On the Road with Olivia

Move over, HAL 9000 — we found a better co-pilot.

There is a new woman in my life. She’s fit and exotic. She tells me exactly what to do, and I obey her commands. When I don’t, she berates me in that disapproving tone that I dread, and she waits patiently until I correct myself. Her name is Olivia, and she has, I profess, made my life much more satisfying.

Does my wife know? Oh, certainly. She thoroughly approves of Olivia. With Olivia in our lives, my wife has more time on her hands — she no longer has to spend time doing the things Olivia now does. In fact, my wife even gave her the name “Olivia.”

Like cars, boats and house pets, GPS units call out to be anthropomorphized. I got Olivia for Christmas — the one present I asked for from my parents. I’d seen one of these little wonders at work on a trip up to New York. That particular GPS unit, which was unnamed, provided crystal clear directions in a smoldering Australian baritone. The accent did not enamor, but the convenience did.

Olivia saves more time (which I would have spent in planning and roundabout driving) than any previous method of finding my way around the globe — and I realized on a recent trip to Pennsylvania that Olivia has totally changed my relationship with travel. Once upon a time, we relied on directions from other human beings to get from one place to another. Then road atlases made verbal directions (“Turn left at the place where the Peterson barn used to be …”) obsolete. Then there was my Internet map engine of choice, which was certainly a leap in convenience, but only if I planned ahead of time. And if only one out of 20 downloaded directions was wrong, I was getting good odds.

Now, there’s Olivia. I plug in an address, and after a few seconds of calculating, I’m ready to go. I don’t even look ahead to see what route she’ll take me. I just have faith that Olivia will get me there.

Sure, occasionally the serpentine streets of DC will confuse her; occasionally my little icon car will go off-roading, due to the poor GPS positioning of Pennsylvania highway survey crews.

“Recalculating.” I’m sorry, Olivia. I’ll pay better attention.

I still keep my decade-old AAA road atlas in the back seat just in case, but I don’t plan to use it anytime soon. Olivia is all I need.

Article © 2008 by Steve Spotswood