The Backseat Driver That Sits In Front

After 30 years of marriage, my wife and I still drive each other crazy. Literally.

It goes like this. I get behind the wheel (it's always me, because she hates to drive), she gets in the passenger seat, and after five minutes on any new road (not to mention some old ones) we're lost.

She: "It's because you were going too fast."

Me: "It's because you gave me the wrong directions."

From this point on, it's all downhill. And it happens, to put it in approximate terms, all the time.

So imagine our delight recently at the discovery that technology has found a way to help us out. We were in Florida. The woman at the airport car-rental counter mentioned that our vehicle came equipped with an "onboard navigation system" that would all but guarantee we'd never get lost.

Over the next six days, we came to love the little black box with the glass screen and buttons between our seats. It resembled those game things kids are always poking madly. At the push of a button, we scrolled to (a) our destination city and (b) the street and the desired address. This, I should add, we did before putting the car into gear. In a few seconds, a little map jiggled into place on the screen, showing our car as a yellow triangle, and we started out.

Suddenly, we both froze. A flat male voice spoke from the box: "Right turn ahead!" A chubby yellow arrow filled the screen and shrank to a stubby dash as we neared the intersection. Two sharp beeps, turn complete, arrow gone. Another map appeared on the screen. Our little triangle — guided from the heavens by a satellite! — continued traveling jauntily down the road.

This superior guidance system gave us a new lease on the driving life. Conversation returned to topics other than speed, direction, location and being late. I took to responding to the system's metallic commands with, "Thank you, George."

Only once did we squabble, but this time it was us against the box. It was on one of those rare occasions when we knew a shortcut. The computer preferred us to stay on the main road. We bypassed its instruction. "Make legal U-turn," the voice insisted. Again we ignored it and continued on our merry way.

Now what, we wondered. This was man (and woman) against ma-chine, pragmatism against computer logic, the mind versus the microchip. Moments later, the box gave up. Threw in the towel. Saw things our way. "Rerouting destination," it sniffed. And a new map miraculously appeared on screen. How courteous, I thought. How decent.

A few days after we got home and back in our own car again, we missed the turnoff to a mall we'd visited dozens of times before.

She: "Why weren't you watching the signs?"

Me: "Why me? Why weren't you?"


Solution-oriented, we carry on. A notebook in the glove compartment now lists frequent destinations with detailed directions, and we've begun to think seriously about buying a new car with an onboard navigation system. No, we don't need a marriage counselor. We need George.

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