Driving with a GPS – satisfying technology

While on our 2500-mile holiday trip, I realized how dependant Iâ??ve become on having a Global Positioning System (GPS) in the car.

In 2001 my wife and I drove to New York to see some relatives, and along the way we ended up buying a Garmin GPS V routing GPS system to replace my aging Garmin GPS 12 Map. While the 12 map had maps, and could tell you what restaurants were at the next exit, the new GPS V had routing and gave turn-by-turn directions, which was amazing to me and I bought the thing on sight.

My wife was significantly less thrilled, especially after a few extra laps around Albany due to some out of date maps in the new toy. Still, it was handy in the city and we (ok, I) got in the habit of using it whenever we drove long distances.

It took a long time for my wife to learn to trust the unit, but one time while driving to Midway airport on the south side of Chicago to pick up an 8-year old nephew we came to a screeching halt on the Edens expressway. In front of us was an exit, and since we were already running a bit late and facing the prospect of the unaccompanied nephew being sent back before we could pick him up, I got off the freeway hoping to find a way around the blockage.

We simply drove in a straight line until the GPS stopped telling us to do u-turns (meaning it had abandoned its original freeway-based route and chosen an alternate route), and then followed its directions to get back to the freeway. Sure enough, we got back on about 1/8 mile past the accident, and saw the sea of emergency vehicles in the rear view mirror. After that, my wife considered the unit mandatory driving gear in strange country. That little unit has led the way to many little stores, restaurants, and lighthouses in several states.

So when we bought our minivan (used), we were fortunate enough to end up with a 2004 Quest with built-in GPS navigation. I’d always been a little skeptical of the built-in systems. They always seemed so expensive compared to $400 or so for a portable unit. But, that large color screen is the bomb. I don’t know if our system has additional sensors (such as a compass) to help with navigation, but I suspect it does. At least, I believe it has a compass to determine which way the car is pointed.

While driving through post-storm (barely) Indiana last week it really saved our butts when I-65 came to a halt at 11pm – it turned out a semi had jackknifed up ahead, but all we knew was that once again traffic had come to a halt. We had been on the road for several hours longer than it usually takes to get from Indianapolis to Louisville, and had already sat through two half-hour long pauses. We told the GPS to take us on country roads, and they were much faster than the freeway.

People often remark “Wouldn’t a map be cheaper?” Sure it would be. A bicycle is also cheaper than a car. It can be hard to explain how liberating it is to have navigation be simple and (mostly) worry free.

While in Florida, we called a relative to get the address of a meeting place for later in the day. The relative started to give directions and my wife stopped them and explained weâ??d be using the GPS, and we only needed the address. â??Youâ??re just going to follow it blindly?â?? Yup. It may be hard to accept, but that is really the idea of having the system. And, it got us there.

Things arenâ??t always so perfect. Like I mentioned before, new roads mixed with old maps make for entertaining driving. So do new addressing schemes, or changing road names.

But, even when using a map to navigate, having a moving map display showing nearby one-way streets, and other obstacles can be golden. It can also store locations youâ??ve been to, so that quickie trip to get more ice for your second cousins doesnâ??t turn into an unexpected 2-hour sightseeing excursion.

Anyway, so there I am driving along and it suddenly hit me: On all those long trips I took as a kid, I spent hours in the back seat with a map trying to figure out where we were, all the time fantasizing that I could see dot of light on the map showing our location, like in the James Bond movie. Here we are, the thing is built in to the dash of our van, doing exactly what I imagined long ago.

Technology is especially satisfying when itâ??s something you longed for, and now itâ??s here, and itâ??s doing what you expected it to do.

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