Where in the world

April 23rd, 2008

My husband gave me a new car. This is a gift of staggering dimension, and I’m only now, as they say, beginning to “wrap my mind around it.”

It was not a surprise. On Christmas morning he handed me a piece of paper with the picture of a car on it, the car he had determined was right for my needs: hauling all kinds of precious and ever-growing cargo. Then he spent several more months deliberating on the features that were the ones he thought I deserved.

My old car was doing fine, but at 12 years old, it could definitely be called old. I had driven it from Texas to California in 1997 and it symbolized the life I had left behind: a life of workaday grind, grief and stress, yet relative solitude and independent ease; a life without a child, a dog, a Brownie troop and Keebler crumbs. Mine was the kind of car that never fails, yet lately, when pressed to make a road trip, I felt better off renting some reliability.

When we arrived at the dealership, I could tell from the start that times had changed since the last time I bought a new car.

I remember the delivery process like this. You sit behind the wheel with the salesman beside you. He shows you the refined and slightly unfamiliar features of the dash: the windshield wipers, the gear shift, the lights, the stereo, the AC, the adjustable steering column, the cruise control, the CD changer (!), the remote side mirrors (!), the cupholders (!).

There was none of that.

Instead, we sat in the front seat and he began punching a touchscreen that occupies the center of the cockpit. As a car marketing professional, he must have sensed the slight quiver that was about to send my female eyeballs orbiting, because he said:

I’ll never buy another car without one of these.

Hmm, I thought, I’d better keep my opinions to myself.

His fingers were flying through maneuvers that I would never remember.

You can find the nearest Starbucks, for example.

Isn’t there one on every corner?

When you’re alone on the road this will lead you straight to the nearest Chinese restaurant.

If I’m ever again alone on the road I’m heading straight to China.

I’ve already programmed in your home address.

Can’t I just go back the way I came?

I considered it all harmless folly, even when he handed me the owner’s manuals. That’s right, two manuals. The manual for operating the car was 584 pages. The manual for operating the GPS system was 274 pages.

My husband sensed my trepidation and said, “Want to just follow me?”

And I did. Things went smoothly until he decided to try a shortcut. Then the map started scolding me, in that mildly sensual yet patronizing voice inherited from patriarchal computer forebears.

Right turn in one-quarter mile, she suggested.

Left turn in one hundred yards, she intoned.

Right turn ahead, she insisted.

Left turn ahead, she shrieked, and shot me in the head.

The commands elevated in urgency as the system rapidly reconfigured the route to accommodate my husband’s own innovative guidance choices one car ahead. Once we arrived home I was drenched in flop sweat and palpitating with fury.

I did not set my ass in that car again for one week.

Oh I know there’s plenty of gender psychology at work here, but I consider it all too obvious to mention.

Suffice it to say this may well be the car that I deserve, but I’m more convinced than ever that I don’t deserve it.

Honey, I said carefully to my husband one morning, I just don’t find myself getting lost that often.

Compassionately, he disabled the GPS and I’m getting used to driving again. I’ve located the radio. But I haven’t yet ventured toward the windshield wipers.

And I know in my gut what the lesson is. If I can overcome my aversion, if I can truly find my way around it, then I will finally be getting somewhere.


  1. Last year, my beloved picked out what he thought was the best car for me and drove it from UT to AZ to pick us up and “surprise” me.

    We have no GPS (and I DO get lost that often, dangit), but my minivan is a wonder to behold (angelic choir here: ahhhh). I would never have picked it out myself, but now, after a year of it, I love it and can’t remember life before my minivan; it must have been low and cramped and inconvenient, what with having to open and close doors myself.

    If milk should spill, clean it up quick – that’s my best advice. Oh, and try to avoid sliding into the garbage can after months of snow – those tail lights are pretty fragile.

    Comment by Mrs. B. Roth — April 23, 2008 @ 10:26 pm

  2. My parents have a GPS unit and it drives me crazy. Call me old fashioned but I’d just assume read a map – on paper. Yeah, yeah, I know, that map in printed on paper which comes from a tree from a forest. But with all those GPSers out there I can probably pick up a few used maps cheap and save the environment to boot. Happy Driving!

    Comment by Shalet — April 23, 2008 @ 10:45 pm

  3. Our next vehicle will be a hybrid. THAT I look foward too. My husband, the gadgeteer, loves the idea of GPS and all that. I do, uh, NOT! πŸ˜‰ I disable just about everything in the house, boy won’t he love it when I disable the gadget in the car! πŸ™‚

    Comment by denise — April 24, 2008 @ 12:57 am

  4. karen, this is brilliant!!!
    i cannot tell you how whole-heartedly i relate to the message of this amazing post!!!
    thank you so much for sharing.

    Comment by Kirsten Michelle — April 24, 2008 @ 1:03 am

  5. “The GPS Wars” – I can only imagine what future posts will earn that label. And just think, when energy prices get really super prohibitively high, you can always burn those manuals…

    Comment by Jena Strong — April 24, 2008 @ 1:43 am

  6. Why do guys think we deserve the best of everything? πŸ™‚

    I dread the day when GPS has invaded all cars. Someone needs to stop the madness of technology before the driver becomes obsolete.

    Comment by Shannon — April 24, 2008 @ 3:19 am

  7. Great story, Karen. I look forward to when we can have a couple of hybrids in our car stable. For now, we’ve got a ten year old and a seven year old. Both doing fine. Both burning more gas than necessary at this stage. I am NOT looking forward to the intro to all the technology. Can I call you for a pep talk when that time comes???

    Comment by GailNHB — April 24, 2008 @ 3:24 am

  8. My daughter is fascinated with the “computer lady” in my husband’s car. I detest her. However, I have been working on my “phone sex meets Star Trek” voice in case I ever need to seek employment. I could be the next “computer lady!”

    Comment by Mama Zen — April 24, 2008 @ 4:07 am

  9. this gave me a chuckle.

    you are so dear.

    i hope our paths cross one day,
    as i would like to see your beautiful smiling face.

    with love,
    mccabe x

    Comment by mccabe — April 24, 2008 @ 5:29 pm

  10. fantastic, nope i don’t have gps but i still think i’m pretty snazzy with my electronic wing mirrors. I have a lot to learn!

    Comment by Honey — April 25, 2008 @ 7:45 am

  11. “I’ve already programmed your home address in …”

    Um, weirdo.

    But, yeah, I was on this soapbox just the other day (there’s been a lot of these lately around here) about how as a reporter I’ve been to every corner of two states practically and half of a third and never needed a GPS. This was in search of murder stories, too. I guess I’m old fashioned in one way: give me a map and a bottle of water and a tank of gas and I’m set.

    However, I will say this: If there’s a car for you and for me, it’s the one you are now learning to love.

    Incidentally, we’re about to make a purchase of this magnitude ourselves: a new car, a second car. I won’t know what to do, but I know that I’ll be doing far less walking, which can’t be a good thing.

    sorry for the novella.

    Comment by Shawn — April 25, 2008 @ 4:49 pm

  12. Oh wow. Congratulations on your new car! As someone with zero and I mean zero sense of direction, I personally adore my GPS. Although her voice does get on my nerves, especially when she goes into a frenzy of “recalculating.”

    Comment by Leah — May 2, 2008 @ 4:15 am

  13. The most important thing is that you have a safe car to drive.

    Comment by Shelli — May 4, 2008 @ 8:12 pm

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