Friday, June 7, 2013

The Best Invention of the 20th Century

Delightfully, while I am in between jobs, I have a three-week respite. It feels right to have this interval to allow me to breathe in the future as I exhale the past. I began this breather with a short family road trip to Savannah, Georgia, a darling city I visited with my mother about four years ago on one of our mother/daughter trips
 
There are plenty of places to stop as you drive into or out of Florida, and we took advantage of this on our way to Savannah, exploring St. Augustine on the way up and Micanopy on the way back.  
In 2015 St. Augustine will celebrate its 500th birthday. This city rich in pirate and Spaniard sagas began with Ponce de Leon's quest for the Fountain of Youth in 1513.  But my favorite site is more kitschy than historical. It’s the Alligator Farm, an attraction that has barely changed since I frequented it 30 years ago as a child. 

Me at the Alligator Farm in 1984:
My son at the Alligator Farm in 2013:

Just look at this albino gator! What a clutch or pair of boots he would make!
Sorry, lost myself there for a minute.

* * *
Like the Alligator Farm, Micanopy (where the 1991 flick DocHollywood was filmed) seems also to have been frozen in time. The soundtrack of Main Street is only the whisper of Spanish moss tangled and blowing in the limbs of centenarian oaks. Musty antique storefronts and white-bearded men rocking on porch chairs seem otherworldly to this Miami girl. Crazy, when you consider Micanopy is only a five hour drive from Miami.

And when it comes to Savannah, despite the charm and history,

the architecture,
 

the food,

AND drinks (vodka and sweet tea? yes, please!),
 
the hospitality,
 
and the ghost stories, the thing that enthralled me most on our trip came from this century:  the power of our almighty GPS.
I can remember traveling by car when my parents moved us from Richmond, Virginia, to Miami, Florida, in 1984. Most of our long rides in our even longer pale yellow Pontiac involved arguments at a heightened pitch over wrong turns and missed exits, easy scapegoats for my parents’ failing marriage.
Once we settled in Miami, most of my pre-teen and teenage life revolved around summer road trips up and down Florida’s East coast via I-95 as my parents drove me (and sometimes my brother) to visit my grandmother in Palm Coast. These summer getaways with my grandparents were freedom personified because my grandmother, like me, loved road trips, drove with a lead foot, and wasn’t afraid to go anywhere alone.
I saw most of the state of Florida from the front seat of my grandmother’s bronze Buick, and later her gold Chrysler (my grandparents only bought American cars). No matter our end destination, our first stop was always the local AAA to get a highlighted map with exact directions to our destination:  St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, Orlando or Silver Springs, to name a few. It was my job then to navigate these maps, decipher detours and sit on high alert for exit signs. I took my job very seriously.
Fast forward to last week as our family of four breezily walked the Squares in Savannah. I would type the address of our destination into my iPhone—no starting address needed, just a tap on Current Location—and we followed the blinking blue blip that represented us in real time as we walked or drove our path. British-accented voice reminders audibly instructed us where to turn and when so that when we were driving I never even had to look up from my Real Simple magazine to tell my husband where to go next. No straining to see street signs. No screaming. No arguing about “No, I’m pretty sure it’s this way.” So civilized, see? Look how happy we were! Gettin' cuddly and crackin' jokes.

Some scholars will pontificate that the most significant invention of the 20th century is birth control. Or the remote control. Or even the iPad (which I still manage to live without).  I, however, would argue that the most valuable invention—or, at least, the one that has stopped the most arguments and saved the most relationships—is the GPS.
Our trip was such a pleasure and required far less advance planning, guessing and second-guessing. Google maps allowed us to focus completely on the road ahead of us, the sites around us and on each other.
Getting to our destinations with ease allowed us extra time to wander unplanned, the true joy of travel, if you ask me (those unexpected locations and restaurants you just “find”). 

What a blessing, the GPS. Now if they could just invent a GPS that tells you which is the correct direction to take at each of life’s personal and professional turning points. Then again, sometimes it's the wrong turns that get you where you never knew you wanted to be, but were meant to be.

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