegal and potential dangerous route, my wife has never forgiven Gina for temporarily scaring the living daylights out of her.
Ultimately though, as the saying goes, it’s about the journey not the destination. And if the magic box GPS gets you there eventually while speaking in a pleasant British accent, then I say ‘vive le technology!’
I’m sure Gina would agree, and she’s hardly ever wrong.
Harley Hay is a local filmmaker and freelance columnist.