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Cindy Hval: Relationship with GPS getting there

Thu., May 13, 2010, midnight

To say that I am geographically challenged and directionally impaired might be an understatement. I’ve been lost in every city, town, state and country I’ve ever lived in or visited. Yes, you can get lost in Ritzville. It’s difficult but not impossible.

Don’t get me wrong – I can read a map. I can plot routes, identify highways, parks and mountain ranges. The difficulty comes when I try to integrate map knowledge with driving skills.

From my front yard I can point out north (Mount Spokane), south (St. John’s Cathedral), east (Coeur d’Alene) and west (Seattle). However, once I’m in the car, things get a little fuzzy. After all, it wasn’t until I was in middle school that I could do the hokey pokey with any kind of accuracy. The whole right, left thing puzzled me. Your right or my right? Huh?

For many years my lack of navigational skills didn’t hamper me. When you’re an at-home mom, you make sure you never have to drive farther than a juice box or sandwich bag of animal cookies will allow.

But when I started working again, I was asked to write the “Your Beautiful Home” feature for the newspaper. This meant I drove to people’s homes that weren’t necessarily in my neighborhood. I quickly learned there’s a big difference between Valley, Wash., and Spokane Valley. Once I started out for the Palouse Highway and ended up in Opportunity. I’m still not sure what happened.

It’s not like I ventured forth unprepared. I called the homeowners and got verbal directions and I used Mapquest. The combination of “turn right by the yellow house after the big pine tree” and Mapquest’s more formal, “drive .8 miles and stay right,” managed to get me to my destination – eventually. But navigation was still a lot more adventurous than I would have liked.

And then I met Lee. We’ve become inseparable since my husband introduced us in February. Now, when I set out for unknown parts, Lee comes with me. In his sexy Australian accent he says things like, “In 500 feet turn right on North Washington Street.” And in case I’m not paying attention, a few seconds later, he’ll remind me “Turn right on North Washington Street.”

Lee is the voice on the portable GPS Derek bought me for my birthday. Initially, I was skeptical about the gift. In addition to my directional defects, I suffer from technophobia issues. Also, I suspected my husband had ulterior motives because I often call his office when I’m lost. Perhaps he’d grown weary of me calling to ask things like, “I’m on the Moran Prairie. Am I in Idaho?”

But I quickly overcame my skepticism when Derek showed me how easy the GPS was to program, and Lee’s voice sealed the deal. I’ve always had a thing for men with accents.

In fact, I flirted briefly with Daniel, the British GPS voice. But Daniel sounded too condescending when I ignored his instructions. “Recalculating,” he’d say in a peeved tone.

Lee, by contrast, seems infinitely patient. He is quirky though. Last week he told me to turn left on YoopRiver Drive, and as I approached the street he said, “Turn left on UpRiever Drive.”

“It’s Upriver, Lee,” I said, and promptly missed the turn.

“Recalculating,” he replied. But he didn’t sound annoyed. In fact, Lee seems pretty unflappable, unlike my husband when I called him for the third time in five minutes because the city had misplaced the rest of Excell Drive. You’d not believe how many streets in Spokane start and then just disappear, only to reappear several blocks later.

However, before I committed to a long-term relationship with Lee, I decided to test his patience. Since I can always seem to find my way home without assistance, I pushed the “home” button on the GPS and proceeded to take my favorite shortcut. Lee does not understand shortcuts. “Turn left on North Monroe Street,” he said. I ignored him.

“Turn left on North Wall Street,” he implored. I kept driving.

He tried again. “Turn Left on North Division.”

“Listen, Lee,” I said. “I know my way home. You’re going to have to trust me on this.” The car was silent for a moment. Then I could swear I heard Lee take a deep breath.

“Recalculating,” he said. The key to any successful relationship is to be able to roll with the punches and not get upset by your partner’s seemingly erratic behavior. After Lee had composed himself, he said, “Turn left on North Nevada Street.” So I did.

I’m almost positive I heard a happy sigh. I’d be lost without Lee and I like to think he’d be lost without me.

Contact Cindy Hval at Her previous columns are online at columnists.

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