‘Follow Me,’ Said the GPS. Lost in Pennsylvania

October 7, 2011

It is a tale of two cities. Or, closer, a tale of two cities and two hotels with two addresses each.

I love the GPS. Who wouldn’t? Through its magic it is possible to find one’s way where it was simply impossible to do before. On command from high, we boldly sail out across the landscape content that we are in good hands. And so often it is exactly so. I have used the GPS to navigate me through the barely penetrable wilds of Boston and southern Louisiana and, while no system is clever enough to master the pronunciations there, the directions were sure and true — even in the most distant bayous.

But Pennsylvania seems to be another matter.

Rattling back and forth between Connecticut and Indiana recently, we passed through Pennsylvania again and again. It surely is one of the most beautiful of the our many beautiful states. It is especially so for us as we got to see so much of it. Courtesy of the GPS.

Mostly we know our way around the East so didn’t engage the GPS on our westward route until after a respectful detour to the Flight 93 Memorial in southern Pennsylvania. Deep in the countryside, we turned on the machine to get us to Pittsburgh, seemingly only an hour or more away.

We passed through the farmlands and the hills and the bucolic rural vistas — for hour after long hour as we wended down little lanes and narrow roads. We weren’t in a great hurry, but several hours along it was getting a little annoying.

But arrive we did in the city after our mini-road tour — sort of. We had poked in the address of the excellent Renaissance Pitsburgh Hotel — on 6th Street, smack on the river. Carefully following the GPS’ crisp instructions, we passed through urban highways and lowways, crossed bridges on underpasses. I knew the hotel was on the river and was concerned to see the river fade in the rear view mirror.

It seems there are two 6th streets and the machine took us to the wrong one, deep in the gritty part of the community, a million twisty turns away. There are 6th street and there are 6th streets in life, after all.

But we figured it out and found our way. The Renaissance is a terrific hotel hard by the bridges and rivers and in every way elegant and welcoming and perfectly located in that wonderful city. If you can get to it.

Working our way home later, we set our eye — and the GPS — for Harrisburg, the state capital and a place I’d never been. Neither had the GPS, apparently.

We drove across flat old Indiana, with its many nice people. We flowed across Ohio, dodging the millions of truck that bespeckle the highways thereabout. We puttered along and crossed the Pennsylvania border listening once more to the totally terrific “Captain Alatriste” by Arturo Perez-Reverte, read by Scott Brick — the best audio book I have ever listened to. On and on we went, as Alatriste dueled with so many terrible foes, as the Spanish Inquisition and royal court unfolded so fascinatingly. So fascinatingly that I barely noted how the sun lowered to my right, in the west.

As, I finally figured, we headed south.


To tell the tale less well but quicker than Perez-Reverte told his, we did not want to be heading south, of course. We did not want to be in West Virginia as we soon found ourselves. Holy moley.

So we stopped at a West Virgina highway information center and discovered that the GPS, with a mind of its own, decided that we’d much more enjoy to see the beauties of the mountains there and the landscape of Maryland, too, rather than boringly zip along a straight line east to Harrisburg.

Turns out that our new car GPS has been set to avoid toll roads and, as it did wending us to Pittsburgh earlier, favored the toll-free pathways — even if added long hours and far more in gas than the price of any tolls. Figuring it out, we adjusted the machine and re-pegged it to the Crowne Plaza in Harrisburg, on South Second Street.

Guess what?

Yes, there are two South Second Streets in Harrisburg, Pa. And we got the wrong one. Again. But, by this point, we were alert to the coin-flip mentality of the satellite voice and finally got to the right place — although too late to see much of a beautiful but financially troubled city with all its state treasures and magnificent churches.

One last bit for fellow travelers: We’d booked into the Hilton, through AAA, but had a change in plans and needed to arrive in Harrisburg a day earlier. I called the AAA but they said, tough luck, pal. One hundred percent penalty to make a change. So I called the hotel itself and they politely and professionally canceled the reservation when they could not find me a room for the new date. I will remember that.

Well, we got home, happily and finally, after seeing a lot more of the land than we’d planned. No big deal, maybe, but a lesson, surely.

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3 Responses to ‘Follow Me,’ Said the GPS. Lost in Pennsylvania

  1. George Gombossy on October 7, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    A delightfully told adventure Denis

  2. Monty04 on October 7, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    I’ve always maintained that a GPS works best when you know where you are going!

  3. denis horgan on October 8, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Exactly so. If I had the right maps I would have spotted the detour right away, but was lulled into thinking that the machine had my best interest at its wiry heart. I love the GPS but I love maps more.

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