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Oh, Mandy

How a GPS navigation system can strengthen family bonds


A few months back, when we Jowerses decided on a college for daughter Jess, it occurred to me that Jess and I needed GPS systems for our vehicles. I figured that Jess’ GPS would let her learn how to get around in a new town, and mine would let me find the ballparks where she’d be playing with her college softball team.

So I bought a pair of simple GPS gizmos. To get them going, all I had to do was insert into each of our mobile phones a memory card full of mapping data, and plug a GPS receiver into the power point in each of our cars.

Before we started navigating, though, we had to choose the voice that would tell us when and where to turn. We sampled the software’s male and female voices, and settled on American-English Mandy, whose voice was just a little more pleasant than British-English Mandy, who was just a little too stern.

We now refer to both of our phones as Mandy.

The first test for Jess’ GPS was back in the spring, when she took a wrong turn on the way to a ballpark. Of course, she called me, knowing that I was already at the ballpark. “Dad, I’m lost,” she said. “And I’m in a part of town that I don’t think I ought to be in.”

“Well,” I said, “first things first. Lock your doors.”

“Did that already,” she said.

“Good,” I responded. “Now, switch your phone over to the navigation program, and click the ‘Home’ icon. Then do what Mandy says. When you get close to the house, you’ll know where you are, and you can just drive to the ballpark.”

“Sweet! I love Mandy,” Jess replied. A few minutes later, she drove up at the ballpark.

Since then, I’ve learned that Mandy’s not just useful for getting Jess out of the bad part of town. Mandy can save a marriage.

In the many years that wife Brenda and I have been married, I’ve learned that there are two things that make us fight: one is carrying things together, and the other is Brenda acting as the family navigator. If Brenda and I pick up, say, a sofa, and start walking across a room with it, Brenda will push when she ought to pull, turn left when she ought to bear right, and pick up her end when she ought to be setting it down. Worse, she tries to rotate things clockwise when they need to go counterclockwise. That’ll make a man lose his grip.

Many times, Brenda has nearly pushed me down the stairs. She has let go of her end of a heavy wood beam, and let it fall on my head. She’s pinned me between a refrigerator and a wall. She’s committed dozens of seemingly trifling errors that made me think she was after the insurance money. So I just quit carrying things with her.

As the family navigator, Brenda has twice directed me into oncoming traffic. “I thought it was a turn lane!” she said both times. She has caused me to miss dozens of interstate and parkway exits. She’s sworn to me that she knows how to get to a location, and then proved that she couldn’t get within 20 miles of it. And once, on the way back from Alabama, she told me to move to the left lane of I-65, which would have put us in the path of a double-trailer rig zooming up that lane at about 80 miles an hour. Weirdest of all, Brenda once had me drive half the length of Wisconsin, thinking we were on Highway 42, when actually she was reading the mile marker on the map. “It said 42!” she snapped. “How am I supposed to know that’s 42 miles?”

Now that I’ve got Mandy doing the family navigating, I’ve probably increased my lifespan and the lifespan of the Jowers marriage. Mandy, unlike Brenda, tells me where to turn well ahead of time, and repeats her instructions as I near my intersection. If I shoot by my intersection, Mandy says gently, “When possible, make a U-turn.”

Mandy can name all the little sand-bed roads in the South Carolina midlands, and call out all the exits on the Bluegrass Parkway. In the time we’ve had her, Mandy has made only two mistakes. As Jess was heading for the drugstore near her dorm, Mandy directed her onto a road that had just become the dirt under a new building. And, on the way to Jess’ college, there’s a stretch of road where Mandy loses contact with some of her satellites, and tries to direct me to turn into cornfields and catfish ponds. I ignore her gentle ministrations.

The only real problem we Jowerses have with Mandy is that when we travel, there eventually comes a time when we have to find our hotel, and Mandy can’t help much. To find a location, Mandy needs a street address. Hotels don’t have addresses these days. They just have giant signs. Call any roadside hotel looking for directions, and you’ll find that the person on the phone will only be able to guide you in by way of Wal-Marts and O’Charley’s, which repeat every four miles along the bypass.

In those conditions, even Mandy gets lost.

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