GPS provides relief from travails of the road

Posted March 05, 2010, at 4:53 p.m.

You would think it would be hard to get lost, mostly following Interstate 95 from South Portland to the Florida line. But I managed it. Several times.

I got off I-95 to get to Gettysburg, and got so lost that I stopped at a crappy motel out of sheer driving frustration.

No trip to Florida is complete without a long stop at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. The nation’s capital was under several feet of snow when I dropped in. They know almost nothing about snow removal and the city, especially around the museum, was paralyzed, with many streets simply closed.

It took hours of round trips to Alexandria to find the damn place, then a parking space, atop a 3-foot snowbank. (Thank God for the mighty, four-wheel-drive Tundra.)

That was nothing.

I wanted to find a motel, then call a Southern debutante who had moved from Charleston to D.C. We were supposed to have “high tea.” It was still 3 p.m., too early for the “rush hour,” I thought.

Wrong.

I was stuck in stop-and-go traffic for three hours to go 20 miles. The sun was at the perfect angle to block any possible reading of the exit signs. I was hungry (naturally), tired and going blind from the winter sun and took the first exit I could see, again out of sheer desperation.

The trip back into that city, even to see The Deb, was too much for a mere Maine man. After several tries for a cheap room, I paid $100 just to sleep for the night.

The problems were not over. Naturally, I got lost trying to find John Hammer in Leesburg, Fla. After years of visits and the possession of a Florida atlas, I still manage to get lost trying to find Route 41, or 441, or whatever it is. But that was nothing, compared to Washington.

Finally I made it to my winter home in Spring Hill, the permanent home of Markie Mark, professional truck driver. I once took Markie Mark in from the cold and allowed him to pitch a tent in the Cobb Manor backyard. He even got an extension cord to power his alarm clock.

He treated me much better last week, offering a welcoming gift bottle of Dewar’s, a souvenir from one of his many cruises.

That was nothing.

After hearing my tales of woe, he went to his bedroom and came back with a Garmin StreetPilot, a GPS device. “I never use this. You can have it,” he said. (He later admitted that giving it away would allow him to buy the latest model.)

I know a lot of people have these, but I never used one before. Using a GPS would be almost like … asking for directions. I always thought they were effete and unnecessary.

Not anymore.

Once you punch in a destination, be it a post office, restaurant, motel, Smithsonian Museum or just a street address, it tells you how to get there, one turn after the other. It even tells you how much longer until your next turn, how many miles left, what time you will get to your destination, how fast you are driving, your average speed — everything but the correct Lotto number of the day. Surely there are complicated features that I will never understand. The device is clearly, clearly smarter than I.

Cobb Manor went into the “favorites” section, so I always know how many miles from home I am (1,409).

Even my ruinous Florida land purchase, at the corner of Scaup Duck Drive and Thresher Street, made the cut. I like to go there and sob aloud at least once a year. Now it will be much easier to find. The Red Sox spring training site went in next, but even I could find the City of Palms Park.

The StreetPilot even advises you where to go in a soft, sultry voice, a welcome feature, now that the Lonely Trucker has been away for four long weeks.

I am hooked.

That Florida atlas can be jettisoned since I never will be lost again. (Let’s see.) And I will never miss that Southern debutante again.

GPS. Don’t leave home without it.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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