Saturday, September 27, 2014

Still Life With Robin: What's Wrong With My GPS? (A Mystery With Three Clues)

Photo by Tom W. Sulcer (Wikimedia Commons)
by Peggy Robin

I was about to post a query on the Cleveland Park Listserv to find someone who could help me fix the GPS app on my phone. It had the weirdest malfunction. When I plugged in an address --let's say it was a point about seven miles away-- it would show me a perfectly  reasonable route to get there but then it would tell me that the travel time was two hours and 17 minutes. I just could not figure out what was wrong with the thing. I would press "start navigation" and it would direct me, turn by turn, without a single error, to my destination -- but it continued to calculate the time in an alternate reality, as if in some sort of slowed-down segment of the space-time continuum. This went on for more than a week. I tried rebooting it, and re-entering the location, and I tried Googling the problem to find a solution, but no matter what I did, the long hours of travel continued to show up for short drives.

Then, just yesterday, I used the GPS to guide me to an address in far-flung Rockville. I encountered construction along the way and had to depart from the approved course and meander through some side streets to continue in the right direction. My GPS voice didn't like what I was doing one bit and kept insisting I head back toward my original route. At one point she [it uses a female voice] directed me to turn down a one-way street the wrong way. I ignored her, of course, but that was my first clue as to what was the matter. She did not care about one-way streets. The second clue was something that had been happening all week long....but I simply had not noticed it before:  the marked route on the moving map was not the usual solid blue line, with occasional red patches for traffic delays; it had become a dotted line. The third and final clue came just as I was nearing my destination. The GPS voice directed me to cross a park where there was no road at all. At last the light of understanding dawned: my GPS had been switched to pedestrian mode. I had been following walking directions for the past week! And it really would have taken me 3 hours and 22 minutes to reach my destination in Rockville on foot. The way I walk, probably longer.

Then I was able to think back to what must had happened. More than a week ago I had lent my phone to my daughter's friend who was visiting Washington, DC from Colombia (South America, not Columbia, Maryland or Columbia, South Carolina, and not Columbia, University either -- though these were the three most common reactions he got when he told Americans where he was from. But I digress.) He needed a US phone for the day so that he could call my daughter and meet up with her downtown; his Colombian phone plan made it too expensive for him to call or text on his own account. At some point he had become turned around but had realized that he could get oriented by using my phone’s GPS function, and he also figured out how to put it in pedestrian mode. He just forgot to tell me when he returned the phone to me later the same day.

I am just sorry that he did not also reset the GPS to the metric system. I think I would have quickly figured it if the distance had shown up in kilometers. Instead….a week of mapping mystery!


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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