As I have written before, driving with a GPS brings out the worst in me. My GPS goes by the name of Bonnie, and she has already been subjected to my gleeful Truman-esque escapes through the labyrinthine shopping center parking lots of suburban America.
Little did I know that Bonnie, too, has a dark side. Do not be fooled by her soothing personality and endearing inability to pronounce the word “street.” Underneath the urban intellectual guise lies a vindictive country girl capable of wreaking havoc on your digestive tract, your sense of direction, and any semblance of equanimity.
That’s what I learned this Thanksgiving.
I was driving up to the family holiday gathering in Virginia, and rather than taking my tried-and-true route along the open country highways that I know so well, I decided to let Bonnie out of her kennel to stretch her legs and demonstrate her direction-giving prowess.
Initially, I was impressed. Bonnie offered to knock twelve minutes off of my ETA, and I accepted gratefully. She guided me along a series of shortcuts to the main interstate leg of my journey, and I was able to sit back and enjoy the brilliant late autumn sun shining on the horse pastures of central North Carolina and southern Virginia. I even sang along to the soundtrack of Les Miserables and a selection from the DC-based folk group Vandaveer.
Then we left the interstate behind.
Before I knew it, I was enmeshed in a maze of numbered highways, turning right, turning left, stopping, passing tractors, creating etch-a-sketch patterns around small towns in rural eastern Virginia, and winding my way ever closer, it seemed, to the Minotaur himself.
I was helpless in Bonnie’s bitmapped grip.
So, I gritted my teeth, clenched the wheel (with one hand), and sang louder along with Matt Quarterman’s Misplaced Americas, pretending that I knew the lyrics and was utterly nonchalant about my predicament. But Bonnie’s clear voice just kept issuing commands: “Turn right; then, turn left. Stay in the right lane; then, turn right.”
Eventually, however, I found myself on a narrow road with no center line and walled in by high, red clay banks. The grade of the road rose and fell with a rhythm that, although it was obviously distinct from that of the ocean, was equally likely to produce seasickness. I slowed to a crawling 25 mph and took a deep breath. “Fine, Bonnie. Fine. You win!” I admitted in defeat. “I’m sorry I made you recalculate. The victory in the parking lot was a mere fluke. You are the master of the known universe. I give up.”
I had reached the end.
It was as though Bonnie had been waiting to hear those words, because barely two minutes later, less than a mile from that place of surrender, I found myself at a familiar intersection not three miles from my grandparents’ house.
I arrived on time and in one piece.
All hail, Bonnie.