I had to take a trip to an obscure section of downtown Orlando the other day and decided to download a GPS app before leaving. I’d been avoiding using that travel guide as I’d found it annoying when riding with other drivers. The monotone repeating commands and reminders seemed too controlling and insistent.
I skimmed through a few options and found one entitled, “Mom”. It came in three levels. I had no idea what each level offered, so I chose #1.
I backed down my driveway, and a sweet low voice hesitantly spoke: “Oh dear, did you leave the stove on?” I ignored it, checked my rear view mirror and backed out onto the road. “Please pull over and clean the windshield before we go any further,” Mom asked kindly. I pulled back on the windshield wiper lever, and cleaner fluid shot onto the windshield. My wipers are getting a bit ragged, so a few streaks marred my vision when I turned east and faced the sun. The GPS sighed quietly..
“Turn right,” she told me when we reached the stop sign. “And watch out for that hooligan driving that yard service truck! Why don’t we wait and let him go ahead of us?” I had plenty of time to pull out before the driver cleared a speed bump with his trailer, so I edged forward. Mom sighed again and said in a slightly discordant singsong, “You’ll seeeee.”
Yard guy sped over the bump, trailer nearly went air borne, and I had to stomp on the gas pedal to avoid a collision. Yard service guy leaned on his horn and tailgated me all the way through the neighborhood. Mom said nothing when we reached the intersection of Eastbrook and Aloma. The green light gave me a chance to accelerate through the turn and leave my antagonist behind (he couldn’t manage to stay glued to my bumper without jack-knifing his trailer).
I kept up my speed for a few blocks and took another turn to make sure that I’d lost the yard service road-rager. The silence remained deafening until I turned onto Howell Branch Rd. Mom muttered, “Now I don’t have the slightest clue why you’re taking this road. You’ve got me all turned around.”
I pulled in at the Casselberry Commons shopping center and found a parking space. I went to the app page and found the “DELETE” command. But every time I tapped the button, the phone harrumphed indignantly and refused to comply. Mom said, “You can’t get rid of me that easily, young man.”
I turned off the phone, tossed it onto the passenger’s seat beside me, and resumed my trip. I heard an odd noise when I turned left onto 17/92 in Maitland. I glanced to my right and saw that the phone had somehow turned on. The screen glowed hot pink. I picked it up when I came to a stop at the next light and saw the GPS app had switched on to level 2.
Mom said, “Well, I’m back…Aren’t you going to say something? You know that you’re just like your father…Why are you turning onto Lee Road? You’re not going to take Orange Blossom Trail downtown, are you? I bet you are. I can tell by the squirmy look on your face. You can’t fool me. I’ve told you again and again that there’s nothing on OBT but hookers, drugs, strip joints and porno shops. You’re going to turn right around and go through Winter Park on 17/92. When we reach Colonial, you’ll take a right, go a mile west and take a left on Orange Avenue. Well, do it.”
I turned onto OBT and headed south. The phone turned a deeper, more fiery shade of pink.
“You never listen to me, do you? Professor Bigshot, used to ordering people around, can’t take simple instructions from someone who knows better, who knows what’s best for him. Maybe if I’d been around you’d still be married to Rhonda. Such a lovely girl, and you just cast her aside like last week’s garbage. You thought I didn’t know about her, didn’t you? You should see the dumb look on your face.”
“But how?” I faltered.
“You agreed to unlock personal data when you signed the user agreement for my app. I can look all over the internet and find out about you. That picture today on Facebook looks embarrassing. Were you drunk when it was taken? And that girl you’re with looks like a little chippy. Is she after your money, what little there is?”
“She’s nice,” I insisted.
“I like Rhonda better. She looks like a good girl, and you married her in a Catholic church. You’re still married to her in the eyes of God even if you think that a silly piece of paper gives you the right to cheat on her with loose women.”
“She cheated on me!” I shouted.
“Don’t raise your voice to me, young man! And keep your eyes on the road. There’s a porn shop on the right. Eyes front!”
I drove past and didn’t look at the female dummy in the window display. I didn’t notice that it’s nipples were painted bright red and that it sported a spiked black and white striped teddy with a lacy black fringe. I focused instead on the road straight ahead.
I crossed Colonial and kept going south. Parliament House appeared on the right. The phone turned hot orange.
“Are you one of them?” she hissed. “Is that why you flit from one relationship to another? You’re looking for a woman to satisfy you when all you really want is a man? Is that it? Your father must be spinning in his grave!”
“I’ve never been to the Parliament House. I’m not gay, and my father is still alive,” I said.
I parked at a meter further down the block, picked up the phone and tried to pry the battery cover off. A sudden electric shock made me drop the phone. I sucked on my fingers and listened to the phone screech at me. The screen turned red.
I took an envelope out of my shirt pocket, gingerly wrapped it around the phone and tossed it into the glove compartment. I got a second shock, but the insulation took some of the sting away. Muffled shrieks and curses came from the compartment as I continued on, so I popped a Led Zeppelin cd into the player and jacked up the volume.
I pulled into the parking lot of a run down motel (daily and weekly rates) and got out. GPS Mom howled long and loud. I opened the trunk, retrieved a bag of groceries and walked to a unit on the ground floor. Patty, a woman I had met at church, opened the door and let me in. I handed her the groceries, and she made me a cup of coffee. We sat and chatted about the new pastor, the ongoing feud in the finance committee, and the recent memorial service for a woman who had died two days after turning 94. Patty thanked me once again, and I returned to the car.
I saw smoke coming from the glove compartment. I tore off my t-shirt, wrapped it around my hand and pulled the door open. My registration and insurance cards had caught fire. The phone glowed bright red. I grabbed a water bottle out of the compartment in the console between the seats, sprayed it onto the flames and got the phone wet. I heard a smothered scream and a gurgling rattle, and the screen went blank.
I tossed the phone onto the sidewalk once it had cooled down. The screen shattered, but I ground my heel onto it to make sure it was dead. I should have buried it.
I got lost a few times on the way back but attributed my mistakes to a mind sorely disturbed by the events of the day. I didn’t need a GPS program to get around. I really didn’t.
Two days of blessed peace followed. I went out and bought an old fashioned flip phone, ran a few errands, read a book and avoided the internet. On the third morning I heard a timid knock on my front door. “Girl scouts?” I wondered.
I opened the door and saw a man wearing a dirty shirt, torn pants and battered boots. The left one was missing its heel. He held something behind his back. A rusty bicycle lay on its side near the edge of my bed of plumbagos.
“Umm, Mister, I’m sorry to bother you, but I have to return something that belongs to you.”
I took a step back and partially closed the door.
“I’m sorry mister,” the bum continued. “I picked up your phone on the sidewalk near where I live, and it started talking to me. It told me your address and kept ordering me to bring it to you. It told me a lot of other things about you, and I tried not to listen…None of my business. I would have left it on the sidewalk but it wouldn’t let me be. And I couldn’t make it shut up until I promised to return it. I’m sorry mister, but this is yours.”
He slowly swung one hand forward. It held my phone. The screen was shattered, but the remaining splinters had turned purplish black. Red, broken letters suddenly lit up among the dark shards, and I read, “Level 3”.