“After 800 metres, turn left,” commanded the lady.
Her name was Jane and she spoke in an East Coast American accent. I followed her to the letter, and soon arrived at my destination.
I knew the way alright, but I had gotten so used to this lady giving me directions that without thinking twice, I switched on my navigator. Chances are that you do too.
And although I do sometimes grumble that the GPS has led me down the wrong path where I end up either in the desert or at a dead end, for the most part Jane is my friend, my tried and trusted ally, my personal butler who never lets me down.
Jane did take a bit of getting used to, though. Initially, it was difficult to mentally quantify the distance, especially when I had to turn right after 800 metres and there were four right turns just metres apart.
I sure do miss that time when you actually wrote down a long route with pen on paper, and then followed it carefully.
It reminded me of that old school joke: “What did the mother witch say to the twin witches?”
Answer: “Which witch is which.” I was in a similar quandary. Should I take the very last right or the one before?
Quite often, I took the wrong right, and I think I heard Jane muttering an uncomplimentary expletive under her breath. But the lady was unflappable and took it in her stride. I was advised to drive three kilometres down the wrong road, take a U-turn, return along the same road, get back on to my original road and then take the next right. Get it?
I didn’t get it for a long time. But now I’m a pro. Wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me to drive you down seven-hundred-and-five metres, take a left, go straight for a kilometre and a half, take the second turn at the roundabout, and then turn right just before the traffic signal, and I’ll do so unerringly.
Sometimes, I think Jane is just plain spiteful. (By the way, Jane can also be Simon with a British accent, or indeed speak in multiple dialects and tongues).
This happened when I visited a friend in Toronto who promised to take me to a grape farm. The lady commander (I think her name was Betty) took us on a merry dance around the countryside, through a Keatsean landscape of narrow lanes, rustic cottages, and orchards ripe with fruit.
The scenery was breathtaking, but we could have reached the farm on a straighter route if it were not for Miss Google! She had cleverly guided us down the path of least resistance, the one with least traffic, but also the longest and most winding one!
Nowadays, the GPS is king (or queen, if you use the female voice) and you follow her orders blindly and unquestioningly. But just like there was a pre-computer era, so too there was a pre-GPS era. And hey! I sure do miss that time when you actually wrote down a long route with pen on paper, and then followed it carefully.
Remember those earlier times, when you’d groan inwardly when someone who lived in a remote area called you over for dinner? Just before you left the house you’d painstakingly jot down the route. “Arooba Street — cross flyover — cross 3 flyovers — come to Fountain roundabout — go straight — cross 3 roundabouts — just before fourth roundabout, turn right down dirt track …”
While travelling in Delhi, I found that most cab drivers use the GPS. In the pre-GPS era, I was often taken on a joyride around the city and ended up paying an exorbitant sum. Those days have gone, thankfully.
Like most people, I am now helpless without the GPS, and never venture to a new area without turning it on. So Miss Google or Madam Waze or Mr. Smart Drive — you’ve made life easier for most of us!
— Padmini B. Sankar is a Dubai-based freelance writer. Twitter: @paddersatdubai