On Losing My GPS and Remembering Beethoven

Satellite orbiting earth
GPS Satellite NASA Art from Wikimedia Commons

After a lot of humming and hawing, I decided to get a new GPS (satellite navigation) system for my car.  I have had two of them in the past and although I loved them both, each of them has been stolen. Actually, those events are both interesting stories. The first time one was stolen was back in 2008 when, and this is hard to believe, rental cars didn’t always have GPS. I know! It’s amazing, but there it is.

The First Lost Garmin

I had flown down to California to visit with my family in San Jose and had put my GPS in my luggage because I planned to rent a car while I was there. Unfortunately, my luggage did not arrive on the same plane as I did, but the airline said they would deliver it to my sister’s house. When it wasn’t delivered, I called to find out what had happened. They said they thought I had picked it up. “No,” I said. “You were going to deliver it.” There was a stunned silence at the other end.

It turns out, they had set out several suitcases for delivery to passengers’ homes, and mine had been stolen from that collection. The content of my case ended up in a black garbage back on the lawn of a suburban home in Stockton, over an hour’s drive away from my sister’s place.  The police had collected it, found the name of my pharmacy on a medication container, and called them. The police had my luggage but not me, so they thought I was missing.

As it turns out, the pharmacist was also my across-the-street neighbour in Red Deer, Alberta and so she knew exactly who they were talking about. That was one of life’s amazing coincidences.  She contacted my friend and colleague who was staying at my house who then went through an old address book to find out my sister’s phone number. She called my sister, and that’s how I found out where my luggage was.

After a series of phone calls, my sister, her husband, and I all drove to Stockton to pick up the contents of my suitcase.  The suitcase itself was gone, but the police had meticulously itemized everything that had been in it, and placed each item in a separate, enumerated, brown paper bag.  Some poor soul had had to process everything, including my undies, and I never wanted to wear those undies again. They brought all the bags out to me on a cart and I had to sign for each one.  The only thing not included in those brown bags was my GPS. So, that was how the first one went missing.

The Second Lost Garmin

The second GPS was bought a year or more later.  I had managed without one, but I had driven down to California using one of those route maps that automobile associations provide. It came in the form of a long, thin multi-page booklet which detailed each time I needed to turn on to a different road.  Since I drove alone, I had to stop repeatedly to read the map and try to memorize what I had to do next each time. That became frustrating on a four-day drive, so I decided I really needed a GPS to tell me what to do.

I bought another Garmin, and I had been using it ever since then until last year when I flew down to California and left my car with my family in Edmonton.  When I got home last spring, my older son picked me up from the airport and as we were driving home I reacquainted myself with my car by looking in the glove box and front console.  Both were completely empty. My son and I were both surprised.

Everything was gone including the chargers for various electronic devices, the car tire pressure gauge, the car’s manual, and my GPS.  My son looked bewildered and dismayed, and had no idea when these items had gone missing. We can only assume that at some point the car had been ransacked, but we don’t really know when or where that happened. In any case, it was all stuff I could live without, and there were no personal documents or items of great value missing.

Trying Google Maps

I replaced the chargers with similar ones found at a thrift store for $3 each, and was going to get a new GPS right away but was persuaded by my son-in-law to try using Google Maps on my phone instead.  By this time, Google Maps had improved to the point where it could work much like my GPS, and I have been using it for several months. I found, though, that it doesn’t work as well for me as I would like. I don’t know if the fault is with my phone or the GPS system, but instructions were coming to me too late to change lanes in time for turns. Another problem I found is that the orientation of the maps was according to the compass, not the direction of my travel. So instead of the way I was headed being straight up on the screen, north was always straight up. In addition, the voice would say things like “Head west” when I had no idea which way was west. The Google system turned out to be great for reassurance that I had gone the right way but not very good at giving me advance notice of which way to go.

So, I decided that before I drove back to California again, I should get a new GPS. I was hesitating because they are not cheap, but was given added impetus after a conversation with my daughter-in-law. She was frustrated because she drives around the city a lot for her work, and Edmonton has a lot of speed cameras that take photos of cars that go over the speed limit.  The city then sends out fine notices that have to be paid before you can renew your car’s registration. They are expensive, and we have all had them. Even little old cautious me. Yes, it’s true. I have had speeding tickets. They are hard to avoid in Edmonton because there are very few signs telling you what the speed limits are and lots of those sneaky hidden cameras.

As we were discussing this and bemoaning the seeming unfairness of the system, we both agreed that it would be nice if we could have a GPS system that would audibly tell us when we had exceeded the speed limit by, say, 10 kilometres per hour. We also wondered if, in fact, such a thing already existed and it does. I looked it up online and, sure enough, Garmin has created a GPS that not only tells you, out loud, when you are speeding but also tells you when you are about to enter a school zone. Yippee! Home run.

Staples and the Woman in Black

So a couple of days ago I set out to buy a new GPS.  I was actually in a shopping plaza to keep an optometrist appointment, and nearby was a Staples store. Staples is a Canadian chain store that sells office supplies that include computers, printers and the like. So, I stopped in there to see if they sold the GPS I had in mind.

When I entered the store, I had to look around a bit because it was a place with which I was unfamiliar.  I noticed a little group of store employees gathered around a display of computer monitors, and a woman wearing black seemed to be explaining something complicated to the floor staff who were wearing red. Since they seemed to be engrossed in whatever-it-was, I thought I’d find the GPS section on my own.  After several minutes of wandering up and down aisles, I knew I was out of my depth so I went up to one of the checkout cashiers and asked her where it was. She directed me to aisle 8, and called out for one of the staff members in the huddle to help me.

The sales person helpfully showed me the section I needed and gave me a little advice on the choices. I asked him if one of the models gave audible information if you went over the speed limit, and he pointed to the number in the bottom left corner of the screen. “No,” I said. “Audible. . . So you can hear it.” “Yes,” he said “It does that.”

I wasn’t convinced, so I told him I needed to think about it. After he left, I got out my phone and Googled the model number so I could check its specifications.  Sure enough, he was right, so then I felt bad for not trusting him. Anyway, I had decided to buy that particular model, but then I had to find the sales person again.

I wandered back to where the staff were still grouped around the computer monitor. By this time the woman in black had worked herself up into a bit of a tizzy. I waited for a couple of minutes as she talked to the assembled staff. She was holding a stylus and asking if it didn’t work because it had been broken or because someone had stolen a part of it.  The staff were looking a bit befuddled but one of them had the goodness to point out that there was an actual customer (me) waiting for assistance.

The person who had helped me previously stepped aside and asked how he could help. I told him the model number of the GPS I wanted and he headed towards the back of the store presumably to get one for me from a storage area. On the way there, he saw someone else going in that direction and he asked that person to get it for him.

Oh, Joy

I waited by the checkout for the GPS to be brought there for me, and after a few minutes my salesperson came back, clutching a box in his hand.  He rang through my purchase and as I was punching in the code numbers for my credit card, he was whistling a tune I recognized.  I asked him what it was and he said it was a Christmas song.

“No, it’s not,” I said. I was absolutely sure it wasn’t a Christmas song, but I couldn’t remember what it was. He said he knew that it was a Christmas tune because it was on the store’s background music and it was stuck in his head. I disagreed and assured him it was not a Christmas song, and he grinned as we agreed to disagree.

I left the store with the song now stuck in my head. When I got home I realized that the song was Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” which had not originally been a Christian song, but the words of the poem “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” had been added later. So, we were both right.

However, when I opened the bag containing my GPS, I realized it was not the model I had asked for; it was not the one with the audible speed warning. I don’t know whose fault that was. At first I blamed myself for being preoccupied with my credit card and the song the fellow was whistling. But then I thought that maybe the person who got the item out of the storage area misheard what my salesperson had asked for.  Or, perhaps the salesperson had misheard me because the woman in black was still droning on about the broken stylus.

That’s what it must have been. I’m going to blame her. Who decides to have a staff meeting in the middle of a store, anyway? And why was she so cranky? And what made her think she could take up so much of so many people’s time? Because of her, and because that store was too far from my home, I went to a different branch of the same store to return the item I had bought and to exchange it for the correct model. That interaction was easily concluded.

I was sorry, though, that I couldn’t tell my salesperson the name of the tune he was whistling. He would have been glad to know he was at least half right.

Now that I think about it, half right would probably be NW on Google Maps.



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