We pulled into the driveway after eight or so hours on the road returning from Montreal. The drive usually takes six and a half hours but we made two detours — one to avoid road destruction on I-90 (the Mass Pike), and a second jog to the north around Worchester taking us 45 minutes out of the way so we could get ice cream.
For us the detours are just as important as the destinations. And if the destination is ice cream, well then the extra time is required.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day Americans hit the road by the millions. I can’t speak to whether or not the road trip is as popular world wide as it is here, but this country is made for highway exploration thanks to its snaking ribbons of asphalt and concrete which run like veins across a map; or, more precisely pixelated maps that shimmer across smartphone screens.
In a sense, the advent of GPS has ruined things.
My phone app was constantly updating and rerouting to keep us from getting bogged down in traffic. I know what you’re thinking: that is a good thing. Sure, but where’s the sport in that? In a way it completely eliminates the ensuing argument between driver (the wife) and navigator (the husband — you can feel free to flip the roles to accommodate your own experience). It also eliminates most of the, “where the hell are we” conversations because with GPS, in theory, you always know where you are.
No map to unfold and refold. No highlighted yellow and orange roadways in a spiral bound trip map courtesy of AAA. No routes printed offline with turn-by-turn notations. Just a pleasantly voiced talking smartphone app that gently guides you on and off the highway saving you time and aggravation.
Truly this shouldn’t sound like a complaint.
Need a gas station, just ask. A restaurant, a Walmart, or in our case a favorite ice cream shack in Lancaster Mass, just ask Google.
Honestly, it’s pretty ridiculous how much we rely on Google during many of our excursions. In Montreal we used if for walking directions, area info and subway locations.
Practical, right? But the downside? My wife reminding that nothing screams “idiot tourist” like navigating a walk with one’s phone. I imagine those of us wandering Rue de Sainte Catherine staring into a glowing screen while periodically surveying our locale must look like we’re divining for water or seeking some mystical grail all the while asking, “Are we heading east or west right now? Is this right? I don’t think this is right do you?”
This leads me to wonder: how did we survive this long without Google and our smartphones? And is our reliance on such things making us “dumber” and less capable of navigating the logic of a city, any city?
Most cities, when seen from above are really well organized places. The most difficult thing becomes direction: uptown or downtown, east or west, north or south. That’s easily fixed by asking someone.
I wonder how does Google impact the wandering surprise discoveries we might otherwise make when taking the shortest, fastest route from point A to point B? The unexpected coffee shop, the random boutique, the street art might all fall away if we’re looking down rather than up.
My daughter’s generation rarely ever sees a map, much less knows how to read one. What happens when the lights go out? The most oft heard complaints of our weekend were, “Where’s the WIFI,” or “Why is the signal so bad?”
Thankfully, at times my wife adamantly insisted, “Phones down and look around.”
Good advice I think whether we are on vacation or just coming off one.