GPS proves herself in LA

Before we drove to Los Angeles for a family tour of amusement parks, my colleague advised, “You don’t want to tackle LA’s freeways without a GPS unit.” I’ve long been a Rand McNally guy, but why not? She loaned us her unit.

If you haven’t yet had the experience, the GPS unit becomes another passenger, a character who sits just above the dashboard and dispassionately tells you precisely what to do: “In 300 yards, take the exit.”

The choice of GPS voice is important. There’s a pompous Brit and an impatient schoolmarm. My son downloaded a George W. Bush impersonator, malaproping and mispronouncing. We chose velvet-voiced “Laurie.”

In Utah, when we discovered we’d never packed the Rand McNally, we realized she held our fates in her circuitry. But could she handle LA?

I had doubts. Upon leaving the hotel in Anaheim en route to Universal Studios, she directed us into a residential neighborhood, then through a narrow side street lined with parked cars, and then down an alley.

“That does it. Switch her off,” I declared. “I’m buying a map.”

“Give her a chance,” my wife said.

I was about to remark, “What if Laurie were Larry, without all this sisterhood ya-ya …” when the alley suddenly spilled onto a four-lane road just 50 yards from the highway on-ramp. Laurie could have gloated, but she held her tongue. I silently thanked her for that. Our relationship was growing.

Later, when I commented on how accurately Laurie knew our minivan’s speed, the children asked how. I explained the role of satellites. Our 6-year-old looked to the sky, worried, and said, “You mean they’re watching us right now?”

Is it true that guys are reluctant to pull into a gas station to ask directions? After all, we put a little bit of our hunter-gatherer identities on the line when we become both driver and navigator. If asking for directions admits failure, perhaps turning over navigation responsibilities to Laurie represents complete emasculation.

Not really, thanks to Laurie’s forgiving manner. When I would screw up by not following her instructions, she simply focused on the task at hand: “At the first opportunity, turn around.” In my mind, I couldn’t help but append “you idiot” to the end of her statement.

After three days of Laurie leading us around like a bull with a ring in its nose, I realized I’d learned nothing about the lay of LA-LA Land. I grumbled, “Here’s another example of technology dumbing down our society, like cable TV, USA Today and Twitter.”

With Laurie in charge, there’s no need to know your direction of travel, through what suburb, and near what famous landmark. Only when we glimpsed the Queen Mary anchored at Long Beach did we orient ourselves geographically. Must be near the coast!

I eventually softened my criticism. For five days, we arrived at every intended destination, without once getting lost, and always just when Laurie had predicted. She knew what she was doing. Granted, I hadn’t learned much. But other than the fact that greater LA is a concrete wasteland under dusty palm trees and a blanket of rust-colored smog, what else is there to learn?

We enjoyed our trip, but when it was done, we were glad to say, “Laurie, take us home.”

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