Ann and I are preparing to drive to Austin to get the van and bring it back, enjoying in the process a meandering drive, camping some, and killing time until the contractor finishes renovating the kitchen and bath of the New York apartment. The good people at Avis thought I might like to include a GPS system in the car we’re renting. Clearly, they did not know me. I’m a Rand McNally man. Just bought a new one, in fact, Large Print and with an easy open binding.
The Rand McNally has many features not found in GPS systems. It allows a panoramic view of the lower forty-eight, something that is difficult on the small screens of dash-mounted GPS devices or phones or most computers. It is made of paper, not electronically generated marks on a hard surface. I like paper. Parks are shown in green, and little tent symbols indicate campgrounds, making plotting a camping course simple. Cities are shown in detailed insets. Most important, stopping occasionally to study the nice big Rand McNally reassures me that the world has not yet gone totally electronic. I know the internet is useful, but I just don’t like living in app world.
Another thing. When the paper map fails, there is much to recommend asking directions. Locals love to show off their knowledge to wayfaring strangers. Sometimes it results in quasi-intimate encounters.
Once when I was driving through central Turkey in a Chevrolet station wagon with Texas license plates, I drew a crowd that included a young boy who could speak a little English. I asked him where I might find an auto repair shop. He showed me, then took me to his family home on a hazelnut farm where I spent the afternoon drinking tea and learning backgammon, all without benefit of a common language.
Several years ago, in the time before smartphones, a young woman/girl walking in Central Park looked up from a paper map and asked me in an accent I didn’t recognize for directions to the place where Seinfeld was filmed. I couldn’t tell her, since I’d never seen Seinfeld. (If I’m ever asked in Boston where the Cheers bar is, I’ll handle it easily.) The Seinfeld seeker was on vacation from her home in Slovenia. We studied her map together and I helped as much as I could, and we enjoyed a pleasant chat about her trip and Slovenia and things like that. It never would have happened if she’d been using a smartphone.
In the early months of the pandemic, when Ann and I were in Austin awaiting permission to move into the apartment we had bought in Manhattan, I lost one of my hearing aids when I was taking off my mask inside the car. It came to rest somewhere down among the ten-year accumulation of detritus under the seat of the Prius. I looked for a long time. It was insured, but the deductible was $300, and it would take some time to obtain a replacement. When two people are confined for twenty-two or twenty-three hours a day in a small condo, constant repetition of “Huh?” is a challenge to the sacred bond of marriage. I couldn’t find it, though.
Being highly motivated, Ann conducted her own search. In the process, she encountered a charming mystery. When I take off my hearing aids and set them down near each other, they make a sort of whistling sound as if singing to each other, or so Ann reports. I can’t hear much of anything when they aren’t in my ears. She reports further that the sound stops when they are moved farther apart. Nor does a single one at rest make a sound. Nevertheless, when Ann was searching the car for the lost one, it did sing to her, saying, it seems, “I’m over here, you’re getting warm, keep going.”
Some months later, an audiologist in New York City introduced me to a smartphone app for control of my brand of hearing aids. The audiologist in Austin from whom I originally bought them had neglected (the right word for her oversight) to tell me about the app. It allows adjustment of volume and choice of mode – general, one-on-one, music, and tv reception. The last allows me to control tv volume independently of the volume in the room. All helpful. In addition, it has a locator function for use when a hearing aid goes missing. You turn it on, and it points to the thing’s hideout like a sniffer dog going for heroin. It’s useful, but I much prefer the mystery of the lost object crying out for help. I’m a Rand McNally man, too.