Saturday, July 13, 2024

With a snide voice the GPS said we were at the airport: before us was a landfill

On the cover of The People’s Guide to Mexico by Carl Franz, Carl proudly displayed his motto, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

For many years I thought this to be hippie babble, the type of phrase born from the colorful contemplation during an altered state. However, it took several years of living in Mexico for the true beauty of this proclamation to awaken my snoozy hamster.

To not feel the need to be anywhere other than where I am is a very Mexican thing as well as a liberating state of mind. But there are times when one should be in a particular place at a particular time, even if one is enjoying the laid-back life in Mexico.

If you happen to be in a Mexican town or city, finding your way around can either be a rewarding cultural excursion which becomes an afternoon of simple joy never to be forgotten, or a mind-wrenching odyssey filled with fear and apprehension.

You will soon discover some streets have no signage with street name or direction of traffic flow. And, I have discovered the hard way, that some street names are used more than once, even quite close to each other, and some streets change names every few kilometers.

However, at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, more and more people depend on the latest gadgetry with a multitude of apps to guide their every step in our modern world. From general information to communication to cartography, the smartphone, with its instantaneous repartee in response to your every caress, has taken even Mexico by storm.

The need to be fully engaged at all times with this handheld device is so obsessive in some people they literally die a violent death while clutching their smartphone. Laws against texting while driving have been adopted by most first world nations, but here in Mexico I don’t think such laws have been passed.

If I’m wrong and even if there are such laws, I would expect that enforcement would be sporadic at best.  I have never seen anyone pulled over for phone use while driving. On the other hand I have countless times seen police using phones while driving or riding.

Having a high-speed encounter with a distracted driver is one of the many dangers people face on a daily basis here.

Another techno development, given the number of similarly named streets everywhere, is becoming hopelessly and helplessly lost while using Google Maps in an urban area. Things can go wrong with this technology anywhere, but in a place with many of the same street names, there are increased opportunities.

Having only used the analog version (printed road maps) to get around in my life beforehand, I was a bit suspicious when the Captured Tourist Woman requested a GPS for the car we rented in Tijuana several years ago.

It was my first brush with GPS. We were headed into southern California for a few days and she assured me that our new digital companion would guide us through the labyrinth of freeways and surface streets much better than a paper map.

My first problem with our GPS device was the rather snide voice it used while issuing its directives, as if it was a burdensome task to communicate with the lowly mortals within the vehicle.

We made our way out of Mexico to and then around San Diego and then into LA just fine, with our TomTom GPS perched on the dash of the rental car. However, as we left LA, heading back to San Diego, a detour shunted us into uncharted territory.

I say uncharted because the GPS became confused and kept trying to get us back to where we just came from. If we had not left a deposit on the damn thing, I would have pitched it out the window. That was my first hint that my disapproval of the equipment might be well based.

After retail therapy and live theater enlightenment, we crossed back into Tijuana and followed the directions dictated by our digital companion. As we were headed back to the car rental place, close to the Tijuana airport, problems really began.

Tijuana is a town of almost one and a half million people, so the road system is extensive, and busy in many places. After 10 minutes of driving, I said to the GPS unit, and to the CTW, “I don’t think this is the way to the airport.” The GPS ignored my remark.

The CTW didn’t. She assured me the device knew the streets of Tijuana far better than I did, and exhorted me to follow the directions. After 30 minutes of driving we crested a hill which gave me a panoramic view of the city in my rear view mirror. We stopped and looked back at the city and could see the airport in the far distance.  A glance at the CTW’s watch confirmed that it was unlikely we’d get to the airport in time now.

I firmly believe our GPS was an evil, vindictive device which sensed I did not care for its haughty manner, and took revenge for my disdain. I know it had been waiting for just the right time to plunge us into a neighborhood of tin and tarpaper shanties, all the while confidently urging us further on with a voice I had learned to loathe before triumphantly announcing, “You have arrived at your destination,” as we looked at what appeared to be the local landfill.

As a mostly rational person, it had never dawned on me there could ever be two or more streets with the same name in any town. But apparently when it comes to naming streets here in the land of mole and mota, rationale has nothing to do with it. Wherever you are in Mexico, where there are streets, you can always find a Revolución, or Benito Juárez, and in big cities maybe two or three of them.

I have wondered from time to time what would have happened if I’d orally confronted TomTom when hearing “Recalculating” or “At the next safe opportunity, do a U-turn” or upon arrival at the landfill.

Would I be told something like “You can’t handle the truth?” Or would it the more Mexican “I’m just telling you what I think you want to hear?”

But the Acme Expat Immersion Therapy and Attitude Modification Program has once again allowed me to rise above what might otherwise be a source of great frustration and inconvenience, and instead allowed me to move into a Zen state, in which I can calmly and capably respond to challenges as they arise, utilizing deep breathing and biofeedback techniques.

Thus I can make my way around these days with GPS instructions echoing, and I still enjoy the drive. Of course I take everything the GPS says with a grain of salt, a bit of lime and a shot of tequila.

And this is the approach I recommend. Always remember, if you don’t know where you are going, you may end up someplace else.

The writer describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time in Mazatlán with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half wild dog. He can be reached at [email protected].

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