A frightening discovery occurred during a trip to Waltham, Massachusetts for a training seminar. My family accompanied me for the journey, as it was during summer vacation, but like many terrifying realizations, it occurred when I was alone.
First, I need to explain that my wife’s GPS doesn’t like me. While it works fine for her, it regularly gives me inaccurate, impossible, or hazardous directions. She claims this is because I yell at it. However, I only yell after it makes such entertaining recommendations as sending me into a non-existent road off of Ocean Parkway in the middle of Brooklyn (right after I had just refused to make the illegal left it suggested as we left the parking lot.) Therefore I feel justified in my yelling.
It has various voices to choose from. Following the Star Trek and James Bond logic, we figured I’d be more likely to pay attention to a woman’s voice. The first one we tried was very suggestive and breathy sounding. While entertaining, it was way too far “in character” as it was the only voice that didn’t seem to be smart enough to know street names. I ended up settling for a more emotionless female speaker.
Technology was already conspiring against me that week. I learned from the first time actually wearing the thing that the silent vibrate motor of my Blackberry was so powerful that it jiggled my innards any time I received a new message with such force that I immediately needed to sprint to the rest room. I ended up missing a couple portions of the class until I figured out how to turn off that useful “feature”.
As I’ve spent almost all of my driving time in densely populated (in some cases, VERY dense, you know who you are) New Jersey and New York I have lost any privileges allowing me to complain about other local area driving customs. However, there’s a New England based issue that led to this nerve wracking lesson.
I am not referring to the rush hour allowance of using the shoulder as a lane in Boston. Despite the interesting games of chicken this invariably produces at exits, it was previously known and accounted for.
The fact that the inventions of sunglasses and visors have not penetrated Connecticut yet was not known. This makes a complete and long lasting stop the only alternative for drivers when they come around a bend in the highway and face the sun. While this did slow the return trip considerably; it was not connected to the startling surprise.
The driving peculiarity that led to my revelation was that gas stations in the Boston area are apparently not allowed to operate after sunset. Whether this is linked to the Connecticut sun glare stopping phenomenon is unknown.
We knew we’d have to fill up the tank again as they had planned a trip to the mall while I was in class the next day. Having only received her license after we got married, and only driving in New Jersey since then, my wife had no experience with the alien concept (to those in our state) of self-serve gas. (There was, however, “family gas pumping lesson” time on the way home, to prepare for the future.). We spied a rest stop on I-95 South and several stations in the town, on our way to a fabulous New England seafood dinner at my cousin’s house, and figured we would have our pick of stations to stop at on the way home. It was quite a surprise when we left the fun filled evening at a reasonable (to those who live in the New York metropolitan area) hour to find all the stations near their house were closed. We passed the rest stop on the way home…and kept passing. Unlike some civilized states I could mention, the rest stop was only on one side of the highway, with no access from our northbound lane.
“No problem,” I foolishly thought, “our hotel is surrounded by other hotels, with business travelers arriving twenty four-seven. Surely the gas stations there will be open.” Not only weren’t they open, but the Boston Commission for Moving Construction Locations was working overtime into the night at full force. They had set up a nice automotive obstacle course (completely different from the one we passed through on the way out) for us to get to the hotel. Low on fuel and rushing (must have gotten an e-mail on the way home); I took a pit stop and then left my family behind to allow my daughter to get to bed while I ventured back out.
My goal was the rest stop on the southbound lane we had passed back when the GPS was pretending to be a normal and correctly functioning navigational device. It had, for a change, performed very well getting us out and back that evening. I swerved through the construction slalom course on my own to find my way to the highway. This allowed me to leave the GPS untouched and set to the hotel, preventing me from having to modify any of my wife’s magical incantations to get it to direct the journey properly. I figured this would let me return to my family once I completed the barbaric practice of self-serve.
After filling the tank by implementing a long dormant skill (luckily, I went to college in New York) I consulted the soon to be named electronic entity for the way back. What it showed me was quite astonishing. Out the car’s window, I could clearly see an off ramp just past the parking lot exit I was pointed towards, that I hoped would allow a U-turn n one way or another. However, the GPS very specifically illustrated a road behind the rest stop building that looped around and connected with the north bound highway providing me a direct route back. I followed my digital guide’s instructions and began driving around the back of the rest stop in the direction indicated…
straight into the glaring beams of the headlights of an oncoming eighteen wheeler.
I immediately realized three things:
1) There was no road connecting to the northbound side.
2) I was facing the wrong way on a one way route for trucks using the rest stop.
3) Now that it finally had me alone in the car, the GPS was making a concentrated effort to kill me.
I initiated a rapid, somewhat panicked U-turn spotlighted by the oncoming truck, accelerated for the exit of the rest stop and shot toward the nearby earlier seen off ramp hoping to avoid being flattened and possibly reverse my highway course.
The GPS started up again as if nothing had happened, coldly and calmly telling me to turn right for the exit off the highway.
But I swear, as I was slowly guiding the car through the tight bend of the narrow, uninhabited and unlit road passing under I-95 I heard it say …
”My name is Talky Tina, and you better be nice to me.”