Most of the time my husband and I work as a complementary team. He trusts my research skills and intuition to invest money and choose gifts for his mother; I defer to his computational and engineering strengths with taxes and misbehaving electronics.
At home in New York City, we face each other at the dining table on twin computers, and in the kitchen, one cooks while the other tackles cleanup.
But when my husband commands the steering wheel of an automobile, suddenly he thinks he can do without me.
"Turn right, honey," I plead, as we pass a landmark in rural New York State for the third time.
"I think that's the way to the bridge," I say, wistfully pointing out the window as our car rumbles straight through the intersection.
The crinkled map in my lap may offer no clue which gray squiggle represents this wooded country road, but I still think we should have turned right. Call it feminine instinct.
The man of my life is not listening. Nor is he watching the road. Instead, he's enamored with a new woman in the car. One hand on the wheel, the other is fondling a small Global Positioning System (GPS) unit mounted to the dashboard, the NeverLost Magellan.
Soon a breathy, female voice intones, "Calculating route. Make a legal U-turn."
My computer-scientist husband swiftly complies, checking his mirrors as if the mechanized woman in the dash can appreciate his rigorous driving etiquette. Chafed, I realize he prefers feminine instinct packaged in a high-tech gadget worthy of James Bond.
"Approaching left turn in one mile," the disembodied lady voice continues.
It's the turn I suggested, but now my husband is convinced. Our car has located the GPS satellites, computed our location, and placed us on the grid. It's all very scientific. My man is bewitched by the small guidance screen highlighting our route in pink. When the car reaches the turn the machine makes the cloying sound of a 1950s doorbell.
Noticing my sour expression, he attempts to lighten my opinion of the device, enthusing over the instrument's slew of advantages: we can clock our time to destination, check our maneuver list, magnify the map. We can locate Chinese restaurants in the region and view the next five exits. And then to add insult to injury, he points out that we can receive all this instruction in seven languages, including French, Dutch, Spanish, and Japanese.
But, relieved of my navigating duties and with nothing else to do, I fume. Arms crossed, staring straight ahead, I think, "How galling to be sexy and precise in seven languages!"
For all I care, she and my husband can both get lost. I am jealous of a travel gadget.
"Enjoy the sunset," he finally suggests, sighing, as we approach New York City, master of the road saddled with a crotchety old mistress in the shotgun position.
Then tragedy strikes the happy couple. Hoping to avoid thousands of vehicles entering Manhattan, my husband discovers he cannot suitably query the on-board guidance computer.
The James Bond woman is lacking in dimension and limits him to simple options.
"Shortest Time," "Most Use of Freeways," and "Least Use of Freeways." The expensive little machine fails to factor the rush-hour time of night and the circuitous route we normally prefer to avoid the bottleneck.
Following the robotic navigator's strategy, soon we are mired in traffic near a bridge we wanted to bypass, and then end up in a tangle of New Jersey roadways before office buildings disrupt our signal and erase the on-screen map.
My husband begins to lose his composure.
He's fidgeting with the machine even though the device clearly states when rebooting that "Driver should not program while driving."
This must be the first time he has defied the dame in the dash.
Me, I'm enjoying the dusk as instructed.
We merge into an eight-lane highway heading west to California. An obvious mistake. Springing back to life, the computer offers a solution that seems easy but is impossible to execute among the dense traffic and poorly lit roads. Overloaded tractor trailers blast their horns as our car swerves uncertainly.
"What should I do?" my husband finally wonders aloud.
"Go south, we'll figure it out, sweetie."
The metropolis of Manhattan looms; I am positive we can't miss it.
But the inflexible device contradicts me, insisting in its firm and vaguely accented way, "Proceed to highlighted route!"
My husband, looking more like the man I married, reaches over and shuts off the misleading NeverLost. Seductive voice silenced, the screen goes dark. But as the city lights rise before us, I can still see the ghostly trace of her suggested itinerary.
This appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, August 21, 2003 and in The Thong Also Rises anthology