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The bitch on the dashboard

© 2008 Fay Jacobs

Fay Jacobs

We got a navigation system for my car. I was determined to hold out, as I didn't get my orienteering badge in Girl Scouts for nothing, but several recent episodes changed my mind.

Two weeks ago we tried to get into Manhattan from upstate, missed a turn and traveled all five boroughs before finding the 59th Street Bridge. We were not Feelin' Groovy. (Gen X-ers, tell me you get that reference, please…).

Then I got confused returning from Western Sussex and wound up driving through Gumboro twice. Once is too much.

So going to New York City two weeks ago, we stopped at Circuit City in Christiana to go to the bathroom. Laugh if you will, but it's the cleanest loo in Delaware. Besides, that's how far our bladders can make it on a jumbo cup of morning java. And as a bonus I can shop. So we bought a GPS Navigation System, went out to the car, plugged it in, stuck the screen up on the dashboard and headed North.

I was a little surprised that the navigation voice had a British accent. She was pleasant enough, but told us to exit the parking lot in 3 kilometers. Not knowing my metric conversions, we missed the turn, and Mary Poppins said "recalculating" and gave us more directions we couldn't follow. At this rate we'd be circling Cosco until Thursday.

The predicament reminded me of those "read all the way through before starting your test" requirements. I shoulda read the pamphlet first.

"Ignore her," I said to Bonnie, "here's the exit." The voice said "re-cal-cu-la-ting. Turn in four kilometers." She was a more irritating backseat driver than I was.

I know I should have looked in the book to find out how to emigrate her over the pond but I get carsick if I read when we're moving, and Bonnie was busy missing the I-95 ramp three consecutive times. So we let the Queen keep telling us how many metrics it would take to miss the next exit. When we pulled off for lunch, she seemed a tad annoyed. I felt compelled to tell her we were stopping for a spot of tea.

Getting us back on the turnpike, we were sent around our elbows to get to our thumbs, past the diesel pumps and exhaust-spilling 18-wheelers. When we followed our instincts instead of her directions I swear it was a testy Margaret Thatcher denouncing us. "Re-cal-cu- la-ting you dumb Yankees..."

Finally, I pushed "menu" and mid-chastisement hired an American. Her voice was more casual, but no less irritated when we ignored her. At least we knew how many tenths of a mile we'd gone before missing a turn.

By the Newark New Jersey airport we looked for the Holiday Inn. Although our date was in Manhattan, this was the closest room we could get because of the upcoming NY Marathon.

"Turn right at ramp in three quarters of a mile," said Miss America. The Holiday Inn was off to the left, I saw it. We exited as told, but then GPS lady told us to turn right. "But it's off to the left," I told Bonnie. "Turn right in two tenths of a mile," said the disembodied dashboard bully. "No, turn left!" I said.

"I can't argue with both of you at once," yelled, Bonnie, who then went the wrong way on a one way street. Did I mention that the neighborhood resembled gang turf? "Recalculating, Recalculating,, Recalculating. " The arrow on the navigational device screen was now so convoluted it channeled a Miro painting.

By the time we found the Holiday Inn again we'd gone round Robin Hood's barn, back an exit on the turnpike and slightly insane. Are we in Wasilla, Alaska, yet??? (God forbid)

As we parked and got out, Bonnie reminded me to put the GPS in the glove box like the salesman suggested. I considered leaving her in plain view. Drive a criminal crazy.

Later, on the way into the City, my city, mind you, where I grew up and knew pretty much every route to everywhere on its easily numbered streets, we listened to our GPS lady again and missed the Holland Tunnel.

Dashboard girl recalculated, taking us through lovely Jersey City, past the back side of the Statue of Liberty and after a few weird turns to our destination - the annual Women's Gala for the New York Gay & Lesbian Community Center. Though the party was at the Chelsea Piers along the Hudson River, the navigation screen showed the car on 11th Avenue at a falafel stand.

But we got to the gala, where we had been graciously invited by my former prom date, now a big supporter of the Community Center and proprietor of New York's Chelsea Pines Inn B&B. If all went well, I'd get the chance to dance with him again after a mere 42 years. (We did!)

We were all spiffed up to join hundreds of women and not a few men at the event, where the guests of honor were Lisa Sherman (head of LOGO network, and the spectacular speaker at last year's Women's Conference here), Ilene Chaiken, creator of The L Word TV series and several of its cast members.

Amid flowing cosmos and a dazzling dinner, several speeches touched me, but it was a breathtakingly moving speech by L Word's breathtakingly beautiful Jennifer Bealls that made me cry.

Here was a straight woman, who played gay for Hollywood, choked up about having a chance to help educate America about equality for her gay friends. And with the series ending this Spring, she's saddened that her on-screen opportunity to do so is ending. But off-screen we've got a friend for life. Bonnie got to shake Jennifer Beall's hand, and hated to wash her hands after that. I did want to wash our hands of the GPS, but Bonnie lobbied to give her another chance. Aiming for the Airport Holiday Inn, we toured airport departures, arrivals, several service roads and the same toll booth going both ways before landing.

The next morning, on the return trip, we didn't even try. But just for a laugh, nearing Lewes we decided to see what the bitch on the dashboard had to say. She'd never even heard of our street. All of a sudden we heard "satellite reception lost. Satellite reception lost." And the screen showed us driving off the Nassau Bridge. It was all I could do to keep from tossing the electronic device off the bridge.

I'm not saying I'm giving up. After all, it's worth a try again to avoid trekking through Gumboro and hearing banjo music. But just in case, I'm buying a new atlas. You can never be too low-tech.
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Fay Jacobs, a native New Yorker, spent 30 years in the Washington, DC area working in journalism, theater and public relations. She has contributed feature stories and columns to such publications as The Advocate, OUTtraveler, The Baltimore Sun, Chesapeake Bay Magazine, The Washington Blade, The Wilmington News Journal, Delaware Beach Life and more.

Since 1995 she has been a regular columnist for Letters from CAMP Rehoboth, and won the national 1997 Vice Versa Award for excellence. Her columns are collected in the books, As I Lay Frying: a Rehoboth Beach Memoir and the newly published Fried & True - Tales of Rehoboth Beach.

Fay is Publisher and Managing Editor of A&M Books, the publisher of the 14 classic Sarah Aldridge novels.

She and Bonnie, her partner of 25 years, relocated to Rehoboth Beach, DE in 1999. They have two Miniature Schnauzers and a riding lawn mower.

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