Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pittsburgh vs. GPS

By Annette Dashofy

I received a new Garmin GPS unit for Christmas a few days early. Since I’m STILL without Internet service from home, having this new little box sitting in my car talking to the outside world had me bubbling over with excitement. The store made a big point of letting me know that I only had two weeks to return it and since I’m not going anywhere strange in the next two weeks, I’ve been test-driving it around home.

It helped me get to the pharmacy four miles from my house and back with no problems.

Then, I decided to take it for a ride to the city.

It’s been mentioned here before by me and by other Working Stiffs that Pittsburgh is not the easiest city to maneuver. I pretty much know my way around, but I don’t know that the routes I take are necessarily the BEST routes. They’re just the way I happen to know. So I thought it would be interesting to let the GPS guide me and perhaps learn a better way to get from point A to point B. Preferably without getting lost in Point Breeze.

I had planned to go out to lunch with my friend who also owns the yoga center where we both teach (and who, therefore, writes my paychecks). I decided to introduce her to the Church Brew Works where I had recently had lunch with several of our Working Stiffs. I knew how to get there. But did I know the shortest route? I had no idea.

I still have no idea. Pittsburgh battled the GPS and Pittsburgh won.

We were fine driving in from rural Washington County. The Voice in the GPS guided us through little Houston (Pennsylvania, not Texas) and onto Interstate 79. It told us which exit to take. All was well.

Then we entered the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

“We’re going to lose the signal,” I told my yoga teacher friend.

“Signal lost,” announced The Voice (which has a lisp, by the way).

We came out onto Fort Pitt Bridge. I was in the far right lane. By the time the signal reconnected and the GPS figured out where we were, it announced that I was in the wrong lane. By then, it was too late. I chose not to risk an accident and headed up the Parkway toward Grant Street.

“Recalculating,” announced the Voice in what seemed to me to be a slightly annoyed tone. Then it told me to head straight on Fort Pitt Boulevard. Except I wasn’t ON Fort Pitt Boulevard. Next the Voice suggested I turn left on Smithfield Street. Except that I wasn’t in any position to turn onto Smithfield Street. I turned left on Grant Street as I had originally intended.

“Recalculating,” lisped the Voice. “Travel straight to Church Brew Works and Reservation.”

Reservation? I think she meant Restaurant.

Later, away from traffic, I figured out the Fort Pitt Boulevard/Smithfield Street thing. Streets in Pittsburgh run on top of each other and side-by-side with each other, separated by Jersey barriers. The GPS satellite thought we were on Fort Pitt Boulevard because it runs along side the Parkway. Smithfield intersects with Fort Pitt, not the Parkway.

So I did not learn a new way to get around Pittsburgh. I did learn that the GPS will eventually get me where I want to go. Especially, if I already know how to get there. But it has its limitations. Tunnels for one. Overlapping highways for another.

I think I will like my new toy. I hope it will help me find my way around places that I don’t know. I have to travel to Twinsburg, Ohio in February to teach at a writer’s retreat. I’m counting on the GPS to get me there. That and a few maps from AAA.

But I won’t count on it to direct me around Pittsburgh.


Gina said...

Over, under, around and through - no wonder that poor GPS unit got confused by Pittsburgh roads. I wonder what it thought happened to your vehicle while it was in the tunnel?

Cathy said...

When I was in Florida recently, the car rental place offered a GPS. I did feel overwhelmed leaving the airport in a rental car not knowing where I was going. But I got there and back, and then found out the GPS was $12 a day. So after reading your blog, I think I'll still stick with maps and an occasional stop at a convenience store to ask directions. Hope your Christmas was a good one.

Gina said...

And sometimes it's fun -- in a sick sort of way -- to find your way without GPS, maps or asking directions. Since I do get lost in my own basement (no joke), I'm very used to wandering the hills and valleys looking for my home. I've lived here most of my life, so I think I've developed a feel for the lay of the land. In practical terms, that means I can usually guess which way leads to a river. Once at the river, I can usually find a main road or sign that helps me get home or, if worse comes to worst, I just follow the river on the theory that rivers always go somewhere. This has, on occasion backfired. I once followed a little old road beside the Ohio, trying to get to the Point, but I misjudged which way the current was flowing due to a strong wind that made it look as if the Ohio was flowing toward Pittsburgh. I, of course, headed the opposite way and wound up in Ohio (the State) where I turned around and got home by -- you guessed it --following the river.

Annette said...

Hi, all! It's me checking in from Panera Bread.

So far the GPS has been a toy, although it did save me 8 miles the other day when I learned that what I THOUGHT was the long way around turned out to be the shorter route. However, I wish I'd had it a couple years ago when I got completely lost in Washington DC trying to get home from Malice Domestic. Considering the neighborhood I got lost in, I didn't WANT to ask directions. But I think I'll still get my TripTik from AAA to help me get around on road trips.

kathie said...

That is so funny, Annette. At least you're having some fun with it, finding your way to the drugstore and back with ease-at least it's good for that! You'd think places like Pittsburgh would be the perfect places to have one of those things. My husband just got one, I'll have to see how things are working out for him1