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Honey’s My Navigator

“In 800 feet, turn right on Pennsylvania Route 151,” said the pleasant female voice emanating from my wife’s cellphone.

I brought the car to a stop at Route 151 and angled to pull out left.

“Right! Right!” Honey barked.

“I was just squaring up to the intersection,” I said. It was a lie and Honey knew it was a lie, and I knew that she knew, so it wasn’t really a lie, it was an oblique admission of the reality that I’ve been having a bit of trouble with right and left lately, especially as we twist and turn through residential areas in search of the next yard sale.

At some point in the misty past I believed I had a good sense of direction, just as when I was 17 I believed that I wanted a girlfriend who was quiet. I had one, and our relationship was marked by long, boring periods of silence between kissy-face sessions. When Honey came along that situation was radically resolved . . . and happily, I should add.

But this is about my sense of direction, or lack thereof. My wife could tell you, and would tell you with no hesitation, that for years I have had a rotten sense of direction that has only gotten worse with age. Whichever way I think I ought to turn is almost invariably 180 degrees off.

“It’s not nice to make fun of someone with a disability,” I grumble when Honey laughs at me for starting to turn the wrong way.

HONEY IS THE ELDEST of three sisters and has always had a take-charge mentality. As a young child, she learned to read a road map while navigating for her father on the long drive from Weirton, W.Va., to Lake Worth, Fla., to visit her paternal grandparents. I can imagine her sitting beside her dad on the front seat of their Studebaker, a Rand-McNally Road Atlas on her lap and a highway map of the Southern States unfolded on top of it, telling Herschel about the upcoming section of routes US 1, I-95 or A1A.

For the last 50 years or so she has been my navigator, in life as well as on the highway. A file cabinet in the basement is still filled with tour books and those hard-to-refold road maps from a hundred road trips, but now we seldom dig through them for directions or points of interest when we drive somewhere.

Has it really been only 15 years or so since we would routinely ask the East Liverpool AAA office for a triptik, an incremental flip-card map from starting point A to destination point B? According to the internet, you can still request a triptik from Triple-A by mail or from a local office, but I wonder if very many people do.

IN LINE WITH our habit of buying very few things retail, our first Global Positioning System (GPS) device was a TomTom we bought for $5 at a yard sale. It worked very well. However, because it was several years old and we never bothered to go online to update it with highway changes, our route on the little screen would sometimes disappear and we would appear to be driving across a pasture, so far as TomTom knew.

We used yard sale TomToms for several years, but now it’s easier to verbally ask Google Maps on our smartphones for directions.

Recently when our cellphones died on a trip, however, we had to dig in the console for an old TomTom. The voice programmed in was a sexy, sultry woman’s, so Honey quickly searched the device for other voices and found one labeled “Hungarian grandmother.”

“Oh, you must haf gone the wrong vay, you vill haf to turn around now,” the Hungarian grandmother GPS voice would say. Or, “Turn right, you shoot take da highway now, just don’t go too fast, it makes me nervous.”

As we approached a very sharp turn, she said, “you shoot turn right now but I don’t know if you can make it.” She often prefaced her instructions with “Listen to me.” Instead of the typical bland “you have reached your destination” statement, she would say, “You shoot be in da right place, but if you aren’t, den you didn’t listen to me.”

We loved the Hungarian grandmother voice. She made the trip more fun.

THE GPS SYSTEM was created for the U.S. military, but when the Russians shot down a Korean passenger airliner in 1983 because it strayed into restricted airspace, President Reagan pledged to eventually make GPS available for civilian use.

Today there are 24 GPS satellites in geostationary orbit above North America and many others around the globe. They can pinpoint your location to within a few feet. GPS has thousands of applications, most beneficial, some, like tracking your movements, frightening in their implications for a free society.

If Google tracks Honey and me, a mathematical algorithm will identify us as retirees and yard sale addicts, old and cheap, and not worth tracking.

That’s fine with us. We’ll just keep on using those billion-dollar GPS satellites to find yard sale treasures at 50 cents or a dollar apiece. At least, we will as long as I have Honey as my personal GPS to keep me from making wrong turns.

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