We named our GPS Miss Smith because it has a no-nonsense female voice. She is usually pretty reliable in guiding us to where we want to go. Sometimes she gets annoyed because she likes taking the shortest route to a destination, which means if there’s a diagonal street such as Kingsway, which runs through East Vancouver and Burnaby, she’s all for it. But the diagonals often have weird junctions with the otherwise orthogonal grid, so we tend to pick a route that includes an easy crossing. Miss Smith will doggedly and seemingly with increasing exasperation keep “RECALCULATING” for as long as there is the tiniest possible diagonal stretch remaining along the route.
Other than this largely philosophical difference our relationship with Miss Smith is generally agreeable.
If I have a basic knowledge of where we’re going I don’t program a destination and just use Miss Smith’s screen as a map. It’s a lot tidier than a multi-fold paper map or one of those spiral-bound map books. In such a situation Miss Smith has no clue or interest in where we’re going and she says nothing.
Except for when we go up Mount Seymour, which we do a few times each winter to experience the deep snow. To get there, we have to go a few miles along a major east-west road called Mount Seymour Parkway until we turn left at Mount Seymour Road, which features a long series of switchbacks that take you to the top. It’s during this stretch of drive that something strange happens, every time.
Shortly after we get onto the parkway, Miss Smith perks up and tells us to take a left, and head uphill into a subdivision. We ignore her and after “RECALCULATING” she tells us to take the next left and so on for all the subsequent cross-streets. On the screen a series of lengthening loops are being drawn, all reaching back to the initial missed turn. Miss Smith wants us to reverse course and go uphill into that subdivision to a particular address on a particular residential side street. It’s an address that means nothing to us and—I have checked—is programmed nowhere into Miss Smith as a destination, waypoint, or anything. Weirder still, she is giving us instructions when she is not in navigation mode—when we’re using her as a map. She shouldn’t be saying anything! I eventually reach to change the settings and switch her voice to “mute,” which seems unfair and extreme, but otherwise she’ll be frantically RECALCULATING all the way up the mountain.
I’ve made note of the address she so desperately wants us to visit and have visited virtually using Google Street View. It belongs to a 1970s two-story house in a neighbourhood of similar houses, almost at the end of a curving road that noses up into the forest.
Why does she want us to go there? What would happen if we did, and rang the doorbell?
“Here we are,” we would say.
And the people who answered the door would say, “What took you so long?”