A special relationship with a GPS

    There are several ways at looking at a road map, either you get it, you ignore it and explore uncharted territory, or you get hopelessly lost.
    In this week’s Center Square, WHYY’s Chris Satullo explores how his family had developed a special relationship with a GPS.

    Listen: [audio: satullo20090628.mp3]

    When my wife and I take a car trip these days, we always take someone else along.

    Her name is Stella.

    She has a lovely speaking voice, though she can be quite bossy. She hates it when you ignore her instructions. “Recalculating!” she’ll shout, in a tone that suggests she’s never seen a more blithering idiot.

    But we love her.

    Stella, you see, is the name we’ve given to the voice inside our portable GPS unit.

    I bought Stella for my wife a couple of Christmases ago, and it was one my best gift inspirations ever.

    Stella transformed my beloved Eileen from a map-challenged, perpetually lost soul into a confident trail-blazer.

    For some reason, when Eileen was in grade school, the nuns never got around to teaching that map/geography thing. Me, I adore maps. To me, a map is a pathway to imagination. To my beloved, it’s a jumble of red and blue lines.

    I discovered this early in our courtship. We were driving somewhere unfamiliar and I asked her, “Check the map and see if Route 93 ever hooks up with Route 27.” After some feckless peering and rustling, Eileen confessed, “I have no idea how to do what you just said.”

    Lest I leave the impression that I am a navigator without flaw, let me admit this: While I’m good at getting MYSELF from point A to B, I’m terrible GIVER of directions. Here’s the tragic reason: I can’t tell my left from my right.

    This is hard to explain. In my head, I can visualize an intersection and the proper turn. But while my mind’s eye SEES a left turn, my mouth will SAY, “Turn right.”

    I could tell you about the night I threw Eileen a surprise birthday party, and some guests who relied on my directions spent an hour roaming dark cornfields miles from the restaurant. But the memory is too painful.

    My left-right quirk isn’t the only reason I had to enlist Stella.

    The following generalization is, I swear, true more often than not.

    Women and men prefer different types of directions. Must date back to the whole hunter-gatherer thing on the veldt. Men had to slay the antelope quickly, or the tribe would starve. So they seek crisp directions, with lots of numbers: Take route x for 11.2 miles; follow Route y for three lights.

    Woman had more time to kill while tending the fire back in the cave. So they seek all the descriptive detail, and digressions, of a picaresque novel. For example: “Well, as you go along, you’ll pass that Target, and then you’ll get out into the country a bit, and there’s that lovely stand of elm trees on the left and then you’ll come to that fruit stand where a couple of years ago Sally and I bought those wonderful peaches?”

    “So, do I turn there, or what?”

    “No, no, no, you stay on that road, whatever it’s called, for miles, but I’m just telling you the fruit stand’s there, so you’ll know. Now, a ways up, there’s an inn on the left, with green shutters?”

    By this time, there’s only one thought in my head:

    Where’s Stella?

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