Satellites. I don’t really get ‘em; I just know they’re up there. They’re suspended in orbit, beaming essential information like directional coordinates, international intelligence, and Howard Stern’s advice for treating genital warts. When it was time for my mother to join the modern world through the purchase of her first cellular phone, my brother and I went to the Verizon store with her to guide her through the process. As she pored over coverage maps, straining to decipher ‘safe’ zones, the salesman attempted to clarify the way minutes are tabulated. “You see,” he began in a voice mothers use for mentally unstable toddlers, “You’re in Arizona. You can call anyone in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado at no cost. See, they’re colored in y-ell-ow. The rest of these States – the blue ones – are out of your plan so you have a limited amount of minutes.” As my brother and I considered which Native American reservations in the Four Corners she could call with abandon, Mom thought she’d stumbled upon the loophole that would bring the wireless giants to their knees. “Well,” she started carefully, “My husband travels a lot so he might be in Las Vegas in the morning, where I would call him, but then have a layover in Topeka before landing in Cleveland in the evening, where I might need to call him again. So my point is, sir,” and she really emphasized the ‘Sir’ because this was the part where her inner Erin Brockovich was about to cripple international telecom, “How do you know where he is when I’m calling him?” My brother, who’d had enough despite his usual boundless patience for my mother, shouted, “Jesus, Ma, it’s called satellites!”
Thus satellites began to take over daily existence. My husband and I dropped our land line in favor of cell phones. We bought Sirius Radio since I decided access to the Greatest Hits of Marky Mark while never hearing another commercial for disposable catheters was well worth the investment. The same brother bought us a GPS system. We spent an inordinate amount of time deciding upon the provenance of our digitized tour guide. G wanted Mr. T’s voice, which I nixed on the grounds I did not want to be called a ‘fool’ every time I turned the wrong way. I favored the Australian bloke, but it became obvious that G needed accompanying subtitles scrolling along the windshield. We both agreed the Indian woman was subliminally compelling us to pick up Chicken Vindaloo. We finally agreed on the British Chippy based on her non-judgmental declaration of ‘Recalculating’ whenever a deviation from course was made. Like any relationship based on one person giving while the other takes, cracks started to form in the shiny veneer. G would question Miss Brit but eventually cave when she persisted. I would defend her staunchly since she enabled me to paint my toenails or organize the middle consul, but I knew it was only a matter of time before one of us was going to be dumped in the river that can be found 1.4 miles ahead, turn left, destination on the right. He stopped using her in time, favoring a hack system of staring at the flow of water, or the angle of the sun against a stick, or forcing me out of the car to ask a gas station attendant I suspected had a collection of Mason jars containing human organs behind the counter.
Our driving differences came up recently whilst out to procure some last minute baby items from a Target of a far away land. We don’t live in suburbia where Target is as ubiquitous as pervy neighbors named ‘Stan.’ When we need to purchase something beyond ‘Socks For the Whole Family’ or a jar of Smoked Turkey Gravy, we must load into the car and drive to the ‘big city’. G was due to catch a flight out of the major airport so he agreed to ferry the family the distance. I settled in to the passenger seat where I could fake sleep through discussions of joint account spending and reasons I’ll never have my own bathroom.
I lifted a falsely closed eyelid when we abruptly stopped on the highway. I’m accustomed to frequent stops when G drives. His personal bumper sticker would read, “I break for Boston Market and any establishment to sell Mountain Dew.” This time we were stopped in a line of traffic as far as the eye could see. 0 MPH. Beads of sweat started to form on his brow as he anticipated missing his flight between the traffic jam and the Continental Cavity Check coming from TSA. I sensed he was about to go off-road.
“Just wait a little longer,” I said reassuringly, “it’ll be cleared by the time you figure out an alternate route.”
So we waited till our respective ropes began to fray, his borne of a need for inertia and mine due to a lack of patience for traffic unless there is carnage I can witness. G gets frustrated at the stand-still that occurs from traffic, compelling him to seek routes that could add hundreds of miles and years to our trip. I become irrationally annoyed at being suspended by forces I cannot see. I just want to know what we’re dealing with – is it roadkill, an overturned bus of kindergarteners, or an impromptu U2 concert? And if we’ve waited long enough, the only impediment I want to see when we finally round that bend are those mechanized spiders from War of The Worlds. Nothing less than the End of Days will satisfy me. If I see those deadly spiders spewing fucking lasers, decimating every human in their path, I’d say, “Alright, fair enough. We should have listened to the news.”
Having reached his boiling point, G pulled our car into the shoulder lane and proceeded toward the turn-off. AC/DC is the only entity capable of describing the Highway To Hell ahead. The single lane, pockmarked with holes, wound through hinterland that left me praying, “Please don’t let us be stranded here because AAA will tell us to eat some trail mix and start burning the tires for warmth.” As I prepared my road flares while muttering that I’d be more comfortable in the back of a Hot Wheels, G took turns faster and faster. He failed to realize that a 39 week pregnant gut feels as though it has G-forces pressing upon it with every dip and dive. Traveling with me is like transporting an Orca whale from the ocean to the aquarium. I writhe around, suspended in my lifting device, covered in damp cheesecloth, and I snap at my handlers after the effects of my tranquilizer dart wears off. I need salt water rubbed into my pores and blowhole every 90 seconds while someone dangles fish heads in front of me.
By the time we’d righted ourselves and intercepted the highway ahead of the blockage, I’d asked Kirk Cameron for the Way of The Master a dozen times, but neither God nor Mike Seaver could cure the ache that had taken over my pelvis. We left G – and my uterus – at the passenger drop-off sidewalk as I climbed, stiffly, into the driver’s seat. “Now,” I sighed and said aloud, “How do we get to Target?” D looked up and chirped, “The car knows, Mama.” I looked at my two year old as I dug for the GPS. While my husband and mother may not trust the work of the satellite, my pants-peeing child had the right instinct. The car knows. I followed his command and switched on the British Chippy. Because my bumper sticker says, ‘My toddler is smarter than my husband.’
(Directionally challenged? Would you die without GPS?)