“Have you got the road map?” Pop asked, as he settled himself with some difficulty in his son’s car.
“Oh, Pop, nobody uses a paper map these days. I’ve got a Garmin.” Kevin laughed indulgently.
“What the hell’s a Garmin?”
“You remember, I told you: it’s a navigation system. It’ll tell me exactly where to go.”
Pop muttered under his breath that he could tell young whippersnappers where to go without any help from a machine. Kevin pretended not to hear. It was five a.m. on Saturday morning, a time not conducive to conversation. Father and son were traveling to visit Pop’s daughter and Kevin’s sister, Janie. It was a fourteen-hour drive, but being male, they’d planned to start early and make it in one day. Pay good money for a room just to sleep? No way. For once they were in complete agreement.
They received their first directional instruction as they left the neighborhood. Turn left on Maple Avenue. Turn left. The woman’s authoritative voice sounded so sure.
“Left?” Pop snorted. “That road’s been closed for years.”
“Yeah, that’s a bit of a snag with the satellite, I guess,” Kevin said. “She always tells me to do that. I just ignore her.”
“Well, the nav system, you know. Mine has a British accent. I call her Gwyneth.” Kevin followed the familiar streets that he knew would take him where he wanted to go.
Turn left! Gwyneth ordered again. Then, when that didn’t happen: Recalculating.
Gwyneth sounded truly distressed that she was being ignored, but she gamely picked up the directions for Kevin’s new route. In one mile, take the right-hand ramp to I-75. When Kevin complied, Gwyneth seemed appeased. They drove along peacefully for a couple of hours, and then Pop expressed the need for a pit stop. Kevin took the next off ramp, and Gwyneth had a robotic hissy fit.
Keep on the highlighted route, she snapped. As soon as possible, make a U-turn and return to the highlighted route. Then, frostily, Recalculating.
“Sounds like she’s getting’ mad,” Pop said.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Pop,” Kevin said, sounding a little frosty himself.
They stopped for lunch, causing Gwyneth to Recalculate again, then for coffee, and a couple of more times for Pop’s bathroom breaks. Each time Gwyneth had to refigure their route, her voice became tighter and her diction more clipped.
“She sounds mean now. I wouldn’t put up with it,” Pop said.
“Pop, you’re imagining things. It’s only a computer’s mechanical voice.”
“Yeah? Well, I swear I just heard her sigh exactly like your Mom used to when I’d really pissed her off.”
Finally, Kevin switched off the navigation system. It was easier than arguing with his father.
“You know, I’d like to take some back roads,” Pop said. “You can’t see anything on the durn interstate. Be good to look at some scenery.”
“Might take longer,” Kevin said.
“Well, so what? You can always call Janie on that phone of yours if we’re going to be late. Now, if I had my atlas with me, I could figure out the best roads to take.”
“No need for a map. Gwyneth will guide us.” Kevin said, reaching for the On switch.
Guide them she did, taking them over rivers and through woods, with directions delivered in her impeccable British diction. Turn left, turn right, proceed for three miles to Old Mill Road. Then turn right.
Pop stopped trying to keep up with all the twists and turns, settled back and enjoyed the passing farms and fields. But as the miles rolled by, he thought he should be recognizing the landscape. After all, he’d grown up in these parts and lived here until old age had forced him to relocate to his son’s home. Nothing looked familiar.
“Are you sure we’re on the right roads?” he asked Kevin.
“Must be. I’ve been following Gwyneth exactly.”
Just then, Gwyneth spoke up: Turn left on Good Intentions Road in one point two miles. Turn left.
“Never heard of it,” Pop said.
“Maybe it’s new since you lived here.”
But the road didn’t look new. Old-growth trees arched overhead as two lanes melted into one. Pavement gave way to gravel. Gravel gave way to grassy ruts. Then there was no road at all. Kevin stopped the car. He fiddled with the navigation system, but Gwyneth was silent.
Darkness descended suddenly, like a curtain being drawn. “I guess I’d better see if I can turn around,” Kevin said in a small voice. But there was no room to turn. He put the car in reverse and edged back cautiously. Where was the road? Tall grass swished against the sides of the car and rendered the back-up lights useless. Finally, the car gave a cough and came to a halt.
“Oh, great! We’re lost and now we’re out of gas. What else can go wrong?”
“Look, there’s a sign of some kind,” Pop said, peering into the darkness. “Must be a town nearby. I can’t make it out…welcome…looks like h – something.”
Kevin’s eyes were sharper. “It says ‘Welcome to Hell.”
Gwyneth spoke. She didn’t even try to hide her triumph.
You have arrived at your destination.