Friday, September 30, 2011

The Perils of GPS

Travelling by myself, I am dependent on my GPS and my EZPass  transponder. (I wish I had the latter earlier; trying to scramble for tolls numerous times with a left arm that couldn't extend while I am trying to get to Boston before Shanna gives birth was not fun. Also we get discounts on the tolls). True the route to Boston is fairly straightforward but as I found out in my last trip, it is easy to get way laid.

It is 4 am and I seem  to be the only one on the expressway. Up ahead, I see flares across my path. I am forced off the expressway into I do not know where. In its clipped British voice, the GPS unhelpfully tells me to get back on the closed expressway. I do have a map somewhere in the car that may provide a hint where I am but I am afraid to pull over. I just drive a path that I hope is roughly parallel to the expressway which I think only added an extra mile to my route but some anxiety. In return for traffic updates in large metropolitan areas that give alternate routes, I see flashing ads for restaurants. In Buffalo, I am urged by this machine, not to go the usual route but another route that has me on surface streets during Buffalo's early rush hour. I am just hoping that I escaped a worse traffic jam but on the upside, I drive along the Niagara River for most of the route.

I thought by leaving at 8:30 am to go home, I would be missing most of the rush hour which should be headed in the opposite direction. Wrong unless it was even worse earlier, which I can't imagine. I ignored the GPS to take a longer route and ended up taking an hour for the first 15 miles. But after that, it was clear sailing, except for torrential rains around Albany that I could barely see through causing hydroplaning at one point ( I heard the next day was even worse along I-90 with major flooding). Somewhere around Hamilton, Ontario, the traffic comes to a screeching halt. Police are racing through on the shoulders. We are on top of a hill and I can see that the traffic (5 pm) is at a standstill but I am right next to an exit. I get off and randomly turn towards downtown. The GPS does not consider Hamilton a major metropolitan area so no alternate route is proposed, just an annoying voice urging me back towards the mess. I have no idea which way I am going as the freeway I got off  heads south at one point but mainly heads west so either I am going north or west. This GPS unfortunately does not give coordinates. I end up on the main street (King Street, a common name for main streets in Canada versus Main in the US versus High in the UK versus Corso in Italy) during rush hour! but at least it is inching towards my next expressway (the 403).

I think that the more than 24 hours that I spend alone on these drives will not be wasted. Without many distractions, I will be able to think deep thoughts and finally figure out what I should be doing with my life beyond Being Really Useful to my children. But instead, I play silly games like beat the GPS' ETA. This time is based on one never stopping for gas or traffic. It is solely based on the speed limits for the roads recommended. In the first hour alone, 40 minutes is added to the ETA. The original ETA is 11h 40 minutes.
Necessary stops: once for gas, twice for customs. The only way to beat the ETA is to keep stops to a minimum and go over the speed limit, which was hard in NY state given the rains though the troopers seemed to be taking a day off. However in Canada, the prevailing traffic is 10 to 15 mph over the limit as is MA. I cross over the bridge back into Michigan and there are open berths at customs..first time in Detroit and I zip through. But then I am corralled through a chute in which they are pulling apart two minivans in front of me and tell me to quit my engine. Oh, oh..but I have nothing interesting in my car. When it is my turn for the tear down, an officer asks why did I turn off my car? Um..the other guy told me too. They had no interest in my minicar and off I go.

I am obviously home now still catching up.

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