The Woman with the GPS Brain

by Jim Thompson | Last Updated: April 30, 2021

As this is posted, there is a good chance that many of you are in the midst of a great American pastime. No, I’m not suggesting you are in the middle of playing a baseball game, but that you have taken to the highway to get yourself a little ‘Merica.

Miles of Memories

I have memories of road trips as a kid, road trips with my own kids, road trips after kids with my in-laws and now road trips with grandkids. However, I think the one that sticks out the most is the first road trip I got to get behind the wheel. I had just gotten my license, and my parents decided that they would be willing for me to get in a leg or two myself.

This was certainly not the first road trip with my family during my growing up years. There was a trip to the Midwest in a beater station wagon with a prominent address on memory lane, but more on that later. On this particular journey, my parents figured that driving straight through to California from taxes would be easy with a three-driver rotation and so the adventure began.

Dreaming Mom Becomes Dad’s Nightmare

I was just coming to the end of my shift driving in the dead of night through the Nevada desert. Dad was just starting to stir in the back seat where he had been asleep next to my two younger brothers, and mom was conked out in the passenger seat next to me. I pulled the car over, and dad and I managed to switch places and return to the road without waking anyone else. I was just about to doze off myself when mom began to stir.

From my perch in the back, I watched as mom looked around blinking her eyes assessing her surroundings and was surprised at the first thing that came out of her mouth. After less than a minute of consciousness, in a car cruising down a pitch-black highway, my mom’s first words were not “What time is it?” or “Where are we?” but, instead, “We’re going the wrong way.” My dad, ever patient with my oft-opinionated mother politely suggested that she might want to go back to sleep. However, despite never having traveled  this part of the world, my mother persisted in her claim. Finally, knowing that this was yet another one he could not win, dad agreed to pull over.

It must be remembered that this trek was being made circa 1978 so we needed to find a stopping spot that would accommodate the opening of a map with enough light available to read it. As we were in the middle of the desert, this took a while. Mom became increasingly agitated as, if she were correct, the additional time required to find a pull-off point would only serve to compound the problem.

Not Sure How She Did It

The freakish internal compass phenomenon that I witnessed that night remains one of the biggest mysteries of my lifetime. Once we were finally able to view the map and ascertain where we were, it turned out that my mother was right. I still don’t have the foggiest idea of how this was accomplished, but the hour we spent backtracking to correct our course saved approximately 8 hours from being tacked onto the trip by the inadvertent detour. We arrived at our destination not too far behind schedule and had a great visit, but dad still shakes his head about the entire ordeal. In fact, if you ever have the chance to meet my dad, please don’t bring up this little anecdote as he’s still a little bitter about it…