in Columns Published in the Asheville Citizen-Times

My GPS Isn’t as Smart as it Thinks it is

Asheville Citizen-Times 7/27/2015 – Ted Alexander, Columnist –

GPS is all well and good until you wind up in the middle of nowhere with no destination in sight.(Photo: GANNETT)

GPS is all well and good until you wind up in the middle of nowhere with no destination in sight.(Photo: GANNETT)

The guy is just plain annoying. He always knows more than anyone else and can do no wrong.

Unfortunately, I’d be lost without him.

“Turn right.” Oops, I missed it. “Recalculating.” I swear I can hear the irritation in his voice when I’ve accidentally passed a street.

“Turn left.” Missed it again. “Recalculating.”

And when he’s really ticked off with some error on my part, I’m positive he enunciates each syllable: “Re-cal-cu-la-ting.”

I put up with Jack, the abrasive GPS voice, simply because I’m Rand McNally-challenged. There is no one worse at reading a map than me. I can head for Arden and end up in Biltmore Forest, or aim for the local Ingles and arrive at the Well-Bred Bakery in Weaverville. The US Navy nearly threw me overboard when I couldn’t distinguish between Hawaii and Coney Island.

But sometimes I think I depend too much on the GPS system. Jack’s presence lends a false sense of security. Kind of like a kid learning how to add and subtract strictly by means of a calculator.

Truth is, I should learn how to read a map properly and not depend on satellite technology to figure out where I’m going.

Good luck with that ever happening.

I was headed for a family gathering. I’d never been in that part of North Carolina before, but Jack was riding shotgun so I wasn’t worried. I didn’t write down the restaurant’s name because an address was all I needed. Then the unthinkable! The checkered flag on the GPS screen indicated I had arrived at my destination, but there was no restaurant! I was at a railroad crossing and the only building in sight was the station on the other side of the tracks.

I was sure I’d made all the correct turns and was still lost.

Jack sat smugly on top of the dashboard, mouth now conveniently shut.

“Say something, Mr. Perfection.”


I drove a half-block, re-entered the address and took off, now traveling through quiet neighborhoods. I passed a school, a church, and an elderly man sitting on a lawn chair in front of his house. He was wearing a black wife-beater sleeveless shirt and plaid shorts and drinking a can of beer. We could have been friends.

Ten minutes later, I ended up back at the same railroad crossing just as I saw my brother go by heading the other way. He seemed to be driving confidently, certain where he was going. I made a quick U-turn and followed him. A few minutes later, I passed the man in the wife-beater shirt again, just from the opposite direction. He stared at me, a questioning look on his face as I drove by. In just minutes I was back at the railroad crossing, my car stopped behind my brother’s, the checkered flag again on the GPS screen.

He stuck his head out the window to yell something to me just as — you guessed it — I saw my sister in the rearview mirror. She turned right and headed up a hill.

U-turn again and off I went, my brother in pursuit. Minutes later, I waved at wife-beater as I drove by again. He just shook his head and fired back the rest of the beer. We definitely could have been friends.

All three cars ended up at the railroad crossing, stumped. My sister’s GPS had simply discovered a quicker way of getting nowhere.

Then I saw my nephew and his wife drive across the tracks and turn left toward the railroad station. We hurriedly followed and watched him park behind the restaurant that had been hidden from view by the station.

I quickly pulled up next to him, followed by my brother and sister.

“Hope you didn’t use the GPS trying to get here,” he said. “For some reason it drops you off back over the railroad tracks.”

“True,” I added, “but anyone with a lick of common sense would know to look across the darn tracks.”

“Of course,” he responded.

“Of course,” my brother responded.

“Of course,” my sister responded.

Following the family get-together, I turned to Jack as I drove away. “Not so smart after all, are you?”


“You don’t know everything, do you?”


Uh-oh. The syllables. That’s a very, very bad sign. He was emphasizing syllables again. Somehow it’s now my fault that we traveled in circles. He’s quietly furious and I’m suddenly afraid he might intentionally sabotage the trip home.

“Jack, Jack old boy, can I buy you a cup of coffee? You must be tired.”


He’s totally ignoring me.

Enough. I’d learned my lesson. I shut him down, grabbed an old map from the glove compartment and studied it. I didn’t need Jack, the male diva, after all. I could find my own way home.

I’m feeling confident, liberated, and quite proud of myself as I pass through Charlotte, heading toward South Carolina. I should be back in Asheville within the hour.

Ted Alexander lives in Asheville. His first novel, “The Fall of Summer,” a 1960s coming-of-age story, is now on sale at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe and other online and local retailers.
His second novel, “After & Before,” will be released this September.
Contact him at

Learn more about the author and the novels online at