Adventures in GPS

I got my first-ever cell phone this past January. Why I call it a phone when I seldom use it for phone-calling I’m not sure, but there it is. I use it for texting and private-messaging on Facebook, I use it for looking up words when I’m reading or proofreading something on paper — and this weekend I used it to find my way around Boston.

My 50th high school reunion was scheduled for May 10–11, and though I hadn’t been to a class reunion since the tenth, in 1979, I was determined to go. Winsor, the private girls school I attended from seventh grade through graduation, was pretty conservative, but my teachers were great and so were my classmates, most of whom I hadn’t kept up with.

The logistics, however, were daunting. I didn’t know anyone I could crash with for free.  Boston hotels are pricey and my resources are limited, so my first thought was to find a cheap motel out on the fringes of the metro area and commute. Once I got down to serious online searching, my close-to-town options turned out to be limited. The Motel 6 in Weymouth looked promising — until I learned that it had become a haven for drug-related and other mayhem and closed for good last fall.

Googling Boston hotels inexpensive turned up the Farrington Inn, a guesthouse in the Allston neighborhood with promising reviews and only $100/night (which would get you three- or four-star digs in some places, but not in a major metro area). Its appeal was enhanced by proximity to bus and subway, which I figured I’d be taking to and from the school. Though as a student I’d occasionally drop my father off at his office in Cambridge and then drive myself to school in his 1959 VW bug, I was never much of a city driver — and on Martha’s Vineyard, there are no traffic lights, the widest roads are one lane in each direction, and the maximum legal speed limit is 45 mph.

I’d done a little experimenting with GPS on my phone, but only on the Vineyard, where I know my way around. Could I trust it to get me and Malvina Forester, my 2008 Subaru, to and through Boston and help me find this guesthouse?

mobile phone

My navigator, a Samsung Galaxy J7

I could and it did. I traveled over the Sagamore Bridge, up Route 3, and through Boston and I didn’t get lost or even flustered once. True, it was early enough in the afternoon that the traffic was nothing like what it would be during rush hour, but it was heavier and faster than anything on the Vineyard. A disembodied female voice directed me to the Farrington Inn, where I checked in. A quick consult with Google Maps informed me that Winsor was much closer and easier to get to than I’d anticipated, so  I drove. The disembodied voice got me there, no problem.

The parking lot gate, however, wouldn’t let me in, even though it had opened politely for the car ahead of me. Exiting on foot, the driver of that car told me I had to push a button, which of course I hadn’t noticed. These gizmos are fairly new on the Vineyard; they were installed only last year at the county airport. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

I had a great time catching up with former classmates, the 50th reunion panel discussion was fun, and dinner in the dining hall was excellent. GPS got me back to the guesthouse safely, even though it was too dark to verify all of its instructions by reading street signs. I was becoming a bit cocky about my navigational skills.

Then on Saturday when I headed back to my guesthouse in mid-afternoon, things got weird. My previously trusty navigator first directed me down a street marked DO NOT ENTER, then it apparently wanted me to make  a U-turn on Commonwealth Avenue. Not only is Comm Ave two lanes in each direction, at this particular point there was a median strip with a barrier fence on it. WTF?

I pulled into a handy parking lot to have a talk with my navigator. After some fumbling around, I realized that my navigator thought I was on foot, in which case I could have made a 180 turn on the Comm Ave sidewalk and gone the wrong way down one-way streets. We straightened that out — and belatedly it dawned on me why my navigator had earlier estimated travel time at 40 minutes for a drive that took about 10.

Bourne Bridge

The Bourne Bridge, gateway to the Cape and Route 28

Heading home on Sunday, with a reservation on the 1:15, I chose a route I’ve driven often without GPS: Route 128 to I-95 to I-495, then across the Bourne Bridge to Route 28 and home. My navigator was determined to route me over the Sagamore Bridge when I always take the Bourne. A Google search told me that repairs on the Bourne Bridge had been mostly completed and that during the day the bridge was again two lanes in both directions.

The only way I could figure out how to route myself over the Bourne Bridge was to tell my navigator that the bridge was my destination. (It is now advising me on where to park in that area.) I have since learned that I can realign routes by dragging.

Though I knew the way cold (so I thought), I let my disembodied voice give me directions anyway. All went well till I realized I was being told to take an exit to I-93 North toward Boston. I-93? I wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near I-93. North? Toward Boston? But I just left Boston! After a few minutes of following directions, I was on Route 24 heading south, which I knew would take me to I-495. Whew!

When I got to Woods Hole, almost an hour before the 1:15 ferry sailed, I consulted my navigator again. Why had I wound up briefly on I-93 North? The prescribed route was exactly the one I’d driven often without GPS. I must have missed the exit where 95 heads south and wound up on 93 instead. Evidently I wasn’t paying enough attention to either my navigator or the signs, and my navigator had bailed me out.

All in all, though, I’m feeling pretty accomplished. Now I know how to route myself over the Bourne Bridge instead of the Sagamore. Maybe if I do it often enough, my navigator will get the message.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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2 Responses to Adventures in GPS

  1. Jel Yelenak says:

    Sounds like a fun & successful voyage


  2. Lynn Khosla says:

    Kudos to you and your adventurous spirit! I, too, drive a Subaru (2006) and navigate by phone when I have to leave the Island. GPS can create adventures as well as alleviate them. I’m impressed with your ability to figure out WHY the GPS is sometimes a bit wonky. Hope the reunion was everything you hoped for!


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