Wednesday, January 6, 2010

GPS in a motionless bus

In an earlier post, I mentioned driving to NorCal to see the Dead in my friend's '73 bus. Among the highlights of that trip were the electronic gadgetry that he brought along. Between the MP3 player and the satellite radio to keep us forever surrounded with bootleg live-Dead (or Jerry Band), he had a GPS.

I have to say first seeing a GPS unit attached to the windscreen of that old aircooled bus seemed anachronistic, but I quickly found myself marveling in its glow. Simple things like "where's In'n'Out Burger" in some strange town we were passing through on I-5 were easily answered (there isn't one until Redding). Even watching our estimated time of arrival slowly move further out as we were unable to keep up with the speed limit was strangely satisfying.

When my wife joined us for the second run to see the Dead, she, too, saw the benefits of knowing what lay ahead. We were able to easily find a grocery store, for example, for the weekend camping at the Gorge. (aside) Which reminds me, I don't know if it was the cooking outdoors, or the music, or all the militant vegetarians camping in the lot, but there was something about having seasoned meat in bite-sized chunks that was exceptionally tasty that weekend. I remember sitting inside the Amphitheater during the set break and getting asked by Mike "meat snack? hehehe". Total highlight :) But I digress (/aside). This Christmas, my wife threw down and got me a Garmin 265WT GPS. No sooner than she gave it to me she started wondering if she should have buyer's remorse. I couldn't find a good comparator web site (cnet filtering was unworkable), and she said the other one she was looking at (that many user responses said was "better") was a Magellan 1424.

I looked at the specs for the 2, and I think the Garmin wins hands-down. The Garmin has free lifetime traffic, bluetooth support for handsfree speakerphone, and all the guidance stuff that Magellan has. I couldn't find a single thing the Magellan brought to the table as unique functionality. The real test was using the thing, though. Monday morning brought all of us back to the regular work-week. As one would expect in NW Oregon, it was raining, and traffic was heavy. No sooner did I get on I-5 than the GPS popped up with "traffic ahead" with a little flashing red car icon in the upper left corner. I fingered the icon, and it showed the freeway and the intersecting ones with colored lines to indicate where the traffic was bad. Eyes on the road! Ok, snap back to the 50mph traffic, and the voice pops again with some other warning like "traffic stopped 2 miles ahead". I glance at the GPS and see the color of the freeway ahead is red. Back on the road, I started to see taillights light up. I worked over to an exit ramp and started working surface streets. At the first red light, I zoomed out until I could see a really long stretch of freeway and I could see that the traffic snarl was miles long. I was able to detour and get back on the freeway after the tie-up. I found out afterward that the snarl was a multi-car wreck that delayed traffic for over an hour. It delayed me less than 15 minutes when I add in the time of driving surface streets instead of freeway.

When I think of the advantages of knowing where you are, it is hard to imagine why I would travel without one. Then, I remember that part of the joy of the journey is not knowing what's around the next corner - not knowing what lay ahead. If we already know all that there is to see, will we still look? How much more focus do we really need on the destination? Personally, I find I have to exert more effort than ever to recognize the value of the journey, to remember the process is the goal. I am very grateful for the live traffic alerts, and being able to find out if there's a public restroom within the next few miles. I hope that I can gain the restraint to otherwise ignore the shiny object on the dash and enjoy the vistas beyond the windscreen. More next time -

No comments: