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Rant-free travels are the best kind

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Yesterday, I was at the Henry Ford Museum near Detroit. We practically had to drive right by it on our way to Chicago from Toronto, and it more or less marked the halfway point of our journey. So, we thought it would be the ideal place to stretch our legs. And we were right. It's a fabulous place, and you should see it if you ever have the chance. Of course, the highlight is the museum's extensive collection of automobiles — my favorite was the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile. But they also had a great many other artifacts, including some of the earliest cell phones — including Motorola's original car phone and the brick made famous by Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street — and GPS devices

Spying the GPS devices caused me to ponder just how far the technology has come in the last decade. Shortly after I joined this publication nearly nine years ago, I was traveling in the Northeast with long-time colleague Dennis Hegg, who has handled the sales side of our business with aplomb for many years. We had decided to take a GPS device offered by the car-rental company. It worked beautifully while we were in the Boston area, and all along the I-95 corridor to New York City. Then, quite unexpectedly, it stopped working at all as soon as we entered the Big Apple.

This did not concern me, as I know this particular city nearly as well as I know Chicago. We were staying in Jersey City, near the Holland Tunnel, so I knew exactly how to get there. Then I started to think about how long Manhattan is, and all that traffic. So I decided instead to zip over the George Washington Bridge. This turned out to be an enormous blunder, as it became very clear, very quickly, that I did not know the Jersey side of the Hudson River anywhere near as well as the New York side.

We did not know it then, but we had just started a 3-1/2 hour journey into the netherworld. We became hopelessly lost. We subverted our manly instincts — several times — and stopped to ask for directions, only to become more lost, because those who were directing us had no better idea of where Jersey City was than we did.

It was now the wee hours of the next morning, and I was exhausted, so I launched into the mother of all rants, sharing in no uncertain terms what I thought about the GPS device and the car-rental firm that leased it to us. The rant was so over the top, I am embarrassed to report, that my colleague still talks about it to this day.

Eventually, through blind luck, we stumbled into Jersey City. But we were not home free just yet, as this particular metropolis has a great many one-way streets that seemingly lead to nowhere. We circled and circled and circled, but we just couldn't seem to find the right combination of streets that would bring us to what now seemed to be the Promised Land. Finally, I had enough of this nonsense. I pulled over to the curb, and started to pull our luggage out of the trunk. I explained that we were going to take a cab to the hotel, and once there we would call the car-rental company to tell them where they could find their car and GPS device — perhaps suggesting what they could do with both.

My colleague, who had yet to go mad, noticed that we were standing across the street from a fire station. In a moment of inspiration, he surmised that they surely would know how to get to the hotel. And they did, thankfully.

Now, contrast that experience with the one we that had this past week in Toronto, a very large city that I don't know particularly well. The GPS application that resides on my smartphone took us everywhere we needed to go, providing step-by-step voice navigation, without a glitch. So, nary a rant was to be heard, which made for a very peaceful and stress-free vacation.

I am certain that my traveling partner is grateful for that. But I can't help but feel that she's going to regret missing out on a great storytelling opportunity sometime in the future.

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Insights from Donny Jackson concerning the most important news, trends and issues.

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Donny Jackson

Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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