Various GPS follies

By Mir
May 3, 2012
Category Detritus

This is old news, I know it is, but I kept meaning to write about it and then life exploded and I never did, and it is REALLY SUPER IMPORTANT that you know that you can get Bert and Ernie on your GPS if you didn’t already know.

If you DID already know, sorry. This video always makes me laugh, even though I’ve already seen it a hundred times:

I contend that NO ONE who 1) owns a TomTom and 2) grew up watching Sesame Street could learn of this information and not immediately run to the associated website to download your favorite muppet voices.

Or—if you’re me—if you meet those two conditions you will then bat your eyelashes at your cute husband who always does your TomTom map updates (not that it’s helped with that one new highway ramp that TomTom STILL thinks doesn’t exist, where every time you take it the dumb GPS thinks you’re driving in the forest) and muse that your life simply will not be complete until Ernie can give you driving directions.

Otto, being the incredibly patient and tolerant man that he is, went ahead and downloaded the Bert and Ernie navigation option and set my GPS to use it. I could hardly wait to make my first direction-assisted journey to test it out.

Here allow me to pause a moment and say that the TomTom which currently lives in my car is the third GPS unit I’ve owned. I am so directionally impaired, I need three of them. Well, no. We got one as a gift, I bought another on a great deal a couple of years later so that we could have one for each car, and then the TomTom was one of those “deals too good to pass up” kinds of things a couple of years after that. Each time we get a new one, I get the new unit, and Otto takes the old one. This is because I need the GPS to find the grocery store and Otto has an internal compass and only ever uses the GPS if directed to drive to Upper Slobovia while wearing a blindfold, GO NOW! I’m telling you this so that you might not laugh at me quite so much when I tell you that I don’t really know how to do the settings on the TomTom. I haven’t had it for long (ummmm okay, I’ve had it for a year) and it’s totally different than the last one, so other than telling it “take me to this destination” I’m sort of clueless.

So. With Bert and Ernie as my copilots, I set off on a trip at some point. I don’t remember where I was going. I don’t remember who was in the car with me, even. I remember NOTHING about that trip EXCEPT that by the third “Turn LEFT!” “Which way, Ernie?” “LEFT!” exchange, I wanted to run over both Bert and Ernie and then set them on fire and run them over again. Holy hell. Nostalgia gave way to COMPLETE ANNOYANCE in about five minutes, and every time Ernie laughed (because directions are FUNNY!) another happy memory of him squeaking his rubber ducky to my preschool amusement died a violent death.

But of course… I couldn’t figure out how to switch it back to the pleasantly bland voice that simply told me to “turn left on Main Street” and “keep right ahead.” I had to wait until the next time I had Chickadee with me and she fixed it for me. Thank God.

* * * * *

Come to think of it, it seems like Chickadee is a frequent recipient of my GPS freak-outs. Hmmmmm.

Anyway! I mentioned that on Monday we had to do a round of doctors’ appointments in Atlanta, and you would think that by now I would absolutely know how to get there with my eyes shut, but you would only think that if you’d never met me, because of course I still use the GPS. Driving to Atlanta is SKEERY, man.

So we were driving along, and here’s another interesting thing about this TomTom: I bought this particular model because it came with TRAFFIC UPDATES. I would say that for the first six months or so during my ownership of it, I wondered if the TomTom with TRAFFIC UPDATES was GPSese for Malibu Stacy with NEW HAT. In other words, I saw no traffic updates. Then again, I don’t really go a ton of places. Finally, as the trips to Atlanta and other places became more frequent, we started seeing the GPS do things like flash a funny symbol and then announce, “On your current course, you are now traffic delayed by 3 minutes. You are still on the fastest route.” Which… okay? Thanks? I wasn’t really feeling the love for this feature.

BUT THEN. As we sped towards Atlanta on Monday, the GPS screen went blank and then was replaced with WOULD YOU LIKE TO CHANGE COURSE? The cheerful voice announced that our current route was now delayed by 65 minutes, and a new route would be 52 minutes faster, so did I want to switch to that one?

Chickie and I looked at each other, stunned. Apparently the GPS really CAN think! I said yes, sure, send me on the faster route. We then headed into Atlanta via a back way I’ve never taken before, and it was a perfectly smooth drive, and I later found out that there were two huge wrecks on the highway. Without the TRAFFIC UPDATES we would’ve gotten stuck and probably missed Chickadee’s appointments.

So I was feeling pretty kindly towards the GPS, I have to tell you. It saved us! It took us a way I never would’ve known about, it made life easier and better and more fulfilling! All of that.

But. We were headed to Emory. And the truth is that even directionally-impaired me could’ve found Emory from the highway, because we go there… oh, you know, ALL THE DAMN TIME. But because it’d taken us this back way, we came into town from a different direction. And the road the GPS wanted us to take to the hospital was closed. (Later I found out a pedestrian was hit there. NOT A GOOD DAY for Atlanta travelers, I tell you what.)

Well, you know, no problem. I kept trying to drive a different way and let the GPS recalculate our route. Except the GPS was CERTAIN that what we needed was to be directed back to the very same road which was closed. This particular traffic update hadn’t made it to the TomTom network, it seemed, and I began driving ever-more-frantically this way and that, PRAYING for the GPS to finally give up on redirecting me (again) to You Can’t Go This Way Street.

Eventually I made a large enough loop that I either ended up near another suitable road, or the GPS just gave up. We finally found ourselves at the hospital, and we made it to our appointments on time.

I have to say, the drive home was almost dull. Not quite dull enough for me to put Bert and Ernie back on, though.

[Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with TomTom. I bought this GPS unit with my own money and then decided to tell you about it purely because part of my brain that’s supposed to be dedicated to navigational skills is instead stuffed full of the lyrics to every “Schoolhouse Rock” episode ever made, plus “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto.”]


  1. Chuck

    I got Darth Vader for my Garmin. I like it, but sometimes I switch to a more bland one. Actually, I hardly use my GPS around town, although I’m sure it will come in handy when I move to Chicago later this month.

  2. victoria

    TomTom or no TomTom, I wouldn’t expect any car trip in your company to be dull ;)

  3. Jen H.

    I have a friend that has Spongebob. I would have to poke my eyeballs and eardrums out with a fork if I had Spongebob in the car with me…

  4. Andrea

    I am almost 36, and every time I plan to meet my parents somewhere other than their house, my mom’s last question on the phone is, “do you know how to get there?”
    Directionally challenged, I feel you.

  5. Jen

    We live in the city and I am kind of a homebody, plus am moderately directionally challenged, so I have to use the GPS even around town. Recently the speaker on my GPS device died somehow, and I haven’t taken the time to get it fixed or get a new one, but the screen still shows where we need to go, so now I have to force one of the kids to go with me whenever I go somewhere unfamiliar, so they can read the GPS and tell me where to go.

    A few years back, before I had the GPS, I took the kids on a trip to Los Angeles to visit the California Science Center. I had mapped the location, but the LA marathon was going on, many streets were blocked off, and I ended very lost in a very sketchy part of town, for over an hour. (I did stop and ask for directions, twice, but it turns out people either don’t know how to give good directions, or I don’t know how to follow them). The next trip to LA was marred by a very confused GPS device that would re-calculate our route every couple blocks, even when we were following the route it had set out, taking us in wildly wrong directions. That is why we stay home, even though LA is only a couple hours away.

  6. Leandra

    Hahahaha! I’m sorry, but I can’t help but imagine Bert and Ernie giving directions in Atlanta traffic. If that didn’t inspire an episode of road rage I don’t know what would. The only thing better would be Oscar the Grouch. I bet he’d have a thing or two to say about traffic delays.

  7. emily

    I wish they’d make a GPS for inside hospitals… I had to go to a new one the other day and I had no idea which door to go in or how to find the right office. They need bigger, more obvious, signs apparently…

  8. Arnebya

    Huh. The navigational skills section of my brain is filled with the sound of Super Grover landing improperly. The math section has always had a closed sign on its door.

    I know DC inside and out. But let me venture into MD or VA and it’s on. Super Grover cannot help me and apparently neither can Ernie or Bert.

  9. Lucinda

    OMG! I must put Bert and Ernie on my Tom Tom just so my kids can hear it. Maybe we will use it for the drive home from school. That’s short. Of course I need to figure out how to update TomTom first since it’s been telling me for 6 months now that my maps are over a year old. Hmmm….The scary thing is I’m the tech savvy person in our house. What does that say?

  10. Damsel

    Sadly, we do not trust our Garmin in Sicily. It has taken us into many a creepy neighborhood, swearing that we’re almost to one of the TWO (!!) major highways on the island, when CLEARLY we are nowhere near said highway. It has asked us to turn from the highway directly into a river. It has asked us to make three lefts when a right would obviously have sufficed. And that was all in the span of the first three months.

    Plus, Italian addresses are, like, WEIRD, man. I never figured out how to actually put them in. Now I just ask someone who already knows how to get there to go with me, and then I work REALLY HARD to remember. Don’t ask me to tell you how to get there. I’ll be happy to drive you, though!

  11. Katy

    I’ve been pricing out GPS units for my trip to NY this summer, and was about to go with a different one – but Bert and Ernie? This is definitely going to weight the pro/con list.

  12. Little Bird

    I wonder how Animal would sound on a TomTom….

  13. Brigid

    Whenever someone starts to give me directions, I nod and try to pay attention, but all I hear is the teacher from the Peanuts: “Wha, wha, wha, wha.” I’ve even started doing it with the GPS. I act as though I hear it and care and then a minute later I’m frantically trying to find the teeny, tiny square that shows me my next turn. (And I swear that stupid thing moves all the time. Shouldn’t that be flashing somewhere prominently?!)

  14. Celeste

    My Magellan got me from the Midwest to Montreal, navigated the weird streets in Montreal, and got me home. I was the only adult in the car and I was very nervous about making that drive with no other driver or a co-pilot.

    On the other hand, if it came with an Elmo or PeeWee Herman voice, I would love it even more.

  15. Rinatta

    I use the GPS on my android phone, which is great. BUT! Why can I not download a sexy British man’s voice giving me driving directions?? They just don’t have voice for the android/google GPS. Very sad!

  16. Bryan

    One perk of being an Atlanta native is that I have only been lost in the city once, and that time I can blame on the construction for the Olympics. And my sister. Pick me up and plop me down anywhere, and I can get you to Stone Mountain or the Big Chicken in 6 turns.

    I have, however, at least once located Emory using a series of concentric circles.

  17. kathy

    Well, that did not sound like the voices of Bert and Ernie I remember…but I’m a dinosaur.

    We’ve never had anything but a map. Here the road signs aren’t always very accurate and always obscure or misleading. We commonly come to a town and have a taxi take us where we need to go or keep going along getting directions after directions. I haven’t been back to the US for quite a while but I imagine it would be easier driving there (where you can trust road signs).

  18. Navhelowife

    @ Damsel, when we lived in Sicily, our friends always had funny stories about their tom toms…or Garmins. One tried to send them down a flight of stairs, much to the delight of an older Italian man who was walking up the stairs at the time…
    and the other was when my friend and I were driving from Sigonella to a town in the middle of the island…and it took us through the lonliest country I’ve ever been in…looked like a moonscape. But have you ever been to Scordia? There is a road with three signs, all pointing different directions all saying “Scordia”.
    Etna was always my navigation…If I could see the mountain, I knew where I was! Didn’t help much in Catania, mind you…But I also figured, hey, it’s an island. I’ll get there eventually!

    @Mir…Atlanta terrifies the snot out of me driving wise, and I grew up outside of DC where people really don’t know where to drive. So I totally feel your Atlanta pain.

  19. Linda

    I teach at an international school and I may have sung “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto” to my Japanese percussionist one day. *cough*

    Also, seeing as street signs here in Kenya are a (relatively) new innovation here and there’s no guarantee that they’re correct or weren’t stolen or knocked over, and Google Navigation isn’t available here yet, I put driving directions on Google Maps and it generally gets me there. There was a great moment of frustration, though, on a road trip to Mombasa when the friend driving was going faster than the internet, so our blue arrow of location was never accurate. Once she pulled over and let it catch up we were able to find our way out of town, phew.

  20. Valerie

    You make me smile. Thank you.

  21. Heather

    Atlanta – almost as much fun as DC and certain parts of Boston. I regularly bless and thank my parents for their solution of are we there yet – to give me a map and make me figure out where we were on the trip and where we needed to be – yes this started when I was about five. This past year we were on vacation with my parents and my 4 year old asked where were we – grandma gave her a map (she at least got a highlighted version as things have changed in 40 years) – I just kept laughing. Occasionally, I think it would be great espcially for traffic but as I now live in the midwest and not the east coast I just use my phone.

  22. Kate

    OMG! I nearly busted a gut I was laughing so hard!! I, too, am directionally challenged! Really funny given I majored in geography in college! I can draw the damn maps, I just can’t always follow them!!
    I am also married to one of the Thomas Brothers (which would be funny to you if you lived in LA!) he knows 17 different routes to everywhere and has built a career in transportation around this gift!
    The hubs has worked in the same place in LA for seven years and I still have to call him for directions every time I come to visit! Maybe next time I’ll figure it out on my own!!
    Thanks for the good laugh this morning!! I needed it!!

  23. Kelly

    I love our GPS for most things, but it is funny because you do have to take them with a grain of salt because they don’t have all of the roads. I particularly like unverified routes that send my car gps into a frenzy. ‘Make a U-turn’ over and over…

    Our kids won’t even know what to do without them! We’ll be like, in our day, we had to look for street signs – and they’ll be like – what’s a street sign?

  24. Aimee

    When Mir was driving with her kids, uh huh
    The GPS was giving her fi-its
    At a big intersection
    It screwed up directions
    While Mir sat and uttered some

  25. Bryn, Isle of Anglesey, UK

    I have a little Satnav
    It sits there in my car
    A Satnav is a driver’s friend
    It tells you where you are

    I have a little Satnav
    I’ve had it all my life
    It does more than the normal one
    My Satnav is my wife

    It gives me full instructions
    On exactly how to drive
    “It’s thirty miles an hour” it says
    “And you’re doing thirty five”

    It tells me when to stop and start
    And when to use the brake
    And tells me that it’s never ever
    Safe to overtake

    It tells me when a light is red
    And when it goes to green
    It seems to know instinctively
    Just when to intervene

    It lists the vehicles just in front
    It lists those to the rear
    And taking this into account
    It specifies my gear

    I’m sure no other driver
    Has so helpful a device
    For when we leave and lock the car
    It still gives its advice

    It fills me up with counselling
    Each journey’s pretty fraught
    So why don’t I exchange it
    And get a quieter sort?

    Ah well, you see, it cleans the house
    Makes sure I’m properly fed
    It washes all my shirts and things
    And – keeps me warm in bed!

    /shamelessly stolen from !/

  26. Sassy Apple

    Thank you very much. Now I have the tune, ‘Lolly Lolly Lolly get your adverbs here….” playing over and over in my head. ;)

  27. EmmaC

    I literally just watched that video three times in a row and then made my husband watch it. “Engage hyperdrive!” made me belly laugh every time.

  28. Cele

    When I saw the Bert and Ernie ap I thought, “Way, Kewl – I want a TomTom.” Having read your blog, no I don’t my husband would drive it crazy.

Things I Might Once Have Said


Quick Retail Therapy

Pin It on Pinterest