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DEBRA HALE-SHELTON: Losing a battle of wills with GPS

by Debra Hale-Shelton | December 15, 2019 at 1:59 a.m.

To My Not-So-Dear GPS:

I trusted you, and what did you show me? The wrong direction, over and over again.

Do not abandon me, you say? You'll do better next time, you profess?

Then tell me why you declared, "Arrived," when I turned into a PetSmart parking lot after directing you to find Arkansas Heart Hospital Clinic in Little Rock.

My Chiweenie dog and two cats don't even go to PetSmart for surgery preparation, and I certainly don't.

Another time you sent me to the Lexus dealership off Shackleford Road when, again, I was searching for the clinic. I cannot afford to browse at a Lexus dealership, much less shop there. Maybe, I admit, the mistake was partly mine for judging you too fast: I found the clinic a few yards behind the dealership.

I had trusted you with my dented 2001 Chevy Lumina, the $22 in fuel I'd pumped into it the night before, my effort to be on time for an important appointment. I had even demeaned myself enough to ask someone to check my power-steering fluid as it had been leaking--someone to whom I do not want to be indebted.

I had no idea that you would instead dispatch my car and, hence, me to a pet store, much less to a dead-end street in downtown Houston.

I was already stressed there because I was in unfamiliar territory. A day earlier you had also betrayed my trust by directing me to what turned out to be a roughly 50-mile detour through rural Texas.

Most egregious was the time I was headed to west Little Rock and you kept directing me back home. What do you have against me, dear GPS? I certainly would never embarrass you and cast dispersion on your wise guidance. Should I make that last sentence past tense?

I said "most egregious," but there also was the time you kept sending me back and forth along a highway that passes a Pope County junkyard where two white supremacists were murdered, their bodies crushed to death in old cars. Did you actually want me to stop there for directions? Did you hate me that much?

I acknowledge I'm not the best with directions. That's why I have relied on you so much since you were invented.

There were, I admit, other times I got lost. Perhaps a human gave me the wrong directions or wasn't precise enough. Perhaps I misunderstood and turned left instead of right or passed the service station that looks like thousands of others but is considered a local landmark.

"You can't miss it," they said. I did, more than once.

OK, I'm also easily distracted by the likes of conversation with any passengers in my car and by radio news about Donald Trump, whether it deals with Stormy Daniels, Vladimir Putin or toilet-bowl flushing. Food, fuel and restroom stops distract me as well, though I've never had to flush 15 times--at least not that I can recall.

Traveling by foot or by plane also has occasionally led me to me to unexpected adventures. Yes, by plane.

The year was 1997, before airlines clamped down on security after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. I was living in a Chicago suburb and caught a plane to visit my family in Arkansas.

After presenting my ticket, I took my seat in the aircraft and relaxed for the next hour and a half. As we were about to land, the pilot got on the microphone and announced the weather in Memphis. But I was headed to Little Rock, 160 miles away and the place where my dad had likely already arrived to meet me.

I panicked and somehow broke the news to my father after I got off the plane. I can't remember how I reached him. I had a cell phone, but he didn't. Finally with his help, though, I made it to my sister's home in Conway, where plenty of rolling eyes greeted me.

That wasn't the first time things went wrong in Memphis.

In the late 1960s, I was an almost-skinny 10th-grader, and food was the culprit.

Armed only with my clarinet and a few dollars, I was in Memphis to march with the Marked Tree High School band in what was then called the Memphis Cotton Carnival.

After the parade that night, I was hanging out with some friends in the midway when we began to head back to the school bus. That's when I noticed a vendor selling corn dogs and veered away from my group to buy one. By the time I had my corn dog, my friends had vanished.

I began walking in the direction we'd started. I walked and walked until I finally saw Buzz and Billy, both popular seniors, in their blue-and-gold band uniforms a few yards ahead.

I was lost, I confessed, and asked if I could walk with them to the bus. Sure, they said, a tad too confident of the route.

I tagged along but eventually concluded that Buzz and Billy didn't know where we were going either. Still, I didn't question them aloud. They were, after all, seniors. They knew what they were doing, I told myself more than once.

At some point, we ended up on a desolate dark stretch of Beale Street. This was before the street's rebirth in the 1970s as the nation's Home of the Blues. Many businesses had closed on the street and in a neighboring area. To make matters worse, it was almost midnight, and my once-confident guides had no clue which way to go.

Eventually, we saw a cab and hailed it.

"Where to?" the driver asked.

I don't recall what Buzz or Billy said, but I'm sure they were vague.

The driver drove in what seemed like a lot of circles until he apparently suspected that we had little money and no idea where we were going. That's when he stopped the car and made us get out.

We had just begun walking again when a frantic man rushed toward us from around the corner.

We were elated, as was our band director, who got us back to the nearby bus.

I grant, dear GPS, that you've occasionally been a godsend. Once, you directed me home to Conway after I found myself driving on a gravel road near Jonesboro and later touring downtown Cash, population 352. I thank you for that.

That said, I think it's best that we part ways. Perhaps you've outlived your time on this earth, or at least in my car. Perhaps I need a more dependable, updated guide as I navigate America's back roads, one-way streets, and even those roads not taken.

Sincerely,

Debra

Debra Hale-Shelton can be reached at dhaleshelton@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nottalking.

Editorial on 12/15/2019

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