They tell us where we are, where other things are and you can use a map to plot a route between two places. All of us have mental maps of areas around us, our home, the neighborhood, and way to the important places like the bank, gas station, pizza place, Starbucks … These mental maps are formed as we engage in our daily travels doing our daily business. Without them we’d be lost and would never get our pizzas.
I lived in the same city for 60 years and my mental map of that city and surrounding areas is quite detailed. Not only can I tell you what is on a street corner or how to get to one of eight different Starbucks locations, but I can also tell you what was there before it was a Starbucks. In some cases I can give you a list of the last five things that were in that location.
Often I’ll give directions that could be the bases for a nice joke, “Go to Campbell Ave and turn into the parking lot where Togo’s use to be, not where they currently are. You know the one next to the cherry orchard where they built those apartments where Bill use to live.”
You’d be surprised how many of my friends and family would know exactly where that is and the fact that it is now a Thai restaurant.
One of the realities of moving to a new city is that my mental map is basically blank. I know how to get to our daughter’s homes and the gas station near the interstate but after that – no clue. So I’ve been relying on that new fangled wonder in my fancy new car: Apple Car Play and Maps (the builtin GPS system).
It’s so cool. Just press a button on the steering wheel and ask for directions to where ever you want to go. Then the nice computerized voice directs you where there. I’ve found grocery stores, Home Depot, gas stations, the pet store, the bank and four different Starbucks.
When I first arrived I’d also use the miracle of technology to get home. These days I mostly know where the house is, but from time to time I still manage to make a wrong turn and end up driving past houses I don’t recognize. It’s a bit embarrassing – especially with Heather in the car and she starts asking, “Where are you going?”
Slowly my mental map of this city is starting to form in my brain and I haven’t got lost coming home in two weeks. We’ve also had time to try a number of different places for shopping and dining so the number of places I don’t need GPS to get to is growing. This list includes two grocery stores, three Starbucks, a bookstore, the car dealer, two Home Depots, a PetSmart and my doctor’s office.
Yes, I did manage to get registered with a local doctor. Now I just need a dentist, eye doctor, and to figure out where the Nevada DMV is. Well, my appointment with the DMV isn’t until December (thanks Covid) so I’ve got time to work that out.
Without this GPS thing, the whole process of learning where stuff is in a new city would be harder. Remember the old days of paper maps? In my early career I was a field service technician and drove all over the Bay Area trying to find my clients. I had a back seat full of maps and the famous Thomas Guides (remember those). There were a lot of times I ended up parked on a street trying to figure out where I was and where I was going.
These days, no problem. Just get in the car, plugin the phone, and start CarPlay and speak the magic words, “Directions to Safeway.” Then the friendly and sometimes annoying voice starts giving directions. “In one mile turn left.”
Now it’s not all fun and games with this device. Sometimes it wants to take me to the Safeway in Carson City instead of Reno and from time to time it sends me on the wackiest routes. It also has a habit of not being that precise on when to turn. I’ve had it tell me to turn right when there is no street to the right and I’ve also had it say “Turn left” right in the middle of the intersection. On rare occasion it just goes completely out to lunch and stops directing altogether.
The most annoying thing it does is when you say where you’re going, it displays a map and then says, “Proceed to the route.”
If I knew where the damn route was I wouldn’t need you, you annoying piece of technology. Generally in these cases I just get on a random street and it starts working.
The voice can be somewhat impatient too. On many a left turn, I come to a red light and the thing says, “Turn left.” Um, excuse me, can we wait till the light turns green?
And then there’s times when it says, “Proceed north.” Sadly I don’t carry a compass and getting out the car to figure out where the sun is, just isn’t an option in some cases.
Sometimes I just like to annoy the little voice in the dashboard so I’ll make wrong turns on purpose and enjoy listening to it panic, “Make a u-turn.”
But I just wish it would stop complaining about me driving through a Starbucks. Okay, I told the little voice I was going to HomeDepot, but there was a Starbucks drive-thru on the way. It started complaining as soon as I got into line to place my order.
“Proceed to the route.” Not without my latte I won’t …