One summer day in 1977, my then-husband Mike and I piled ourselves, our two little girls and our lean budget into our cranky old Satellite Sebring and headed to Boston to walk around the North End and eat good pizza. On our way home, he drove us in and out of the Callahan Tunnel four times. Each of the four cycles through was a dollar. Four bucks back then was like a billion dollars today—or at least a twenty.
“Can’t we please stop and ask for directions?” I asked, after the first go-through. And second. And third.
Mike, a smart guy and normally quite direction-savvy, had apparently fallen victim to some kind of testosterone-induced road psychosis. I watched as our sparse treat money disappeared into the metal toll booth bin, before he gave in and asked someone. Happily, our little girls in the back seat thought it was some kind of exciting Boston amusement park. Mike and I parted ways long ago, but I came to realize figuring out directions isn’t so easy after all.
Now, so many years later, I have Siri on my phone, and travel becomes not merely a vacation, but a relationship.
It’s not going well.
I am in the town of Greenville, North Carolina, staying with my daughter Cassie, her husband Paul and my grandkids for the winter.
It’s 6:45 p.m. and I’ve just finished a bunch of errands. I have 15 minutes to figure out my way to choir rehearsal at a church I’ve been attending.
“If you’ve been attending this church, don’t you know how to get there?” you may be asking.
Yes, I can find the church—from Cassie’s house. And from the nearby McDonalds, Wal-mart and indoor skating rink (that’s a frightening tale for another time). But from across town, I cannot. See, some of the roads in Greenville start out at Point A, but in order to get to Point B on the very same road? You have to veer left, take a right, go over a bridge, circle ‘round and first drive to San Francisco.
It’s already getting dark and I can barely see the street signs. At the red light, I pull out my phone and punch in my password.
“Siri? Driving directions,” I say.
Here’s the problem: I’m not sure Siri and I have properly made up since our last fight. I thought of sending flowers, but I didn’t know if that would be mixing business and pleasure.
She does not answer.
Oh. Maybe I have to press down longer on that round thing at the bottom of the phone.
“Driving directions,” I say.
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”
“Driving directions,” I reiterate.
“OK. You want diving instruction.”
“Driving directions, driving directions, driving directions, you big &^%*$!” I shout, almost crossing the line, and by that I mean the double line in the road, which is not a good idea even on a good day in Greenville, where kind and religion-filled folks drive like they’re in the Indy 500.
I take a deep breath, begin to recite the Lord’s Prayer and keep driving straight on whatever this road is that I am on. I see a CVS and a Food Lion, but that doesn’t orient me because there are so many of them in Greenville.
And at this point it seems like it would take longer to stop somewhere for directions.
Friends, no need to remind me of my 1977 Boston adventure right now.
I try Siri again. Press, click.
“Driving directions,” I say.
“Where would you like to go?” she asks.
“St. Gabriel Church, Greenville,” I say with, I might add, excellent pronunciation.
“Getting directions for St. Gabriel Church, Charlotte, North Carolina…”
I peek quickly at my phone, horrified by directions that will land me at a St. Gabriel statue and church in five hours.
“St. Gabriel Church, Greenville, North Carolina,” I try, a bit more tersely.
“Getting directions for St. Gabriel Church, Eden, Vermont.”
I try one more time, eyeing my car clock. I have seven minutes to get there. I have no idea where I am. I’m pretty sure I’m still in North Carolina.
“Saint. Gabriel’s. Church. Greenville. North. Carolina.”
Oh, and my voice is now just so nice and relaxed for choir rehearsal.
Let me ask you this: Is there anything about this request that would cause Siri to send me on a 10-hour car ride to Ontario, Canada? Did I ask this in French? I did not. Does “North Carolina” sound anything like “Canada?” It does not.
“Siri, you’re an idiot,” I say, ashamed of my childish response.
And you know what?
“I’m doing my best.”
I’m calling Mike.
Kathy Eliscu, a retired RN, received a National Society of Newspaper Columnists Humor award in 2012 for her Maine Women magazine column. She is the author of “Not Even Dark Chocolate Can Fix This Mess,” a humor novel. She blogs at www.kathyeliscu.com and lives in Westbrook.