Shut Up, Fran! / by Courtney Mehlhaff

The other day, I found myself trash-talking my GPS unit.

Well, not trash-talking exactly, but at least being unnecessarily belligerent. 

I call her Fran, largely because I think this is a pretty good name for the British voice that I chose to say, more than any other word in her vocabulary, "Recalculating." She tells me where to turn, of course, and where to exit, and tells me when we've reached the destination that I punched in earlier. But because I'm stubborn, and because I've already spent several years navigating on my own, thank you, with the help of Google Maps and an almost desperate exercise of my memorization skills, Fran spends most of her time alerting me to the fact that I have NOT taken the route she recommended.

For some reason, I'm unable to rebel politely. When she tells me to drive in a direction that I know is just a little bit longer or could potentially be more difficult than my tried-and-true alternate route, I typically respond with "Make me!" When she continues to calmly repeat her troubleshooting phrase "Recalculating," I bite back with "Go to hell, Fran!"

The thing is, I love Fran. I've only had her for about two months, and I deeply regret not buying her years ago. I feel about her the same way I do about my insulated snow pants: if only we'd met each other earlier, life would have been so much more delightful. I don't want to overstate the significance of the confidence that comes with this tiny device, but let's just say if I'd had one when I first moved here, I might be running this city by now.

I have noticed, however, that I'm becoming lazier. Mentally, I mean. I no longer have to pore over and print out maps online, rehearsing the route and return route in my head, before leaving the house. I don't even have to remember street names or addresses, or guess what time I'll be arriving, or run internet searches for the nearest Chinese buffet to whatever road I'm currently on.  

Fran tells me all this, sometimes on the fly. It's her job. It's what I pay her for. And my anxiety at finding new places has nose-dived to the point where I don't really need the details of the trip until just moments before I step into my car. Yet I feel a little less sharp and capable because of it.

Maybe that's why I'm occasionally annoyed with Fran. I don't want to depend on her. But am I willing to be a bit less self-sufficient in exchange for the freedom of driving into Uptown, a place which (for no discernible reason) has previously been my own personal Bermuda Triangle of navigational screwups, with reckless abandon? Yes, I am. 

Thank you, Fran. It's a good trade. When I think about snapping at you in the future, perhaps I'll recalculate.