I like maps. They give me a sense of control, a bird’s-eye view of my options in which I ultimately get to decide which way I’ll go, as well as Plan B and C, just in case. It’s a spatial thing, really. I just don’t like being lost, and feel disoriented if I don’t have a broad aerial sense of things.
I remember my enthusiasm way back when my kids were in fourth grade and had to map out our neighborhood. Such a simple task, I imagined the light-bulb coming on as they saw their surroundings organized for the first time on a map of their own making, a sudden sense of order to the sidewalks, intersections, parks, neighboring buildings and shops. One of the first steps on the path to independence in a big city.
The GPS on my phone has conveniently replaced the old map of Buenos Aires that I used to constantly stop to unfold, always getting tangled up in its tattered, scotch-taped sections. This new technology naturally suits me. I use the GPS much like a paper map, planning my route before I leave, but with the added ease of being able to check my location if I lose my way, no willy-nilly unfolding required. However, there is one function that I hate: the voice option. Suddenly, my trusty map morphs into someone else telling me where to go. It makes me crazy.
Case in point: L. has recently gotten his driver’s license, so he asks to drive often. F. and a friend needed to make an early Saturday morning pick-up, so he volunteered, meaning I would have to go along for the ride since he’s still not driving alone. I was groggy and hadn’t had my coffee, so didn’t think to check the map before leaving. I knew we were going somewhere in Devoto, so thought: Avenida San Martin, and the kids will have the exact address. The following scene ensued.
“Does anybody have the address?”
“I’m turning my GPS on,” says F. from the back seat.
“OK, but give me the address so I can map it. Turn right at the next light onto San Martin,” I say.
Right at that moment, a different voice with a California-neutral accent issues from the back seat, “Continue straight, on &*%^&Y.”
“Mom, the GPS said to keep straight. Why did we turn?”
“Because this is the way to Devoto.”
“Turn left, onto $^%&D$,” the GPS says as we continue up San Martin, now fully into Metrobus construction chaos.
“Don’t turn left. What the hell is she saying? Why do you have it set to English? She can’t pronounce the street names right! I have no idea what she’s saying, just give me the address now.”
“Turn left – Gire a su izquierda y vuelve,” now the GPS was a Spaniard.
F. gives me the address. “Oh no, my phone is dead. Give me yours so I can see. I need a visual! Watch out for the cars on the right! And don’t turn left!” Full-blown PMS joined forces with GPS lady at that point.
The two girls are frantically texting in the back. As the española continues to bark out orders to turn left at every intersection, Fiona says, “Why don’t you just do what the GPS says, Mom?”
“Because you can’t turn left on two-way avenues in the city of Buenos Aires! She obviously doesn’t know that. You have to turn right to go left.”
“Stop calling it a she. It’s not a real person,” F. finally hands me the phone.
“Gire a su izquierda—“
“Shut up, gallega de mierda!” I bark at the GPS woman. To L. I say,:”Do not turn left, whatever you do. You have to turn right and then come back across.”
He says, “Calm down, Mom. The GPS is updated, so I think we should follow it. You have to trust the technology.”
“NEVER when there’s construction or on two-way streets. She can’t possibly know!”
“Not a person, Mom…” he says as he tries out the accelerator on the bridge.
“Slow down!” I yell, while grabbing the armrest on one side, my other hand pressed hard on the ceiling of the car. “Why didn’t I just check the map before we left? You have to have a plan before driving into unknown territory. I know this. Turn right!”
We finally get across San Martin Ave. and are presumably somewhere in Devoto. We come to a railroad crossing and I say, “Turn here.” He turns left. It’s a two-way street. Luckily the oncoming traffic isn’t closer. I go completely berserk.
“You see! You see what happens? I meant turn right, but she has burned it into your brain to turn left! There is a universal law according to which you can never, EVER turn left on avenues in Buenos Aires without a turn arrow.”
“Ok, Mom,” he says as we finally find the address and he handily parallel parks. “I think you need to get out and take a walk around the block.”
It is hard to describe the anxiety over having your kid behind the wheel of a car in a mega city; it’s a lethal mix of the instinct to protect your child and the knowledge that they’re on their way, surrounded by imminent danger but don’t need or want you telling them how to maneuver. You have no control. Despite my mounting hysteria, the construction, the traffic and contradictory orders from me and the GPS women, in addition to the fact that his girlfriend had witnessed my meltdown, he had driven carefully and skillfully and kept calm. How did we get to this point?
Although I would like to think we have provided them with the basic tools to find their way, I know that their coordinates are different from mine. Writing this today, their very last day of high school, I am reminded that there was no map to get us here, and yet… here we are, safe and sound.