Last year I faced one of those dreaded administrative tasks that occasionally confronts academic department chairs: Going to a remote Austrian castle to do a site check on one of our summer programs.
Tough job, but you know the saying: When the going gets tough … So of course I got going. But the last couple hundred kilometers were via rental car, and I was driving in a country I’d only visited once before in my life.
Enter my first encounter with a dashboard GPS unit, a Tom Tom. They come as a routine upgrade with rentals now, and they are well worth the extra five bucks a day.
I was impressed with the sultry-sounding Sheila, which is what I came to call my GPS in Austria because she sounded so much like, well, that’s a different story.
Over the past few years, I have experimented with two digital communication devices that I swore would never work. One was an invisible fence we installed to corral our menagerie of dogs. No way Juggler, our Greyhound, would ever let that signal stop him, I insisted.
But it did, right in his bony tracks.
We’re talking Remote
The other was this GPS unit, Sheila, whose task was to take me from Munich, Germany, to a castle that I could hardly see when I was right on top of it in the forested Austrian Alps.
But that’s exactly what Sheila did, taking me right up to the moat and across through the front gate and into the car park.
It was not an easy job. I mean, if you’ve done much driving in Europe, you are familiar with the spider web of small quaint villages, which come equipped with at least a few roundabouts with multiple entry and exit points that can spin you out to different countries. Sheila got me in an out of each circle at exactly the right point.
A broken vow
“I will never argue again with a woman giving me directions,”I remember thinking, as I pulled into the courtyard of this 15th Century schloss.
That resolve didn’t last long. A couple weeks ago I found myself striking up an argument with the as-yet unnamed GPS (another female voice) which came as part of the navigation package in my new Sonata. This time I knew where I was going; had been there several times before, and it was only an hour away from home.
So when the GPS routed me a few miles south to an outer loop of Indianapolis, only to tell me to turn around and head the few miles back north to my destination, I thought this is stupid.
Driving me crazy
In fact, I told her so. Multiple times. Over in the passenger seat, Anne looked at me like I was a guy debating his dashboard which, of course, I was. So I went my own way. (I live by that line from the classic “Shane,” where the title character drawls, “I’d like it to be my idea.”)
I turned west on a road that would take me directly where I wanted to go rather than doing the sweeping southern u-turn.
Should have listened to the womanly advice coming frm the GPS. The road definitely was straight, but it was also full of stop lights. About 22, to be exact. And it was Saturday, and it was crowded, and I was wrong. For the return route, I chose her way.
I’m a believer now in the value of these global positioning systems and may even start carrying one on me to navigate my way around the crowded malls during December. But wait: I already have one in my Droid phone which is great at getting me around the Web and the world, but sometimes not as great as a tin can and a string at being a telephone.
Before putting this GPS chat to bed, I should say I’ve been holding off on naming my new GPS voice because it doesn’t have the familiar ring that Sheila did. I’ve also learned that I can customize my GPS to convey directions in voices that are indeed familiar.
Traveling with celebs
We’re talking celebrity voices here, and a company called Navtones – one of several start-ups who have hit this niche – offers the following selections with prices to match the magnetism of the celeb. For example, for $12.95 you can have Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall route you to the cross-town sweet shop or, for only $6.95, have a high-mileage David Hasselhoff steer you into a bad episode of Dancing With the Stars.
Move over Hoff
Another celeb voice is KITT, who once took the supporting actor role to The Hoff in Knight Rider. KITT was the black Pontiac TransAm in the 80s TV show. Its enigmatic voice (think Hal, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey) can power up all your systems in ways different than Kim Cattrall could, and for the same $12.95.
Sorry Hoff. Your 28-year-old car, which GM has stopped making, now appears more popular than you.
Even MTV’s reluctant cult icon, Daria, costs more than Hasselhoff, driving you back to Lawndale for $9.95.
Personally, I’m holding out for another icon: Clint Eastwood. I wouldn’t mind having him steer me through traffic, although I fear he might lead me into a tricky Austrian roundabout only to abandon me with his famous exit line, “OK. Do ya feel lucky, Punk? Well? Do you?”