As most of you know, I travel a lot for work. Usually, after one or two trips to someplace new, I can get around pretty easily with out my Mapquest maps to get me to the office, hotel, or airport. And I have never needed a GPS.
Enter New York. For the last eight weeks, I have been flying into LaGuardia airport every Monday, driving through New York City and into New Jersey to the client’s office. For safety reasons and to navigate the many, many, many streets, bridges, tunnels, and boroughs of NYC, I felt a GPS would be necessary. I am, after all, originally from a very small, Midwestern, one stop light town (OK, there were a couple of blinking yellow lights in my town, too). But, even with a GPS in NYC, I found that it was easy to miss a turn or to take an exit prematurely. When this happened (and it happened on more than one occasion), the GPS would re-route me to my destination. My security blanket.
However, at an extra fee of $10.95 per day from the rental car agency, there were some project budget concerns about my continued rental of the GPS (I won’t bore you with those details here – but by the end of the project the GPS rental fees would have totaled more than $1,200!) So, last week I decided that I would try this commute with out a GPS. Surely I can do this. Besides, I really only need the GPS to get me from the airport to the office on Monday and then from the office back to the airport on Friday. I rarely used it Tue-Wed-Thur anymore while I was tooling around New Jersey.
The non-GPS unit commute from the airport to the office last Monday was a breeze. NO issues. Wow! I can do this. My navigation confidence soared.
The non-GPS unit commute from the office back to the airport last Friday, on the other hand, was not as smooth. I took an exit (on the left) that I shouldn’t have taken. As I was in the far left lane and realized I needed to be two lanes over to the right, it was too late. I was cruising the exit, heading north (when I knew I needed to go south to get to the airport) with nothing but water on my left and tall buildings on my right. There was no southbound version of this exit in sight. Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap! I had no GPS unit to re-route me, what do I do? What do I do?
So, I saw a sign that said “Last exit before toll”. OK, I decided, I’ll take this exit because if I keep going north when I should be going south I’ll be paying an unnecessary toll and then I’ll just have to turn around and most likely pay another toll to get back, and I’m getting low on cash. So I took the last exit before the toll. It was a residential neighborhood (with REALLY tall buildings). I pulled over to the side of the road and stopped a woman walking down the street wearing and iPod.
“Uh, excuse me, I’m so sorry, do you think you can help me? You see, I took a wrong exit and I’m trying to get to the LaGuardia airport, and now I don’t know where to go. Can you tell me how to get there?”
“LaGuardia?” She replied, looking around as if she’s mulling this over in her head.
“Yes, yes, LaGuardia airport,” I replied hopefully.
“Uh, no, sorry, I don’t drive. So, I don’t know. Sorry”
Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap!
I drove another block where there were more people milling about and again pulled my car to the side. I hopped out and approached a Latino man wearing a suit. Surely he drives.
“Uh, excuse, me. Sir? Sir, excuse me, do you drive?”
“Jyes, Jyes I drive,” he replied in a thick Hispanic accent.
“Wonderful, OK good, you see I’m lost, and I need to know how to get to LaGuardia airport.” The look on my face must have been so pitiful and pained as I was pleading with this man to re-route me to my destination. My human GPS. He took his time deciding on the best route for me to take. He saidthe route out loud a couple of times. Changed the route, then changed it back again. Then he decided he should knock on the window of the car parked in front of me. The man in that car rolled down his window. My GPS man in the suit explained the question to the man in the car in very rapid Spanish. The only word I understood him say is “LaGuardia”. I chimed in to the conversation, in English, with my spiel, “I’m sorry, I’m lost, I’m trying to get to LaGuardia airport.” The man in the car wasn’t much help, but seemed to validate the directions the man in the suit was trying to give me and the man in the car drives away as the man in the suit is once again validating- out loud - the directions I am to take.
The directions end up being quite simple. Take this road to the end, 5 or 6 blocks, where you can only go left or right, there is a school at the end. Go right on Harlem River Drive. “Yes, Yes, I know Harlem River Drive!” Take Harlem River Drive to the Triboro Bridge. “OK, yes, yes. I know how to get to the airport there from there. That’s where I need to be. The Triboro Bridge. Thank you so so so much!” Fortunately, I already knew my flight had been delayed, so I wasn't in THAT big of a hurry. I hopped back into the car, and glance around at all of the other people milling about. Everyone looks Latino. The guys were speaking Spanish. Take this road to Harlem River Drive. Wait a minute….am I in Spanish Harlem? Where is Carlos Santana when I need him? I’m in SPANISH HARLEM. (This suspicion is later confirmed by local co-workers when I returned to the office this week.)
You see, up until a couple of weeks ago, places such as Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Midtown, the Bronx, Times Square, the George Washington Bridge, Times Square, Park Avenue, 42nd Street, Lincoln Tunnel, and Spanish Harlem were all fictional locations to me. Places I had only heard about in movies or on Seinfeld or Sex and the City. They were about as real to me as Camelot, Tara, the Yellow Brick Road, Naboo, Ork, or a land called Honah Lee. But now, here they are, every week in 3D. In Real Life.
And, to think, I now navigate this Fantasy Island, every Monday and Friday, with out a GPS.
Let’s just hope I don’t get lost THIS Friday on my way back to the airport. But, if I end up in Spanish Harlem, again, at least I'll know how to re-route myself.