Turn Off the GPS

Turn Off the GPS

by Vince Illi


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by.

-Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”


Today’s society is incredibly fast-paced.  We are always rushing to finish tasks, rushing to get places, and complaining when things aren’t “moving fast enough.”  In my opinion, the now-ubiquitous GPS device is a perfect illustration of this.  It takes us the Fastest Route to our destination.  It displays the Estimated Time of Arrival in bold, clear numbers so that we know just how much more of our time we have to “waste” getting to our destination.  It makes us fixate on Getting There as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Even if you just turn the GPS on to see the roads scrolling by, it shows you the current time, scowling at you as though every minute clicked by is another wasted opportunity to Get Things Done.

I was in the San Diego area recently on a multi-week business trip.  On one Saturday, I had nothing to do, so I decided to recreate the lost art of the American Road Trip TM by getting a paper map, picking a destination, and just driving there, without the GPS.  Why did I not want to use a GPS?  Well, first of all, I wanted to enjoy some of California’s famous back roads, which the GPS would simply ignore in favor of Interstate highways in an effort to achieve the fastest time.  I also wanted to exercise my long-dormant navigation abilities, atrophied by years of relying on Garmin to tell me where to go.  But mostly, I wanted to enjoy the drive without being reminded of what time it is and how much longer I had to wait to “get there.”

My first order of business was obtaining an honest-to-goodness paper map of California.  Remember the ones your father used to curse at trying to refold so they could be stuffed back into the glove box?  I drove to the corner gas station, because every gas station sells maps, right?

The girl behind the counter seemed utterly nonplussed when I asked her where the maps were.  She stared at me for what seemed like a geologic age before finally saying, “We, uh, don’t have any maps.”  So I went across the street to the slightly-larger gas station, thinking surely that was simply an anomaly.  It wasn’t.


Are these things going extinct?

I finally located a map at a big box store, after asking an associate where the maps were located, only to be told, “There might be some with the magazines.”   There I found it, shoved on the bottom shelf below car magazine buff books and vapid fashion rags: the Rand-McNally California State map, in all its hundreds-of-folds glory.


Pandora's Box: A map once unfolded shall never be folded again.

Armed with the map and a highlighter, I pored over the areas of Southern California within easy access from San Diego, looking for a curvy road that simply looked fun to drive.  I found a few of them, but the one that really caught my eye was California State Route 78, which left northern San Diego County on a curvy little path through the mountains east of Escondido, through Ramona, and bisecting the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

I left my hotel first thing Saturday morning, paper map on the passenger seat, camera bag on the floor, and GPS banished to the glove box.



Unfortunately, I was on a business trip three time zones away from home and Project Mustang 5.0 (my weapon of choice for canyon carving).  My rental car—a 2014 Ford Focus—would have to suffice.  At least the dual-clutch automatic could be manually shifted…

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