Vaudeville comedians used to love picking on back-seat drivers, especiallywomen back-seat drivers. But modern-day comics now can aim at a unisextarget in the front seat - a space-age nagger called a global-positioningsystem or GPS.
Originally, only the military had GPS equipment, which bounces signals offfour or more satellites to determine where the global-positioning unit isand how to get where the driver, pilot or navigator wants to go.
These days, GPS technology is used for a host of commercial and personalfunctions, and the systems have gone from big, clunky boxes to tiny devicesand dinky cell-phone apps.
Someday probably, we'll each have global positioning medically inserted intoour brains, which will move us around like remote-control cars. Imaginebeing that navigator!
For people of a certain age, GPS sounds very Flash Gordon-outlandish or BuckRogers-unlikely. Supposedly, though, it works ... at least most of the time.
Sometimes, however, even the best technology can have a senior moment.
Cousin John and his wife Pat were driving down Highway 1 from San Franciscoto Cambria. They've been visiting us here via that route for more than 30years, but John turned on the GPS anyway, for fun and to track how muchfurther they had to go and how long the device figured it would take tocomplete the journey.
At one point in the steepest, twistiest part of the roadway, the GPS becamedirectionally challenged.
"Turn right in 300 feet," the little lady leprechaun inside the GPS said,not acknowledging that the only route to the right was 800 feet straightdown to the rocky shoreline below.
"Turn right in 100 feet," the GPS said more insistently. How adorable! Theengineers programmed in some impatience.
"Turn right NOW," the leprechaun insisted indignantly. "Turn right NOW."
Then all was silent, except for chuckling noises heard from Pat and John.
Finally, the electronically stubborn GPS said disgustedly, "Go back! Turnaround!"
John turned it off. When he turned the GPS back on again, the lady seemed tohave regained her composure, and allowed them to proceed on the only routethey could take at that point along Highway 1, short of taking a sudden,chilly swim.
On another visit, the same GPS kept exhorting John and Pat to turn left inplaces where there were no left-turn opportunities on that stretch ofHighway 1, apparently having determined that the only logical route toCambria was on Highway 101.
Other family members have had similar GPS experiences, including our sonRichard and daughter-in-law Robin.
Their device was trying to direct them someplace impossible, too. Once pastthe point of no return, a disagreeable-sounding GPS voice growled,"Recalculating route. Please wait."
The ultimate family misdirection wasn't from a GPS, however, but wastriggered by a one-letter error in a request to Google Maps.
Son Richard wanted a route mapped out from Reno to Murdock, Wash., a tripMapquest estimates would require 22 direction changes to go 550 miles inabout 9.5 hours.
However, Richard accidentally keyed in the town's name as Murdoch with an h,not a k.
What Google Maps gave him was an eight-page itinerary with 130 separateinstructions.
Richard was to head from Reno to the Washington-Canada border, nowhere nearMurdock. From there, instruction No. 23 told him to "kayak across thePacific Ocean," going approximately 2,756 miles in about 14 days.
After crossing Hawaii east to west, it was back into the kayak, whichRichard was to paddle toward Japan for 3,879 miles in 22 days.
Nowhere did the instructions mention sleep, food, restrooms or thepossibility of sharks and typhoons.
Once in Japan, Richard was to execute 59 more maneuvers which I can'tdescribe, because the directions are mostly in Japanese. But the mapindicates he'd head for the southwestern edge of the archipelago.
From there, yup, it was back in the kayak again for another 3,358 miles toAustralia in 17 days, 8 hours. Following another 30 instructions would takehim from the Northern Territory to the continent's southeastern edge...andthe town Google Maps labels as "Murdoch WA, Australia."
So, forget the comedians: There's an electronic giggle-producer, even if itdoes send you off on extreme wild-goose chases (a new Olympic sport,perhaps?).
These days, having a human back-seat driver doesn't seem so bad after all, no matter which seat he's sitting in.