North by West Virginia

My parents have a different perception of technology than I.
To me, computers, smartphones and gps navigation units bring the level of thought required to complete mundane tasks to practically nothing. One such task is finding the best route possible from South Carolina to New York – and the piece of technology is trust to make this simple is a gps navigator. I support this electronic device’s decisions completely.

I realized today my dad does not agree. In fact, he seems to view gps units as wretched devices that are part of a conspiracy to destroy his life. He may actually consider them an insult to his own intelligence.

But he loves the OnStar in his truck. He uses it to get to places around town, even when he knows exactly how to get where he’s going.

“See?” he’ll say after the automated voice suggests an awful route. “If we had gone the way OnStar said, it would have taken all day to get there.”

It’s as if OnStar’s primary function in his life is to show how smart he is.

I knew this before we left for New York from South Carolina today. I should have smelled trouble when he rejected my suggestion we go through Waterloo, S.C., to get on I-26 because “that’s the way my gps took me last time.”

Dad always has a better way – a route tested and proven at some point in the past. So what if I’d made the same trip in record time following the gps three weeks prior?

I offered little resistance when I saw him bypass the state highway in West Virginia that connects I-77 and I-79 a few hours after Waterloogate. I assumed he had a “better way,” and suggesting we heed OnStar’s advice would lead to another story about how gps navigation will eventually trigger the Apocalypse.

But I knew something was up an hour after passing this connecting state highway, which I’d always used on trips home, when Dad appeared to be having an extended conversation with a toll booth worker.

(We had two cars on this trip – Dad’s truck, which I was driving at the time, and my car, occupied by my mom and dad. At the time, he was leading the way, per his request, while my uncle, daughter and I followed.)

“You know what?” I said to my uncle. “I bet he doesn’t know where he’s going.

“We should have taken 19 toward 79.”

Three minutes after the toll, my phone rang. It was Mom.

“Do you know where we’re going?”

I told her we weren’t going the wrong way, but we were going the long way, as taking 19 was the way to go. She was disgusted that I hadn’t called when we missed “the turn.”

We decided I would turn on OnStar in the truck and lead the rest of the way.

Thirty miles later, we faced a dilemma: OnStar suggested taking 77 – not 79 – through Ohio and eventually to I-90. Since I was not accustomed to this route, I complied – and mom and dad veered off at 79.

This sent both carloads into a smartphone-fueled tizzy.

“Why did you go that way? You know 79 goes right up through Pittsburgh and you can get on 86. Why would you take a road that goes through Ohio? Who cares what OnStar said – they don’t know what they’re doing.”

A tenacious pause.

“I don’t have my cell phone charger or a gps.”

Mom said this as the miles between our vehicles increased by the second. I thought of offering to turn around and meet in Charleston, W. Va., but realized that would be a hassle since none of us knew that town. I suggested they go “their” way and we’d go ours, reminding her she had a gps on her phone and my charger plugged into the cigarette lighter near her knee would ensure battery life. We’d end up in the same place.

Dad called a few minutes later. I could hear Mom chirping frantically in the background as if both cars were on paths to fall off different ends of the Earth.

“Listen, just call us when you get close. You’ve got OnStar and Mom’s figuring out the gps on her phone.”

I decided it was a bad time to remind him Mom had just got done saying OnStar doesn’t know what it’s doing.

“Sounds good,” I said calmly.

Eighty miles later, my phone rang again.

“Okay, this is what we’re going to do. Call OnStar and have them pull up the conversation I just had with them. They’re going to direct you to a rest area on 79 where we can meet.”

Basically, their intention was to complete this zig-zag across West Virginia. Once finished, we will have spent 6 hours in a state the size of a large county, I thought.

So shortly before Ohio, we left 77 for a state highway that’d take us 65 miles east to 79. The plan was to arrive at the same place at roughly the same time. The odometer stated we’d already gone 500 miles of an 800 mile trip and still had 400 miles to go. Essentially, we’d added 100 miles to the voyage by not using the gps until it was too late.

By the time we met – at an IHOP since the rest area ended up being closed (which wasn’t ironic at all) – everyone was sick of driving and Dad decided we would stay overnight at a hotel. The plan is to leave the next day.

I’m not going to suggest following the gps. That should go without saying.

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