I am completely fascinated by the relationships I’ve witnessed between drivers and their GPS systems. I used to assume that a GPS was simply a disembodied robo-voice that warns you when it’s time to make a turn. Apparently for some, however, a GPS is more like a bossy friend—someone you talk to, argue with, and refer to by name in casual conversation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve interrupted a discussion to ask, “Who’s Karen?” only to have everyone present refer me to the contraption on the dashboard. Go figure. In case you haven’t guessed, I am a relatively new driver and do not yet own one of these curious devices, so my methods for finding my way from Point A to Point B tend to be rather unconventional. For instance, it would not be out of the ordinary for me to call up my sister in Pennsylvania and ask her where I am as I repeatedly circle the same block somewhere in metro Atlanta. Although I’m sure you might consider this method to be entirely ineffective, it happens to be very calming. After a few minutes on the phone with a familiar voice, I have regained my hope and confidence and am much better equipped to face the task of figuring out where I am in relation to where I want to be. It works (almost) every time.
Earlier this week, I had to make a drive of about fifty miles to a place I’d never been. I was determined to complete this journey without A) phoning a friend, or B) taking ten hours to do it. I decided to bolster my chances of success by setting up two foolproof navigational systems.
By this, I mean that I taped a series of Post-It notes to the dashboard with instructions for both legs of the journey. I also set up the Google Maps app on my phone with its rather unpredictable voice guidance. I am proud to say that I made it to my destination without a hitch. The return trip, however, was another story altogether.
Only a few minutes in, I noticed my surroundings had nothing to do with anything on any of my Post-It notes. As soon as I realized I was lost, I silenced the Beyoncé album that had been keeping me company and pulled into a deserted church parking lot. I took a few deep breaths and considered my options. I could try to retrace my path and start over, in hopes of getting back on track with my notes. Or, I could start from where I was already and try to find a different route altogether.
Before I knew it, an ironic voice with an Australian accent popped into my head and sighed, “Recalibrating...”
I chose the latter option, and in the end, discovered a simpler route home than I’d originally planned.
When I finished graduate school and moved here nearly a year ago, I kept wishing I had a compass for my life. If only I knew which direction I was headed, I thought, it would be much easier to plan my course. Lately, though, I’ve been wishing more for a work/life GPS (and a real one too, for that matter). Rather than a fixed point on the horizon that I’m working toward, I wish for a guiding voice to argue with about my journey, a system that recalibrates for wrong turns, and even the option to change my destination altogether.
It seems, as I discovered on my recent journey, that my internal GPS is already built in, complete with a colorful Australian accent. All I have to do is turn down the radio, from time to time, and listen.