Sunday, March 22, 2009

GPS woes

      It's ironic. I've heard of these stories many times and now I'm in one of them. A typical story goes like this: someone either owns or tries to get a GPS device in the hope that s/he won't get lost when s/he visits a new place. S/he follows the instructions given by the GPS and still ends up getting lost.
      My girlfriend and I planned a trip to Florida. She flew there a week earlier to visit her relatives in southern Florida, and then drove up to Orlando airport to pick me up. Our first stop was “Downtown Disney”.
      You know how it goes when it's your first time visiting a place and you realize your partner has been to this place several times, you tend to think s/he KNOWS this place, and it makes sense for her/him to take the helm and call the shots. Well, I was the one visiting Orlando the first time and my girlfriend several. She took the driver seat.
      When I hopped in my girlfriend's rental car, I noticed a GPS device attached to the front panel. She told me in a cheerful voice she already plotted the course to “Downtown Disney”. I came out of the airport's arrival gate at roughly 7:40pm so naturally our next step was to find a restaurant, and according to her, we could find a nice one in this “Downtown Disney”, so what more could I say other than give her a kiss?
      Pretty soon we missed our first turn. It seemed like the device was a bit slow when we were nearing a fork ...(Humm... I'm trying to think what exactly happened...) Anyway, my girlfriend picked the exit and immediately the device sounded a female announcement "Recalculating route". We tried to get back to the highlighted route shown on the GPS screen, missed yet another one or two turns, and we eventually returned to the correct path. Afterwards the ride was pretty smooth. This smooth ride lasted about ... I don't know how long because the sky was getting dark and I was, well, getting hungry. At one point my girlfriend mentioned the sceneries looked foreign to her. (I told her, "It's getting dark. Besides, you're going the opposite direction. That's why it looked different to you.") Then she wanted me to tell her what city we were in. I checked the road sign when we passed one and relayed what I saw to her. She said it didn't sound right but she wasn't very sure either.
      As the time went by, she got more agitated and I wasn't in a better mood either; the GPS still wanted us to go further west. WAY west. This went on for another I-don't-know-how-long, and then she gave off a shout--"We're running out of gas!" (I said to her, "Didn't I tell you to gas up when we passed one like ... what, two days ago?" She of course fired back. Yeah, we do this a lot.)
      Now in retrospect, I understand why she didn't gas up. The trip from the airport to Downtown Disney shouldn't take long--30 minutes top. She figured, with the remaining gas she had, it should be more than enough to drive back. We didn't know why it took that long. Another thing is after I got out of the plane, I got tired and a bit disoriented. My girlfriend, well, she actually arrived in Orlando that afternoon after a 4-hour drive from southern Florida, so she wasn't in a better shape either. We were both tired and couldn't think clearly, so I know I shouldn't blame her.
      Back to what I was saying. I looked at the time and realized we'd been driving almost two hours, so I told her we could get off at the next exit and gas up, and then we could try to set up a new route with the GPS and start from there. She agreed. When we reached a toll booth, she asked the toll collector about the direction to Disney. The old lady, the toll collector, said it was in the opposite direction and we were way off.
      My girlfriend suspected there was something wrong with the GPS, and she got the proof. Anyway, gassing up took precedence, so we drove to a gas station nearby, put gas in the car, and then tried to solve the GPS puzzle after we parked the car at a corner of the station. I canceled our current itinerary, selected the function of locating nearest city and punched in “Disney”. Two names popped up and I chose “Disney, OK”, which was the same one my girlfriend previously picked and it still yielded the same route we were taking. I then checked the estimated mileage on the screen and saw more than 18,000 miles remaining. Even though this was my first time in this part of Florida, I knew this number couldn't be right. I told my girlfriend about this and she agreed that was not possible, so she took over the device and did the input herself. Same result. She was frustrated, more so than me.
      Then she realized something. “It's Oklahoma!”(OK is short for Oklahoma) She went on and said, “When I was at the airport waiting for you, I didn't have much time to punch it in, so when I saw 'Disney, OK', I thought it meant 'Disney, Okay' and picked it.”
      OH....MY.....GOD..... We'd been heading to Oklahoma all this time! Well, I didn't have the nerve to criticize her because I got fooled too. We didn't know why “Disney, Florida” didn't show up. It made no sense to argue with the machine anyway, so I said to her we could go to Downtown Disney some other time and let's get back to the hotel directly.
      What happened next was quite straightforward. We typed in the full address of the hotel my girlfriend had already checked in, so it left no room for any mistakes. The estimated mileage shown on the screen was now a delightful two-digit number. We made it to the hotel safe and sound within an hour, had our late dinner, and we lived happily ever after.(Ha!)
      A side note. Two days later, after roaming around Disney's theme parks, I found out why “Disney, Florida” didn't show up on the GPS. “Downtown Disney” is not a municipal district; it's just a shopping and entertainment area owned by the Disney and they named it “Downtown Disney”, so the town or city of Disney (in Florida) doesn't exist (but it does in two other states!). The city we were supposed to find, and Disney is in, is Kissimmee, Florida. I told my girlfriend this when we were in the car, and she was like "oh... yeah....ah...hmm...." (You should've known!)