My friend GyPSy Rose

Thank you to everyone who came out to the Cleveland Park library on a rainy afternoon yesterday and made it such a grand success. And I hope to see more of you at the SW Anchor library in Baltimore this afternoon.
As I mentioned, I have a travelling companion. She is small and dark, a little square, and hard, if delicate. Her name is GyPSy Rose.

Gypsy is a most patient companion, always willing to compensate for my quirks and mistakes by a nearly inaudible sigh and the comment, “Recalculating.” When I fail, despite her increasingly urgent entreaties, to Turn Right at the correct place, she neither criticizes nor comments, merely summoning her thoughts to provide me with an alternative.

Not that Gypsy Rose is without quirks of her own. I learned quickly that if she says nothing, for miles at a time, she is neither sulking nor broken, but merely wishes me to drive on the same road that she has provided, endlessly. This is one companion who only speaks when she has something to say, and her conversation is always to the point.

“In point two miles, turn right,” she suggests, then more urgently, “Turn right!” And if I fail to fling the car across four crowded lanes to obey, she gives her little sigh, recalculates, and restores me to order.

Nonetheless—and I say this out of her earshot—I am not fully appreciative of the skills of the GPS. I am a lover of maps. Maps speak to me in a wider vocabulary than that of my small square friend. I look at a piece of green against an uneven border of blue, decorated with a tracery of red and black lines, and I know that this is a stretch of coastland, and see that I am following the route of traders through the towns of fishermen and sea-side dwellers. A map gives a sense of the journey, shows a chunk of countryside, suggests the terrain by its relative straightness or windings, speaks of unseen obstacles or attractions in the circuitous nature of its detours. A map is a thing to be unfolded and draped across the top of a car hood, a picnic table, a horse’s pack, a log. A map tells me when I draw near towns with names that roll off the tongue:Mamaroneck and Stamford, New Rochelle and Chappaqua.

Gypsy is not good with the big picture. Her voice, her palm-sized screen, and her limited mentality present the world in tiny, unrelated segments. “In five point five miles, exit right” followed by “turn left, then right” tells me nothing about how near I am to the shore, how the highway skirts a river with historical echoes to its name. I get from there to here with no sense of where I have actually travelled, what sort of land or history lay within those miles.

I get there, but her companionship is unfulfilling.

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  1. Nikki on May 4, 2009 at 4:57 am

    Amen, sistah! I also love maps. My dad gave me the maps when we did cross-country trips (which we did frequently). He mostly did it to keep my mind occupied so I didn’t bug him to death. He also said things like, “You have to learn to navigate, Nik. If anything ever happens to me, you’ll have to tell your mother which way to go.” He was right. He died in 1978 and Mom couldn’t find her way out of a parking lot. Mom got strange looks from people when she told them her 9 year-old daughter gave her directions on long car trips. 😉

    The problem I have with GPS is the routes they suggest are often just plain wrong. They take you miles out of the way because a certain road is not on the internal map.

  2. Owl on May 4, 2009 at 5:39 am

    I’m the daughter of a map printer, so I am very familiar with the GPS vs. Map debate. Here in Maryland (if it wasn’t finals week, I’d be in Baltimore right now, or would have been in DC last night), specifically where I am, in a small historic city full of one-way streets our GPS believes are two-way, it sometimes seems better to have a map. But then again, trying to get through the “big” cities (Washington, DC and Baltimore) without a GPS (one way streets notwithstanding), or at least a navigator, is sometimes a dangerous experience, although I’m pretty sure our GPS has never told us of the Baltimore Aquarium, or the historic ship the Constellation, or that amazing Barnes and Noble all at the Inner Harbor. Now THAT would be something.

    I have yet to get my hands on The Language of Bees. I’m waiting for the library to get it so I can buy it in softcover later to go with the rest of the series (I bought the entire series after reading The Beekeeper’s Apprentice for school and devoured all them before the year ended). The oddest part is that I had a dream about the contents of the book (it entailed pirate ships) last night, I guess my brain’s way of telling me to get the book asap. It’ll be a worthy reward after these exams. 🙂

  3. Pat Floyd on May 4, 2009 at 6:31 am

    I too love maps, including geodetic survey maps that show topography and enable your exploration with map and compass. I’ve had no experience with GPS, but I do enjoy Google maps, especially satellite maps that let me see my old house in Raleigh, a friend’s apartment building in New York, and all manner of other things.

  4. Kerry on May 4, 2009 at 6:34 am

    I am definitely a lover of maps myself. While I certainly appreciate the value of GPS devices for solo navigation across strange cities, nothing can replace a good, old-fashioned paper map for trips. I like to start with my big Rand-McNally book of state maps to get an overview of alternative routes, then go to more detailed maps to make final decisions. When I’m playing passenger, I while away a lot of time reading the map, sharing funny-sounding names and places and speculating about what would be found if we took off on a different route.

    I am seldom blessed with having a navigator of my own when I’m driving, and miss it. I dream of taking a road trip bounded by little more than a starting point, an ending point, a good map, and a whimsical traveling partner with whom to explore all those blank regions between the tiny towns.

    I’m waiting on my copy of LoB as well, but have kept my hunger at bay with Kate Morton’s House at Riverton and the new Nevada Barr. But I’m going to finish the latter soon, so I’m hoping a book arrives sooner 🙂

  5. Cathy on May 4, 2009 at 7:16 am

    I was at the Cleveland Park talk, and it was great fun. Thanks for signing my book! And I also greatly appreciated the fact that you weren’t disturbed by the little voices in the outer foyer (i.e. my 6 and 2 year old talking about Mommy sitting in the blue chair watching the lady). There were some scathing looks from audience members, but the kids were just being ferried back and forth by their dad from the restrooms, which were also off the foyer. They were excited, because I had been excited in the car:)

  6. Kait B. Roe on May 4, 2009 at 7:48 am

    Dear Lori, we have a dear friend Carmen, who is a similarly bent travel companion. Unfortunately for us, she has begun, we think, to smoke the crack. This weekend we travelled from our home in Maine to PA for our puppy Levi’s family reunion (that is a long story involving rescue and fostering and all of that). But, back to my story regarding Carmen. She unwaveringly took us from Maine to CT, but once there, got us lost on a highway CT-15 which was closed, was unable to get out of her compulsive need for us to take this route and then I-95 and then proceeded not to tell us about the easy avoidance of NYC, instead taking us through what appeared to be the length of the Bronx to get to the George Washington Bridge and across to the NJ Turnpike… Some 5 hours later, we ended up sleeping in a Denny’s parking lot just south of Princeton rather than in the nice warm bed we were expecting in Philly. We pulled out a map on several occasions during this adventure, but were convinced she must know better, so listened to her… However, like you, we love our maps and so, on the way home listened to her screaming “recalculating,” “when possible make a u-turn” and other assundry things as we navigated using our trusty DeLorme Atlas. It is a shame that we spent so much energy ignoring our better selves on the way down, but we learned a valuable lesson… don’t listen to the crack addict looking for a score in the big city… NO, just take the Garden State Pkway, the Tappan Zee and avoid the traffic over the GW bridge! Thanks so much for bringing us your updates… I do wish, however that your friend Gypsy would bring you some how to Maine! Cheers, kait

  7. Erin on May 4, 2009 at 9:58 am

    This totally made me giggle. My friend has taken to calling the GPS I bought for her car “Your Majesty” or “Your Highness” because of the proclamatory voice. “Turn Right!” “Yes, Your Majesty!” It’s weird to get exasperation from a machine, but very true!

    I still look at maps before I go anywhere, just to make sure I’m better oriented with the area, but I’m a big fan of the GPS for expediency. Even with a map, we always have to factor in an extra 30 minutes or so for getting lost in San Francisco, but the GPS gets us to the freeway without so much detour. Sometimes the detour is fun, but sometimes you just want to get out of town.

  8. Laraine on May 4, 2009 at 10:31 am

    I think eventually those marvels at the Mac labs will come up with an iPhone app that far outreaches the common GPS . . . but for now, I’m with maps or instinct, not having the GPS gene splice just yet.

  9. Laura Kennedy on May 4, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    I have a friend who had a GPS for exactly a week and then returned it, calling it “Alzheimer’s-in-a-box.”

  10. La Donna on May 5, 2009 at 5:55 am

    My father’s GPS is named Brenda — because he has a lot of Brendas in his life who are always telling him what to do (stockbroker and tax accountant are both named Brenda). He doesn’t actually do what any of them tell him to do — just listens and then decides whether he agrees. He doesn’t do maps too much either other than to get a general feel for the area — he figures most of the midwest is on a grid and you pretty much aim the car in the direction of where you want to go and see what there is along the way. We didn’t let him drive or navigate when he came for visits when we lived in England and in Scotland!!

    On the homefront, our GPS has gone missing. My husband has declared that we need a GPS to find our GPS. Hmmm.

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