Twelve years a slave to satellites.

There are a million things I know with absolute certainty that I have no talent for:

1. Numbers. If there are more than three, and something is required to be done to them, other than the elementary operations one practices in school up to about the age of twelve, then I am the last person you want to consult. Okay, maybe the penultimate person, because kindergarteners are notorious for making up answers where I would at least try to get it right.

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2. Cutting hair. I’ve cut my own, I’ve cut my children’s and I’ve cut my dog’s. It’s amazing how quickly a crowd will scatter if I walk into a room with a pair of scissors.

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3. Squeezing my entire body through the head of a tennis racket. It’s impossible. I’ve tried a million times. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up, I’ve just got to study a few more Chinese circus children before I try again.

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But if asked what skill I can claim an aptitude for, I would not hesitate to point out that I possess a great sense of direction.

That is, unless I’ve programmed my car’s satellite with an address, or I’ve handed a map to my mother.

For this particular journey, I mistakenly did both.

As is usual for this time of year, I headed northward toward the big city lights to attend my annual writers’ conference and hoped that I should walk away inspired, incisive, but not in a fog as to how much work I would have in front of me once I got home.

Also, as is usual, I brought my mother along—not only for the company, but because her birthday always falls within this week. And as my father feels that recognizing birthdays is a surefire way to spoil the people you love or live with, leading them into a false sense of security, I’ve taken it on as my duty to make sure my mom gets to have a dinner out once a year that doesn’t get ordered at a counter.

This year, I thought we’d see a film before heading to the restaurant. After listening to nearly a dozen NPR programs, interviewing everyone from the director down to the steadicam operator, I was wholly keyed up to see the film Twelve Years a Slave. I felt it was a hugely important film, and even though I usually lose out during the voting round when suggesting we view a story that could be classified as political, controversial, or requiring the skills of a second language to truly understand its nuance, I thought my mom would find kinship with the hero because he too was a violinist, and string players just understand one another like no one else can. It might have something to do with inhaling too much rosin while preparing your bow hair, but that’s just a stab in the dark.

It’s taken me a while, but I now know better than to program my car’s sat nav because after initially feeling the thrill of having it installed in a car of mine around a dozen years ago, I soon came to realize that it was full of bugs. And I’m not referring to the kind I wrote about two weeks ago.

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These are the wonky bugs that require attention from a team of computer programmers. Surely they’d look at my car’s software—supposedly teamed up with one of our Earth’s satellites—glance at the jumbled stream of letters, numbers and characters within the code, and then sit back to laugh in their chairs because they’d soon recognize what I have: my operating system is overwhelmingly archaic and probably manufactured by Toys R Us. It doesn’t matter what I program into the device at the beginning of the drive, because according to my GPS map, my destination is always in the middle of a lake.

I refuse to trust the voice guidance, who has confidentially admitted to me that regardless of my request for the quickest route, she will direct me through every tiny town, as many intersections as possible, and throw me onto a toll road for a quick drop of a few coins before pulling me off again and back into the thick of traffic. I despise that woman.

Handing my programmed iPhone to mother proves just as pointless. I must confess it’s not entirely her fault. My smart phone has lost several IQ points over the last couple of years and being one of the first models of Apple’s handheld devices, it continues to plummet at a rate of knots.

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Some applications refuse to participate any longer, texts sit there until I’ve pressed ‘send’ the requisite magic number of times, and the maps icon acts like an obnoxious delinquent—a rascally miscreant who takes great pleasure in changing the address of my arrival destination on route when I am not paying attention.

My son calls my phone buggy.

I call my phone … a few other names.

We arrive at the theater only to find out that although technically this theater shows films, it does not show the film we chose to be directed to, and our real destination is on the other side of a ten-lane freeway. I ask my mom to give me a number, from a scale of 1 to 10, as to how athletically agile she is feeling today.

We get back into the car.

My mother redirects me to another theater, which is actually a state park.

Our next, “You have arrived,” moment has us turning onto an old dirt road having passed several police vehicles before I pull off to the side and announce, “Something evil has happened down there, and I’m damn sure they are not selling popcorn to folks who dare to come view the events unfolding.”

It’s now that my mom pulls out her brand-spanking new iPhone and says, “Let’s use Siri.”

I let my head clunk onto the steering wheel.

Finally, we arrive at the correct theater. We watch the film. I gasp, I am struck with horror, I am fixated, I am appalled, I weep. The lights come up and I turn to my mother, my eyes streaked with mascara.

“Well?” I ask hopefully.

She says, “He really wasn’t a very good violinist, was he?”


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Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

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34 thoughts on “Twelve years a slave to satellites.

  1. I feel for you in the matter of GPS troubles. My dad’s (before it was mercifully stolen) once took us down a one way road– the wrong way. True story. It also tried to take us through a state park once to get to a road that was actually easily accessible via non-state park related routes.

  2. Through GPS guidance we once ended up on a road that finished right in front of us, kaput, notta, the end. Also my Dad always treated eating out in a restaurant as equivalent to a session of water boarding. It was so painful for all of us we lost our desire to eat… out… with him. He finally found a buffet that he could tolerate… one price, no waiting, as many trips as you wanted, though he only wanted two, main course and dessert, and so that was where we all ate because that was where he would eat. Sigh. Love the post, as always, but your head through a tennis racket… really? XX

    • Ha! I love your dad. What a hoot. So maybe this is much more of an old geezer-related industry standard? And yes, some of those goals we pick up from watching poorly translated Kung Fu movies are perhaps best left in a buried, sappy teenage journal and not brought out into the light of adulthood. My bad.
      XX 😉

  3. Trip is just a mirror of life.
    like flowers that we planted, the grass will grow well around him. but do not expect at the time of planting grass, flowers will grow around it.
    just make sure that the way we will rejoice when good intentions and useful to others

    • Alrighty, since I’m guessing this is a well-intentioned comment and not a funky piece of poetic spam that slipped through my filter, and also that this was a valid piece of philosophy that became a teensy bit mangled through Google translate, I’m going to say thank you for the lovely words. I’m fairly certain I’m getting the intent behind them. And if indeed my trip is simply a mirror of life, I’d have to agree wholeheartedly. More often than not, I AM LOST. But I’m also keen on adventure and will keep trying and trying to find the next beautiful destination. I’m grateful for the important and necessary reminder to rejoice in the process of it all. 😉

    • Too funny. I’d say the ghosts for all the “open to the public” structures belong to the National Trust are in competition with one another, and may have had a hand in directing you to your final destination. It could happen. 😉

  4. Well that had me giggling away like a loon! I didn’t think I’d got so reliant on Satnav until my new car didn’t have one and I hadn’t yet put a map into it. Cue: telephone call from husband to say he’d failed to get off at the correct station and could I please drive to the next one, several villages away, in the dark.
    Now, I vaguely know how to get to this village, which, incidentally, boasts of being the most haunted in England, but the station isn’t actually in the village itself: it’s down some vague country road off to one side and round here we still haven’t got back to replacing all the road signs taken down in WW2 – they were removed on the basis that if the Germans did invade it would slow them down a bit. Not actually such a silly idea, given how small, windy and confusing our country lanes can be. Anyway, I feel your pain 😉

    • What a wonderful story. I cannot even fathom finding my way around some of those perfect, picturesque English villages and back country roads. Still, I think getting lost in England is one of the most pleasurable experiences you don’t have to pay for and end up being priceless.
      I sincerely hope your husband has been picked up by now and that you’ve installed an alarm clock app on his smart phone. 🙂

  5. G’morn’n Shelley,

    I feel your pain. As I know you live just within the boundary of Hicksville, yet within an earshot of a major metropolitan portal, I can understand how Siri’s vernacular might change… or just be complete lost as she’s not witnessed the two completely different worlds, within yards.

    Most recently, I too had a similar experience with Siri, whom I’ve since fired (and the phone is now sitting off the shore in Lake Michigan).

    By-the-way, if one drives anywhere’s within two miles of Lake Michigan’s shoreline on our peninsula, your GPS will give you a map of the eastern side of the Great Lake and place you on east coast time zone rather than in Wisconsin.

    I took a group of friends, all professional local chefs on a journey to a new local organic vegetable and grass fed buffalo farm and ironically, each of us had set our IPhone 5 GPS for it’s directive. Listening to each precise direction given from Siri, which at times was almost as if listening to a Marine Corps drill instructor, (Seriously?!**#!? I told you Camp Phenol Lane!”), we followed her commands down a turn called Miller’s Crossing (of which I soon felt spooked that I would soon see Gabriel Byrne with shotgun; however I could have sworn that I did see Albert Finney swimming in the lake). We of course, came to the end of a 1/2 mile dead end road, seven trucks deep on a one lane, steep graded snow-packed down hill road and to the wondrous view of the lake. Backing up (hill) was a joke and I swear that Siri was mocking us the entire time.

    Now, when asking for directions, I go back to the way we use to do it… “head north for ’bout five minutes, turn left at Jorstead’s old barn, then right after another ten minutes. Remember where Solwinski’s Holstein sunk in the swamp, well go just beyond that and you’ll see your location. Forget Siri.

    Stoshu 🙂

    • Holy cow, I can’t believe the great stories today! These are all so marvelous and funny. The way you now ask for directions reminds me of a famous, apocryphal one told about the Irish. A man asks an old fellow on the side of the road for directions to the next nearest village and the geezer answers, “Well, if you turn back round and head from where you were comin, you remember the old pub you passed with the green wellie on the sign?” Yes, is the man’s response. “And then if you turn left at that pub and keep going till you come across the tiny church with the sweet little bell tower?” Yes, is the response. “And then goin right at the church about 3 miles down is the best cheese shop this side of Dublin–the one with the picture of the dairy maid in the window?” YES, is the response again. “Right. Well, you don’t want to be goin that way. That’s totally the wrong way.”

  6. Shelley! Loved hearing about your sweet Mom! 🙂 My “gps” these days has been reverted to its oldest form – word of mouth directions, which inevitably start with “well, you know where the church is, right?” Ha… the church is the biggest and tallest building in my little city, and ALL directions start from there. And without street signs or names, it’s just “go west for one block, and then turn right and go 2 blocks…” etc… Cheers!! — Jen

    • Brilliant. Hope you’re getting the lay of the land out there in paradise, although seriously, getting lost where you live must bring a slew of treasures your way and probably makes the whole adventure a thrilling one. I hope you’re well. 😉

  7. In my fatigue….it took me ’til your mom pulled out Siri to really crack a slowly forming smile into a guffaw…and that last cartoon just sealed it:)

  8. I sympathize with you on this issue! I guess we all have our GPS-gone-wrong horror stories. One of my favorites is when my aunt and I were on a West Virginia back road, and the GPS suddenly freaked out and said in that disgusted tone of voice she has, “Recalculating, recalculating, recalculating.” She did that for 30 minutes while my aunt and I drove around in circles. We finally found our way to our destination using a trusty map.

  9. Enjoyed and laughed all the way. Though I would say I felt sorry for you for trying so hard to please your mum and in the end the violinist was not so good. Its life and it happens to all of us. GPS problems have driven me nuts so many times but siri has been a cool choice sometimes. Enjoy the moments of life and keep sharing with us. Waiting for the next post. Take care, and thanks for cheering me up Shelley.

    • No need to feel sorry for me, Samina. I get everyone back by writing about them in my blog. It’s poetic justice without the poetry. 😉
      And I promise, as much as I’m out there enjoying each moment of life, I’m searching just as hard for the ones worthy of sharing that will keep you rolling your eyes or slapping yourself upside the head. I love this life and all the goofy folks in it. Cheers to you!

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