I am a map person. I have been since college, when my habit of getting lost on the way home from school prompted my grandfather to give me my first road atlas as a Christmas present. I use maps for driving, running, biking, and walking. I buy maps at the store, use maps from guidebooks, and customize maps on Google Maps. When I have a new road race coming up, I download the course map, print it, and post it on the fridge. Last December, when I couldn’t find a course map for a 5K, I e-mailed the race director.
The first thing I do when I arrive in a new place is buy a map. I visited New York City for the first time two years ago, and as I walked the streets with a big map in front of my face, I thought of myself as more of an explorer than a tourist. The way I saw, GPS people had no sense of adventure. Instead of using their own orientation skills, they would rely on a robot to tell them where to go and how to get there.
Two winters ago, my friend Heather and I planned a road trip to Arizona. Just before we left, her parents gave her an early Christmas present—a GPS. I was annoyed. What, were my maps not good enough? That had gotten me safely through twenty states' worth of road trips. And anyway, half the fun of a road trip, for me, was taking a break in a parking lot or restaurant, busting out a map, and tracing the journey with my finger. When Heather realized, at our first hotel stop, that she had left her charger behind, I was delighted.
The trouble with maps, however, is that they cannot talk to you. This isn’t such a problem if you’re running, or if you have a passenger who can act as navigator, but it is a problem when it’s dark and snowy and you’re driving through an unfamiliar section of Amherst trying to find your stranded fiancé before he develops frostbite. This happened to me in January, and as I crawled along Niagara Falls Boulevard at fifteen miles an hour, squinting in a desperate attempt to read house numbers and street signs that had been rendered invisible by the blowing snow, I started to re-think my total allegiance to paper maps and road atlases.
In February, Dan and I took a trip to Rochester, a city we’re not overly familiar with. We asked Heather if we could borrow her GPS. I guess it was like that thing where you’re thinking of getting a dog or having a kid so you borrow someone else’s dog or kid for a few days to see what it’s like.
K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider navigates for us. Image: ComicMix
“Mandy,” as Heather calls her Tom-Tom (“Mandy” is the name of the voice she programmed to give out the directions) was a little bossy, and she liked to tell us two or three times to “stay right” or alert us to a "right turn ahead" when we had already figured out that we should “stay right” or be ready for a "right turn ahead." But she didn’t steer us into a lake, and when we took a wrong turn in the middle of the city, she quickly re-calculated and put us back on the road towards home. We put off returning Mandy for an extra week.
The night before the “Around the Bay,” Dan and I went to our favorite restaurant, Cajun Quarter, a station in the food court of the Boulevard Mall where you can get a heaping plate full of noodles, veggies, and two different types of spiced chicken for 5 bucks. I seriously dare you to find better Asian cuisine in Buffalo.
Anyway, on the way out of the mall, we stopped in at Radio Shack (ostensibly to look for re-chargeable camera batteries) and wandered over to the GPS display. The Tom Tom One was on sale for 90 bucks, down from 150. It came with a car charger and a dash mount. So after mulling it over for about 30 seconds, we bought it. Once we got home, we hooked it up to the computer and downloaded the voice of K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider.
K.I.T.T. got us safely to Hamilton and even helped us find a gas station off the QEW. He helped us find a place to park, and after the race he helped us find our way out of the busy city and guided us to a nice mom and pop café.
Bonus: when he directs you onto the highway, K.I.T.T. says, “Super Pursuit Mode!”
Because the “Around the Bay” is so huge (10,000 runners once you factor in the relay), athletes have to pick up their packets one or two days in advance. The Friday before the race, when we hadn’t gotten K.I.T.T. yet, I traveled to and from Hamilton by myself. I was fine. But the city was a little less crowded then, and I still had to stop once to ask directions (something I’ve always had a hard time getting Dan to do when he’s driving). We’ve made many a successful journey with nothing but our wits and my dog-eared, slightly outdated road atlas, but K.I.T.T. made things a little easier. And after running 18.6 miles, instead of navigating, I was able to nap in the passenger seat all the way back to Buffalo.