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The Old Man and His Smartphone, Episode IV

I took my first GPS-enabled road trip today in order to meet a colleague for lunch.  It was only about an hour drive each way, but that was nevertheless sufficient to highlight one big advantage of GPS as well as to sound a couple of cautionary notes.

The big advantage didn't seem particularly advantageous at first.  The phone had announced that I should turn left at Center Street, but then inexplicably changed its mind, instead asking me to instead turn left on a road with a multi-syllabic vaguely Germanic name.  On the return trip, I learned that I had actually missed the left turn onto Center Street courtesy of that road's name changing to Wyers Road at the crossing.  So I saw a sign for Wyers Road and sensibly (or so I thought) elected not to turn left at that point.  The phone seamlessly autocorrected, in fact so seamlessly that I was completely unaware that I had missed the turn.

The first cautionary note involved the phone very quickly changing its mind on which way I should go.  It initially wanted me to go straight ahead for the better part of a mile, but then quickly and abruptly asked me to instead take a hard right-hand turn.  In my youth, this abrupt change might have terminally annoyed me, but one does (occasionally) learn patience with advancing age.

That and the fact that following its initial advice to go straight ahead would have taken me over a ditch, through a fence, and across a pasture.

The second cautionary note was due to the Fall colors here in Upstate New York, which caused me to let the impatient people behind me pass, rather than following my usual practice of taking the presence of tailgaters as a hint to pick up the pace.  I therefore took a right onto a side road, intending to turn around in one of the conveniently located driveways so that I could continue enjoying the Fall colors as I made my leisurely way up the highway.  But my smartphone instead suggested driving ahead for a short way to take advantage of a loop in the road.  I figured it knew more about the local geography than I did, so I naively followed its suggestion.

My first inkling of my naivete appeared when my smartphone asked me to take a right turn onto a one-lane gravel road.  I was a bit skeptical, but the gravel road appeared to have been recently graveled and also appeared to be well-maintained, so why not?  A few hundred yards in, the ruts became a bit deeper than my compact rental car would have preferred, but it is easy to position each pair of wheels on opposite sides of the too-deep rut and continue onwards.

But then I came to the stream crossing the road.

The stream covered perhaps 15 or 20 feet of the road, but on the other hand, it appeared to be fairly shallow in most places, which suggested that crossing it (as my smartphone was suggesting) might be feasible.  Except that there were a few potholes of indeterminate depth filled with swiftly swirling water, with no clear way to avoid them.  Plus the water had eroded the road surface a foot or two below its level elsewhere, which suggested that attempting to drive into the stream might leave my rental car high-centered on the newly crafted bank, leaving my poor car stuck with its nose down in the water and its rear wheels spinning helplessly in the air.

Fortunately, rental cars do have a reverse gear, but unfortunately my body is less happy than it might once have been to maintain the bent-around posture required to look out the rear window while driving backwards several hundred yards down a windy gravel road.  Fortunately, like many late-model cars, this one has a rear-view camera that automatically activates when the car is put into the reverse gear, but unfortunately I was unable to convince myself that driving several hundred yards backwards down a narrow and windy gravel road running through a forest was a particularly good beginner's use of this new-age driving technique.  (So maybe I should take the hint and practice driving backwards using the video in a parking lot?  Or maybe not...)

Which led to the next option, that of turning the car around on a rutted one-lane gravel road.  Fortunately the car is a compact, so this turned out to be just barely possible, and even more fortunately there were no other cars on the road waiting for me to complete my multipoint-star turn-around manuever.  (Some of my acquaintances will no doubt point out that had I been driving a large pickup, crossing the stream would have been a trivial event unworthy of any notice.  This might be true, but I was in fact driving a compact.)

But all is well that ends well.  After a few strident but easily ignored protests, my phone forgave my inexplicable deviation from its carefully planned and well-crafted route and deigned to guide me the rest of the way to my destination.

And, yes, it even kept me on paved roads.