It was bound to happen eventually, and it did right there on the interstate in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Trust in technology overcame common sense, and I ended up just another sucker on the wrong road, pounding the steering wheel and cursing Steve Jobs and all the bitter fruit of the Apple tree.
In the past I snickered at stories of travelers blindly following their GPS units or Google Maps directions into/onto mud pits, cart paths, hiking trails, boardwalks and various bodies of water.
“Never happen to me,” I often said. “Before I encounter unfamiliar territory, I meticulously prepare for my journey, consult my old friend Rand McNally, commit the route to memory, heed the road signs and follow my instincts. It’s a process that rarely lets me down.”
As technology advanced and the devices in my pocket grew more sophisticated, the road map in the glove disappeared, providing additional room for parking tickets, dried-out ink pens and free toothbrushes from dental cleanings. Still, I never fully trusted the disembodied voice telling me where to turn, and those tales of travelers led astray never really went away.
And then it happened.
I was heading home from a trip to Charlotte, holding the old truck steady at a safe and reasonable 5 mph above the posted speed limit, blasting tunes at the level I like when there are no passengers around to complain about hearing loss, when the iPhone attached to the dash flashed something red on the map app that seemed important enough to turn a Hayes Carll song down.
It was a wreck on I-85 ahead, and that meant a delay. It meant a long delay. I and what seemed like two-thirds of all licensed motorists in the state of North Carolina crept along at 5 mph, far, far slower than a safe and reasonable 5 mph over the posted speed limit.
About 30 minutes later, I neared an exit at a turtle-like pace, and the map app said, “Take this exit.” It actually gave the number of the exit, but I can’t recall the number so, for the sake of me not looking up every exit number on I-85, we’ll go with, “Take this exit.”
Having traveled from Charlotte to my hometown many times, I knew of no way to get home from that exit. I passed it by. A long time at 5 mph later, I neared another next exit. The map app said, “Take this exit.”
By this time, I was hungry and feared there was nothing in my immediate future, not even a frozen shinbone to gnaw on. The hunger and the maddeningly slow pace clouded my judgment.
“Maybe DOT constructed a new route since the last time I was here,” my tired brain reasoned. And before common sense could stop me, I took the exit and a right at the stop sign in hopes of some kind of magic carpet ride to my destination. Almost immediately the map app said, “Make a U-turn and then turn right onto the I-85 South entrance ramp.” Yep, right back where I came from.
I had been snookered by technology. Led astray. Bamboozled, if you will. Somewhere in the great mist of the afterlife, Steve Jobs turned to William H. Rand and Andrew McNally and said, “I told you I would get him.”
I eventually made it home, much hungrier and later than I anticipated. I don’t believe I will ever again say, “Never happen to me.” And I think I will clear out a few of the parking tickets, dried-out ink pens and free toothbrushes and slip a road map back in the glove box, if only for a nostalgic sense of security.