Our GPS device is like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
First, you should know that she gives directions in a British accent. I’m totally serious. She sounds a little bit like Helen Mirren, if Helen Mirren were giving you driving directions while being AutoTuned. Her crisp diction and cold demeanor keep our driving focus on the task at hand, not, say, gossiping, as we might if she had a Southern accent, or craving Polish sausage, if she were from the Upper Midwest.
I’ve recounted the story of how we set her compass toward Kings Dominion outside Richmond and, trusting fully in her navigational skills, followed her instructions without deviation. And we were surprised, then, to hear her announce “Arriving at destination–on right–” as we pulled up next to a small brick McMansion in rural Virginia.
On our trip back from Atlanta, she decided we’d seen enough of the interstate for one one-month period (and granted, we’d driven about 3,000 miles of them). While I slept, she convinced Beau to take an offramp onto a U.S. Highway that started out freeway-like but ended up as a divided highway with stoplights running through the tiny towns between Lynchburg and DC.
It didn’t seem to take us any longer than the interstate would have, and the scenery was pretty enough. Virginia’s stretch of I-95 is a punishing corridor of nothing, broken only by the too-infrequent rest area or tobacco industry headquarters. For a while, we were grateful for her sly transgression and went along with it. I even searched on my phone to see if we’d be fortunate enough to get within ten miles of a Pei Wei, but no luck.
As we drove the winding roads, we passed few cars. It seemed like we were one of the few people using Labor Day as a travel day. But I was still slightly unnerved. I called my sister-in-law and told her we were in Deliverance territory. She told us to run if we heard anyone fire up a banjo. I assured her running was our default response to hearing banjos in any context.
At one point, we passed a minivan. A gray-haired gentlemen sat behind the wheel, remarkable only for the Day-Glo yellow sign he held up in his door window. On it, he’d written, “OBAMA means everything free but self-respect.”
“What does that even mean?” I asked Beau. Beau didn’t know. I looked back at the driver. He refused to look over at me, and so his face remained in stern profile, unblinking, the sign unwavering. I kept hoping he’d flip it over and complete the thought, the way composition students are taught to back up their claims with evidence, but he didn’t move. And then our little fuel-efficient Scion (a four-banger!) overtook his Goliath of a minivan and the man and his sign vanished in our rear view.
It’s times like those when I’m grateful for having the Psychotic Helen Mirren-brand GPS in puckered up against my windshield. Look at all the strange I get to witness just by getting behind the wheel! Who knows where we’ll end up next time? Milwaukee, Montauk, Monaco…only Helen Mirren knows for sure.