When I was a kid, my father carefully taught me and my siblings to read maps. There were big maps and small all over the house, including the bathroom. Somewhere along the line he had read “Cheaper by the Dozen,” the saga of a family of 12 children whose father believed every moment should have a little learning in it. Hence the maps.  

In later years, our house was plastered with official maps from the state. Every little river and stream, every county line, was faithfully portrayed on this official document. And on ours was a red circle drawn in around the tiny black dot that actually represented our house. The topography fascinated me. I felt quite proficient in identifying the elevations around the countryside. 

Just before this past Thanksgiving, we were getting ready to make the westward trek to Cincinnati, Ohio, where we would gather with our children for the holiday. It’s a 14-hour drive and one we dread mightily. We usually map out our journey and back that up with MapQuest directions to lead us through the mazes of highways and cities, always considering the latest tips from our friends who are compelled to tell us they know “a better/faster way.”

Just a week before setting off on our journey, our son presented us with an early Christmas present for the car: a GPS, a Global Positioning System.

This little tool is nothing short of miraculous. You punch up the screen and tell it where you want to go and it leads you there. There is a little tiny woman with a calm soothing voice inside the device. After you start your car, she first flashes your expected arrival time. Then after you pull out of your driveway, she tells you your first maneuver: how far you will go before you are to turn in the direction she has chosen. You don’t even have to look at the map. For instance, she will say, “go 2.3 miles and turn right.” If you ignore her instructions, say, for a comfort break, she’s apt to get a little frazzled. “Recalculating! Recalculating!” she cries. This is a chance to give her a break and shut it off. When you return, she calmly leads you back to the highway in a firm but friendly voice. If you so desire, she will tell you what restaurants are near by, and even find you some Chinese food if that’s your preference. For those with more brains than we have, she will lead them to a motel for the night rather than let you drive straight through.

Our daughter has the same gadget on her car. But hers is even more special: her woman will speak French if she chooses.

Ours has an added feature: white streaks appear on the screen indicating when something white is coming.

And as we set out that day, something white did indeed come down, to the point that we almost turned back.

But we could see on the screen blue skies moving in our direction and, obeyed the little woman in the car. We arrived safely in Ohio an hour earlier than we ever had before.