For decades my libertarian desire for privacy kept me lining up with the teeming hordes of commuters at the Verrazano and Throgs Neck Bridges because I didn’t want “them” to know where I was going to or coming from, and how often. But eventually, against my better judgment, I silenced the screaming voices in my head and I succumbed. Though I cringed every time I E-Z Passed my way through tollbooths, my sense of dread was tempered, if only slightly, by all that time I was saving. Looking in my rearview mirror at the hundreds of motorists stacked up behind me, I speed through the checkpoints. At night I kept the infernal tracking device tucked in the static-guard envelope, wrapped in a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil and stashed it in the glove compartment to prevent the black helicopters circling overhead from locking onto my position.
After letting E-Z Pass into my life my resistance collapsed like a house of cards, a row of dominos, a sad little wrinkled balloon and I caved completely. I gave in, forced by circumstances, the ticking clock, the sands of time running through the hourglass of life. My fingers had long ago stopped walking through the Yellow Pages, in part because arthritis had made them useless, but mostly because the off-the rack magnifying reading glasses from Wal-Mart were no longer working. All the small print, all those useless, torn and creased, unfolded road maps impossible to refold stuffed into the glove compartment of my car. My night vision, at one time almost bionic, had gradually and subtly became non-existent around the turn of the century, when all those street signs that had once marked my journey through life disappeared. And it was getting lost once too often, taking an hour and twenty minutes for a fifteen minute drive, that sent me over the edge and forced me to buy the GPS – Big Brother be damned!
“We were going to get you one for Christmas,” my daughter Janine said, “but we figured you wouldn’t use it, just like you never use your cell phone, or never replaced your rotary phone with a push button.” Which is true. I told her that I might consider getting a cell phone if they made one that had a rotary dial.
“We were going to get you one for your next birthday,” my son Ian said when I told him.
“What kind is it? A Magellan? TomTom? Garmin? And how much did you pay for it?” Ian is a bottom-line kind of person.
“The salesman steered me away from all of those and pointed me instead to one that was on sale, so I got it pretty cheap,” I said. “It’s a new brand, a model 205 wide-screen by Amelia Earhart.”
“Um, isn’t she the pilot who got lost over the Pacific and was never seen again?” he asked.
“I think it’s by the same people who make her luggage. And it’s made in China, so you know it has to be good. Besides, I don’t have any plans of ever flying over the Pacific.”
So Amelia and I started out tentatively, cautiously, with short trips around the neighborhood, routes I knew and could drive in my sleep. It was obvious from the beginning that she had a mind of her own when it came to the best way to get from here to there. While I relied on my intimate knowledge gained from having lived in the same place for thirty years, she only had pre-loaded maps.
“Recalculating,” she said in her very “proper English” accent whenever I strayed. “Recalculating,” she pronounced mincingly I passed up her right turn for a shortcut I knew would get me into the back parking lot of Sonny Fong’s Chinese Take Out faster.
“Proceed three hundred feet and then turn right…. Turn right! TURN RIGHT!” she insisted.
I figured if I just politely ignored her suggestions long enough and took Amelia on a tour of the back streets of downtown Farmingdale, she would eventually learn, adapt, abandon her preconceived notions and begin to think on her feet. Unfortunately, she never did. And by the second or third week of our relationship, I could detect a major attitude in her “Recalculating….” It wasn’t anything blatant, not then anyway, just an airy sigh that seemed to increase with each incident. And once I thought I heard her whisper a comment under her breath.
“What was that?” I asked. “I didn’t quite hear that. What did you just say?”
But Amelia kept mum and we continued on our journey to Costco without further incident.
It was on our first long voyage, a trip to the “Great White North,” New Hampshire, that the “wheels fell off the wagon,” so to speak. I was headed to pick up a new MacBook computer in the state without sales tax and visit my friends Joni and Anthony who lived in Keene. Amelia got me to the Throgs Neck Bridge without incident and we were speeding along Rte I-95 just before New Haven and the turn-off to Rte I-91 when I heard Nature calling.
Despite her frantic exhortations to “Keep left… Stay left… Left… I said left!” I moved right and pulled into the rest stop where I rushed for a restroom. Fifteen minutes later, when I started the car, relieved and sated by the quarter-pound Snickers bar I got from the vending machine, Amelia was curiously silent, even after I gently tickled her touch screen several times.
“Well?” I asked when we were back on the road trying to get her out of her brooding silence. “Where do we go now, Amelia? I put myself in your able hands.”
She gave a disapproving tut and a deep sigh, which was followed by another long silence. “Don’t patronize me,” she said finally, and I recognized the tone from my many failed marriages. “I told you before, keep left, stay left… LEFT! But did you listen? No. You knew better and you went right.”
“But I had to pee,” I said. “I pee a lot. What was I supposed to do?”
She ignored my question. “Why bother buying a GPS when you aren’t going to listen?” She sounded hurt. “You might just as well use one of those old maps in the glove compartment. Or get free directions,” she added scornfully with a snort, “from the Internet.”
The truth was that I had printed up a Google map as an emergency backup, just in case of a technical glitch, but the directions had really small print and they were crumpled up somewhere in the trunk. “But, I–”
“No ‘buts,’ buster! You can put all your buts in a sack. Your ex-wives are right about you. You never listen and you won’t take direction from anybody, especially from a woman. What’s the matter, didn’t you get enough love from your mother? I suppose you were a bottle baby?”
“You leave my mother out of it!” I pouted. “She worked and didn’t have time to breast feed me.”
“Whatever.” She snickered. “Don’t look now, mister. You’ll never get up to Keene, because you just missed your left turn.” And then her tone became business as usual. “Recalculating. Proceed to three point four miles the next exit and then turn south at the cloverleaf.”
I did what I was told.
We spent the remaining hours in relative silence. I said nothing and Amelia spoke only when it was necessary, except when I turned up the radio. “Turn that down!” she snapped and my hand shot to the volume control. “I have a headache from all the aggravation you’ve caused me. And your taste in music isn’t much better than your taste in clothes, or women. How many times were you divorced?”
She delighted in taking me the long way, making many unnecessary turns, and chuckled to herself when she got me lost in Vermont. But I didn’t complain even when I had to pee again. I didn’t dare look for a rest stop. I just jumped out quickly and went off-road. We arrived at Joni and Anthony’s after midnight. They had left the light on and a note on the table: “We waited as long as we could. There are clean sheets on the bed in the guest room. Help yourself to whatever you find in the refrigerator.” I did, and then I peed and went to bed.
The following day I visited, picked up my computer, and said good-bye to my friends after dinner. On my return trip I thought it might be nice to swing through Massachusetts just for a change of scenery. So while I was programming the new coordinates, I also fine-tuned Amelia and made her French.
“Tournez à droite,” the sexy new voice, somewhere between Edith Piaf and Eartha Kitt, purred. “Continuez pendant douze milles et puis tournez à gauche.” It was a welcome change from Amelia’s hostile English.
As the miles slid by and the darkness increased, I was hypnotized by her sweet words, taken in by her cute accent. I could feel the smile on my face and at the same time there was a tingle, a curious warmth in my legs and nether regions. And I hadn’t peed in hours.
“You know,” I said, choosing my words carefully and using my throaty bedroom voice, “I could listen to you talk all day and all night. You sound so cute and I find you very – sexy.” I thought I heard her quiver slightly, so I went on. “What do you say – we pull into the next rest stop? I’m tired from all this driving and I can use a – little break, if you know what I mean.”
I took her silence for approval and at the next opportunity I eased the car à droit and pulled into a parking spot in the darkness away from the other cars. She didn’t protest when I gently slipped her out of the cradle. She didn’t say a word when I opened the door and took her into the back seat.
“You know,” I whispered, echoing the dialogue from Casablanca, “this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” I was sitting there holding her in my arms with my pants around my ankles.
That was when a Massachusetts State Trooper shined the flashlight into the back of the car, alerted, without a doubt, by the E-Z Pass that had beamed my GPS coordinates to the black helicopter circling overhead.
Joseph E. Scalia grew up a shabbos goy in Boro Park, Brooklyn, turning on lights and lighting cooking stoves. He has published two novels FREAKs and Pearl, two short story collections, No Strings Attached and Brooklyn Family Scenes. He is looking for a publisher for his latest collection of humor, Scalia vs.The Universe.