My husband and I love to travel. At least three times a year, we pack up the car and the family and head somewhere cooler, more mountainous or beachier (new word I just invented) or woodsier or, at the very least, rainier than the desert where we live. Not that we don’t love our desert – we just like to have a change of scenery, and weather, every once in a while.
We like to drive on these family vacations because that way, we have the car while we are there. Also we can stop at random side-of-the-road tourist attractions (giant concrete dinosaurs, anyone?), see the scenery along the way (look! cows!), and, most important of all, avoid the annoying security lines, potential flight delays, sardine-style seats and whiny kids involved in flying anywhere these days. Well, ok, so the whiny kids are ours and we can’t avoid them just by driving, but it does help somewhat because at least we can stop and let them see the giant concrete dinosaurs – and then threaten to leave them if they don’t stop whining (kidding, just kidding...).
Besides, if we don’t drag our kids half way across the country while they argue and fight in the back seat of the car, who will? Certainly not their aunts, uncles, or grandparents. No way - they are much too smart to volunteer for that particular form of torture. And we would absolutely hate it if our children missed out on this particularly American rite of childhood.
But, as much as we love this thrice-yearly ritual of packing up the family for a cross-country trek, my husband and I always seem to end up in a fight. No matter how well we plan our route, there will always come a time along the way when, if he is driving, he will ask, as we are driving on the freeway at 65 mph and approximately 60 feet from an exit, "Is this the exit I’m supposed to take?" Gaaah?!?! Heck if I know. "Uh...." And then we’ve missed it. And it was our exit. Or he takes the exit. And it wasn’t the right one. One of those will happen. And then he blames me and I blame him and we are fighting about which way to go next and whose fault it is that we are lost anyway, and the kids are whining in the back seat, and it is just not pretty.
We do a bit better if I drive. He is a much better navigator than I am, so he warns me well ahead of time about what road to take next. And I am better, when driving, at following general directions (you can tell me to take Route 90 in 10 miles – and I’ll do it even if not reminded) as well as the last-second instructions that happen, inevitably, at least once per trip: "ooh! Turn here!" But I can’t drive the whole way every time. And I can’t seem to get the hang of navigating in a way that my husband can follow well (take Route 90 in 10 miles . . . . Route 90 1 mile ahead . . . . Route 90, ½ mile . . . Route 90, this exit here....). I get distracted talking to the kids, or talking to my husband, or reading, or changing the radio station, or whatever... And then it happens.... The missed exit, and the fight.
But, salvation is at hand! My wonderful Dad, who has always liked my husband more than he likes me and therefore has an incentive to make sure I don’t fight with said husband, bought us an awesome device last year for Christmas. Probably you all have had one of these wonderful devices for years now, but we just got ours last Christmas, and we love it. It is a GPS that plans your route for you and then gives directions in a wonderful British accent (and with some odd British turns of phrase) but most importantly, in a way that both my husband and I can follow – "stay on the left lane..... Turn left in ½ mile . . . Turn left." And if you miss the turn, the device immediately recalculates the route and then tells you how to get back on track. "Make a U-Turn." Or "Take the next exit left." The GPS/trip planning device we got (there are lots of different brands out there) is the "TomTom." Because it has a female-sounding voice, we call her "Mrs. TomTom" and, as I said, we love her. If you do not have one, you should immediately go out and buy one. You can find a place to buy one by going to www.tomtom.com. Or, better yet, have someone else buy you one for a gift.
Mrs. TomTom is not, however, perfect. Mind you, she is pretty much guaranteed to get you where you want to go – it’s just that sometimes you may get there in a rather roundabout way. For example, if you could get there by turning left, going one block down the street, and then turning left into the driveway, she will sometimes have you turn right, go to the light and turn right again, go one block, turn right, go one block, turn right, go one block, turn right, and then turn right into the driveway. We are therefore firmly convinced that she is the product of a consortium of oil companies – she’ll get you there, but not necessarily in the quickest or most fuel-efficient way.
As a result, we have begun to use Mrs. TomTom as sort of a "backup system." We no longer have to get stressed out and/or angry if we miss a turn, because we know she’ll get us back on track and we will not be lost forever in the hot dry desert or in the worst neighborhood in the Bronx at night, eventually running out of gas and dying a horrible death. But we don’t always follow her directions exactly, either. We look at the map, take the way we think we should go, and relax and avoid yelling at each other because we know we’ll never be truly lost so long as we have Mrs. TomTom in the car with us. I highly recommend this particular marriage-saving device to anyone who has problems, as we do, giving and following directions while driving.
But, beware! If you ignore her too much, she becomes vengeful.
On the way home from the beach this past summer, we had ignored her instructions to take Route "A" because, in looking at our map, Route "B" looked like more of a straight shot to where we wanted to go. Route "B" took us over a mountain, through a mountain pass. Route "A" would have had us go around the mountain, an approximately 60 miles longer route.
For several miles, Mrs. TomTom kept telling us to turn around – "at the intersection, make a U Turn"; or "At the intersection, turn right, then, turn right again." She was trying to direct us back to the road we had abandoned. We ignored her, figuring eventually she would recalculate the route and include the road we were on.
As we were coming down the other side of the mountain, going through a series of harrowing switchbacks with blind hairpin curves and at least a 6% grade, I guess she had finally had it with us ignoring her instructions. As we rounded a hairpin curve and headed down a long steep grade with the mountain on our left and a steep cliff on our right, with at least a 200 foot drop to the ledge below and no other road in sight she stated, "Right turn ahead," and then a moment or so later, "turn right."
My husband gazed over the edge of the cliff and deadpanned, "Mrs. TomTom is trying to kill us."