Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Our Lady of the Dashboard

I like maps. I don’t know when I first became enamored, but my affection was well established by the time I met Jon. During 30 years of marriage I have spent many happy hours in the car, with Jon driving and me navigating from the passenger’s seat, an atlas opened across my knees. During the B.C. years (Before Children), we drove the nearly 1400 miles to Key West with interesting side trips traced out by my finger on the Rand McNally page. We spent three weeks in England driving north to York, west to the Lake District, south to Chester, Shropshire, and the Cotswolds, and then on to Kent before heading to Heathrow. All under the tutelage of Britain on Country Roads.

Later we thought nothing of buckling the kids into their carseats and heading off, map on lap, to Savannah, Disney World, the Blue Ridge Mountains. When Jay and Annie were older we were off to France with Hammond International France Road Atlas packed in my carry-on. Renting a car in Avignon, we tooled around the south of France from the hill towns in the shadow of Mont Ventoux to St. Paul de Vence and back, with many villages in between. That’s not to say we never had an interesting moment or two. On the way from Venasque to Aix-en-Provence we came to a rotary. I knew which small town was our next destination, but there were many spokes off the rotary with many signposts with many long names. Not being quick in French, I couldn’t take in all the names on the first go ‘round. I couldn’t take them all in on the second time ‘round. By the third time ‘round Jay and Annie both looked up from their Gameboys and said, “Why are we going in circles?” By then I had conquered nearly all the place names, and on the fourth spin around I identified the correct signpost and off we sped to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

This was all before GPS gadgets, of course. When our friends started to acquire them, we resisted. We liked our method. But we were eventually worn down. The tipping point was when our friend, an Episcopal minister, spoke of how she had first been dubious, but when her GPS safely guided her through the unknown streets of Brooklyn to deposit her right at her son’s student housing quarters, she became a believer. Son Jay was about to move to Brooklyn, whose streets were unknown to us as well. We got a GPS, and we christened her “Our Lady of the Dashboard.”

Her big test was another trip to France – this time a lengthy drive from Aix-en-Provence up to Paris. She did quite well, although we found her French pronunciation trés amusant. And she did get a bit tangled up in Lyon, where she sent us back and forth over both rivers before we finally found ourselves in front of our hotel.

Sadly, we had too few times to take advantage of her abilities following our trip to France. One morning we got into our respective vehicles to head to work…and found them ransacked. The thieves had passed over the Motorola and iPhone chargers. They weren’t interested in our EZ Pass transponders. They found our spare change small change. They only had eyes for Our Lady of the Dashboard.

We had not been astute enough to purchase her with an American Express Card, so we had no avenue to get reimbursed for our loss. Some time later we bought another GPS gadget—but this time it was a substantially reduced Our Lady of the Dashboard.

From time to time Jon used Our Lady #2 to get to a client’s headquarters at an unfamiliar location. But her first real test came when we traveled to…yes, Brooklyn, to visit Jay. Unfortunately she did not live up to her predecessor’s achievements. Once we were in Brooklyn proper, she simply shut down. She had no idea where we were or where we should go. We eventually hit upon a GPS version of Restart. But by this time we had found Jay’s apartment using Google maps, had a lovely visit with Jay, and were heading back home to Philadelphia. Our Lady #2 appeared to have gotten herself reoriented. We plugged in the co-ordinates. The next thing we knew, she had us deep within Manhattan. By the time we had caught on to where she had led us, it was too late. Like poor old Macbeth, we were “stepped in so far that, should [we] wade no more,/Returning were as tedious as go’er.” Trying to get ourselves out of the red wash of traffic and brake lights to get back to Brooklyn would have taken as long, or longer, than waiting out the inching forward to the Lincoln Tunnel.

Several months ago we went to Italy for a family event. We were told it would cost us hundreds to download the software to help Our Lady #2 navigate through Italy, and we were advised to get a GPS when we picked up our rental car at the airport in Rome. Well, in Rome the clerk sneered as he refused to rent us a GPS because we hadn’t reserved it when we reserved the car. A creature of habit, I had a Michelin’s Italy: Tourist and Motoring Atlas with me. We were back to our old ways. Over the course of the trip, the atlas opened on my lap, we wended our way up to Lucca via the coast; we visited Pisa and environs; we did the switchbacks to the Cinque Terre; we made our way east to Florence; and then we headed back to the airport in Rome.

And we didn’t get lost once.

Outskirts of Lucca, Tuscany. There is a road there...somewhere.

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