True Stories of the GPS

Maybe it’s because we have a pretty good sense of direction. Maybe because we can hold a mental “map” in our heads. Maybe we find that occasionally getting lost is a good way to learn your way around. For whatever reason, we find people’s addiction to GPS systems and their slavish obedience to them pretty amusing. Here are some stories:

Once I worked in northern New Jersey with a guy I’ll call “V”. He lived about five minutes from the office, and went to a certain restaurant for lunch at least once a week. I went with him and a few of the guys once. He got in the car, and punched the restaurant address into his GPS.

Google Maps can, I guess, be a problem too. Here’s a news story about a woman who is suing them because the directions she got for walking took her on a road without sidewalks. She tried to run across to the other side, at night, and was hit by a car. Google should have known enough to warn her, the lawsuit claims. What would she have done before Google Maps, one wonders. Stay at home, under the bed, where it’s safe?

LF’s daughter (and her ex-BF henceforth referred to as “LFDXBF”) were coming down from upstate New York (west side of the Hudson), and needed to get to the east 60s in Manhattan. I told them, “piece of cake, take the George Washingon Bridge to the Harlem River Drive, to the FDR, get off at 67th Street. Instead they followed the GPS — which took them to Brooklyn.
Another time LF was heading back to NJ from Queens, up around the Whitestone. Friday afternoon, rush hour, how would you do it? Would you take a northerly route across the GWB, or would you drive through midtown and out through the Holland Tunnel?

I know, this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to those of you who have never dealt with New York City traffic before. There are three major NY-NJ access points, the GWB which goes into upper Manhattan, the Lincoln Tunnel which drops you into the west 30s, and the Holland Tunnel which drops you into SoHo/Tribeca in lower Manhattan. If you are able to go out-of-the-way a little, the Tappan Zee Bridge goes from Westchester County, north of New York City, over to Rockland County, north of New Jersey; and the Goethals Bridge takes you across Staten Island, then over the Verazzano Narrows Bridge to south Brooklyn.

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Back one example to the trip to the east 60s. The FDR Drive is a limited-access highway that runs along the East River, immediately adjacent to the east 60s. There are exits in the 90s, the 70s, and at 59th Street. Any of them drop you off within a few blocks of your destination.

On the other side of the East River is Queens, and then when you go much further south, Brooklyn. By the time you get to Brooklyn you’re at least parallel to the east 20s, maybe even further south. Plus, you’ve paid a toll to get there; and you might have to pay another toll to get back. Then you have to go back north again — probably on that very same FDR Drive — to get where you’re going.

As for the rush-hour-from-Queens quiz, Manhattan ca. 5pm on a Friday is a working definition of traffic hell. One would do well to go as far north as possible to avoid it, even the Tappan Zee bridge into Rockland County, then down the Garden State Parkway home. Plunging into Midtown is bad enough. Trying to go downtown a few miles to get out the Holland Tunnel is utter madness that will add a solid hour to your trip.

In the latter case, LF was pleading with the driver to ignore the damn GPS and do the smart thing; but the driver was in the machine’s thrall. The smart money is on listening to WINS, not GPS.

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