When the GPS’s first came out and the prices dropped from ridiculously high to more-or-less normal, I was an immediate consumer. I was working in Groton, Connecticut which was more than 140 miles from my home.
Even though I didn’t have to go in every day, three days a week of driving 280 miles round trip with a 9 hour day in-between was a killer schedule. A lot of the roads I took were unmarked — no signs telling you what road you were on or which road you were crossing — and very small, so maps didn’t show them. I needed a GPS just to get home at night.
One night, on my way home, I got turned around in Rhode Island. I went around in circles for nearly an hour and finally called home and told them I was lost, had no idea what road I was on. What was worse, I was in the middle of nowhere, so short of calling the police — and since I couldn’t tell them where I was, I was not sure that would actually help — I might never see them again. Eventually, I found my way out of the loop and promptly bought a GPS. It was a small Tom-Tom, but with a little help from my electronic friend, I got home most nights.Since then — about 10 years ago — they have greatly improved the GPS to the point where you can’t be sure they can get you from point A to point C without taking you through golf courses, tiny, snow-filled back roads, swamps, vineyards, collapsed bridges, and roads that may have been real roads100 years ago, but clearly haven’t been used since. I know this because in the center of the road is a full-grown oak tree. It’s a dead giveaway.
So despite having a reasonably “up-to-date” GPS — a Garmin this time — I always print out a set of directions on paper. It’s why so many packages from Amazon don’t show up. Whatever GPS they are using, it seems to send the trucks down unpaved roads which when they aren’t buried in snowdrifts are socked in by mud, sometimes quick-mud (quicksand, but a lot gooier).
To make things just that much more complicated, most of New England is phobic about road signs. When we were in San Francisco, we could find our way around because not only were there street signs on every corner, but they would have a sign two streets ahead to warn you of an upcoming street.
In New England, they refuse to tell you what road you are on and often, what town you are in. You find yourself in the humiliating position of having to ask passing strangers what the name of the town is and what road you are on.
As often as not, the person you ask can’t give you an answer because they themselves don’t know anything. They just work there. The only route they know is the one that gets them to work. On top of that, most people are clueless about giving directions.
When they try, they are wrong. They say left when they mean right and have no idea of the distances between one place and another … AND they don’t know the name of the road (not that this would be much help since there are no signs to tell you the name) or route numbers. Even if they did, the absence of signs makes it hard to know what to do.
Even using a GPS as a map without chatter, many roads supposedly have names that no one ever uses. One of our nearest roads is Route 146A. That’s what everyone calls it because its official name changes every half mile or so. Each town or area calls it something different — and a GPS doesn’t EVER use route numbers except for limited access interstate highways, probably because these don’t have names. But if they do (such as the Massachusetts Turnpike aka “the Pike” and the Merrit Parkway (aka Route 15), they will use it and when that name is not in use in a particular town, change the name to South Main Street and you will have to deduce that it’s actually the same road.
And finally, there is the issue of “go straight on the main road.” New England has no straight roads. Between hills, mini-mountains, waterways, and inconveniently placed towns, everything loops, and swings. Worse, the GPS tells you to “make a right,” but what you see is a fork and both seem to be going in the same direction — sort of rightish. There’s no sign, so take your best guess. My best guess is inevitably wrong. You’d think all you need to do to fix the error is turn around and go back, but much of the time, you can’t do that. Either the road is too narrow or you’ve stumbled onto a highway and you have to find an exit that will let you reverse directions. There are parts of the state where that is impossible. Like anywhere near Quincy (pronounced for you out-of-towners) as Quinzy. So was it John Quinzy Adams? Just asking.
Why don’t they have street signs in New England? We have all had this conversation, usually after we’ve calmed down and had something to eat and drink. Our best guess is the Yankee belief “if you don’t know where you are, why are you here?” The area isn’t set up for tourists, which is funny because tourism is one of our major industries.
This isn’t as much of a problem for people who have a sense of direction, but neither Garry nor I ever know where we are unless it’s close to home. You can’t get seriously lost in the Blackstone Valley unless you use a GPS. We don’t have a lot of roads. Maybe all told, we have a dozen “real” roads. The rest are trails, suitable for ATVs, horses … and walking your dog. They certainly aren’t intended for cars or trucks. Many of them are bordered by what looks like the ground but is really swamp mud.
Recently, Garry has been doing a lot of traveling around Massachusetts and remarkably, probably due to printed directions from Google or Mapquest, has managed to get where he is going. It’s no small miracle. Also, for reasons I don’t fully understand, when we travel together, Garry is always sure I know the way. Or at least know it better than he does.
When I point out that we are equally lost, he thinks I’m hiding something. He never believes I’m as ignorant as I am. Is that a compliment?
I need to buy a new GPS, but I’ve been putting it off. The more they “fix” the GPS maps, the harder it gets to actually find the location to which you are trying to go. GPS’s are great for long, interstate drives and arriving in a neat suburb. On the other hand, when we used to drive up to Jackman, Maine, at some point the GPS would say “no directions are available for this area.” You’re on your own and good luck. Watch out for moose.
I suppose it’s like all other software, upgrades usually don’t improve the product. After you’ve bought a new one, you wish you’d kept the old one, even if it is inaccurate. They now have so many traffic cams in cities and suburbs so a GPS can (and does) read the wrong input. Sometimes, it shows us driving down the Charles River.
Also, for reasons best known to their designers, no matter what settings you input, they will try to send you by their idea of “the shortest route” as opposed to the route that will get you there safely and quickly.
In other words, upgrades aren’t. Moral? If the old one works, keep it until it dies. Then buy a cheap one without all the frills. It’s the maps you need, not the radio.