The fickle finger of GPS

Posted Dec. 10, 2010, at 8:04 p.m.

Had fate been more accommodating to Darrell Fudge, a Canadian chap making his way from the province of British Columbia to his home in Newfoundland last week, the headline in the morning newspaper might have been something smart-alecky, such as “Fudge fudges way past border Coburn Gore checkpoint.”

But fate is nothing if not capricious, and the headline over the story about a lousy day in the life of the 54-year-old motorist wound up being a workaday “Canadian pleads guilty to pot charge, says he will never return to Maine.”

When the Global Positioning System gizmo in his pickup truck assured him that cutting across Maine on his way from the West Coast to Newfoundland’s rugged shores was the quickest way to go, Fudge obediently followed directions. There was only one problem: He had forgotten about the supply of marijuana he had stashed in the vehicle to keep him company on the long cross-country trip.

You’d think that the perfectionist robot residing inside the typical GPS — quick to jump ugly with a bumbling motorist who flubs its directions while making a foray into unfamiliar territory — would have been astute enough to order an immediate U-turn as the border crossing station came into view. But, no. Aborting the mission was apparently beyond the automaton’s pay grade, so Fudge motored innocently onward, unaware that he’d soon run hard against an international border with all that such an experience involves in these days of heightened security.

Fudge, who never expected to leave Canada and thus did not have his passport with him, would say later that he thought the border checkpoint was a toll bridge, which in a way it was, as things turned out. And a pricey one, at that. (Insert hapless Newfie joke here.)

Collared by border agents and police and hauled off to court in Farmington after the marijuana was discovered, Fudge pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful trafficking. He was fined $400 and assessed $90 in fees. He hadn’t intended to be in Maine in the first place, Fudge told the judge, and — no offense, Your Honor — but considering the reception he had received on this visit, he wasn’t about to come back any time soon.

For good measure, the state confiscated the man’s 2003 Chevrolet Silverado truck, marijuana stash included, leaving him pretty much in the middle of nowhere, without wheels, and with no wacky terbacky with which to ratchet down the unspeakable stress of it all. Bummer, dude.

Authorities gave him a ride to the border, where they bid him fond adieu. When last seen, Fudge was walking down the road, kicking pebbles and muttering that if it weren’t for bad luck — and a diabolical GPS system that failed to caution him that the shortest distance between Point A and Point B may not always be a straight line, the laws of geometry notwithstanding — he’d have no luck at all.

As befits a guy who had a rotary dial telephone on his kitchen wall not all that long ago, I do not have a GPS in my pickup truck, and since I still know how to read a road map, probably never will. Ditto when it comes to handheld thingamabobs that twitter and tweet, and dozens of other distracting toys that can put a guy into the puckerbrush quicker than a patch of black ice masquerading as bare pavement on a frosty December morn. If I am to wind up in the ditch, I will do it the old-fashioned way — by dint of my own incompetence, without aid of the latest electronic gadgetry.

Not that it wouldn’t be nice to have a cell phone handy in case my ditch maneuver occurs in the middle of the Haynesville Woods in a blizzard, I suppose, although I likely would be unsure just whom to call to announce such glad tidings. All my friends who have a cell phone claim the device is a swell security blanket for travelers on the open road. The pressure mounts for me to join the club.

But if I do, and one day come to emulate the losers I often bump into at the supermarket, shouting into their phones stuff such as, “Honey, is it OK if I pick up a six-pack of Bud?” I would hope some compassionate innocent bystander would just shoot me on the spot.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.com.

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