Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Publication Date: 07/1/2008
Archive >  July 2008 Issue >  Tech-Op-Ed > 

Baptism of Fire
Walter Salm, Editor .
Last month, my wife resigned as my navigator. Doesn't matter what I'm driving — our car or our big Diesel-gulping home on wheels — she has resigned. No longer will she diligently peruse the nice paper maps from AAA to bail me out, nor will she offer suggestions. When she resigned, she meant it, saying "Go get a GPS."

This is new. She has always thought of me as being overly gadget-happy (guilty as charged), but never once in the many years we have been married has she ever suggested and urged on me the purchase of a techni toy. Until now. The turning point came when we were headed for our summer quarters in White Cloud, Michigan, and I took the wrong turn off the Interstate in Grand Rapids. It took several miles of guesswork to get my 55-feet of vehicles (40-foot coach plus tow- car) turned around and on the correct highway.

But the real clincher came a week later when we went by car into Grand Rapids on some errands and got hopelessly lost. The maps I had were next to worthless. I found Grand Rapids to be hopelessly surrounded on all sides by urban/suburban sprawl, and I couldn't find the malls and stores I wanted, much less the friendly AAA office for their free maps.

When the GPS was a brand new concept, we carried a page one story in our twin January 1991 issues of Atlantic Tech and Pacific Tech. These twin editions were published during the first three months of 1991. There was a war going on in Iraq (sound familiar?); the headline story was about American soldiers calling home and making credit-card purchases of a device known as a "Magellan" to help them find their way around the trackless and landmark-less desert. The gadgets were totally portable, and cost about $4,500.

Only a handful of Magellans had been issued by the army to some lucky officers. The non-recipients elected to get their own no matter what the price. It was really a matter of life or death for some of them. And thus the GPS got its baptism of fire.

Finally, I succumbed to the inevitable the other day and bought my very own very first GPS at Sams Club, a low-end Garmin for $179. I was killing time while four new Michelin tires were being installed on my car, so it was inevitable that I browsed the electronics department. You will notice that I continue to do my part to help the economy.

The new GPS is far more accurate than those $4,500 units used back in 1991 and is loaded with features that weren't available then. It talks, but doesn't accept voice commands.

I didn't buy it in Grand Rapids. I'm still a little leery of that city. Instead I went to Muskegon; I can find my way around there. I also found the AAA there and got a fistful of paper maps. Today, we tried out the GPS, just going to nearby Fremont for some shopping. Fremont, Michigan is easy; it's small and manageable — about 6,000 population with one gigantic Gerber Baby Foods factory and our destination, a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The $179 GPS was perfect except that for some reason, it calls our RV Resort the "Excelsior Campground" which never existed at this location. Some map-reading programmer must have imported the name from somewhere else by mistake. Eventually, I hope to be able to correct this error.

The next big test will be Grand Rapids. Before GPS, I managed to find two stores that I totally missed while getting lost the week before: Camping World and CostCo. The only reason I found them was that I got very specific and detailed directions from neighbors and some added help from MapQuest before I left the campground. Now I plan to take up the challenge by using my new GPS.

My wife still refuses to navigate for me, but is fascinated by the new toy. It even works when I unintentionally confuse it by making an unplanned U-turn; it takes a few moments to get new bearings and correct itself. Look out, world. I'm heading for Grand Rapids again. This time with a GPS!  

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