Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things, Part I

Elizabeth Zelvin

Kittens’ whiskers? I don’t think so. Brown paper packages? No, though I must say I prefer brightly colored presents piled under a tree to knowledge of what’s inside them—more scope for the imagination, as Anne of Green Gables would have said. Schnitzel with noodles? Sounds good, but not on my top ten foods list. I wonder if anyone has tried updating the lyrics from The Sound of Music for the 21st century? Here are a couple of the postmodern high tech items that I’d put on such a list.

EZ-Pass. This electronic transponder allows motorists to zip through toll booths without laboriously rolling down windows (it was a laborious process once upon a time) and counting out change. It also permits me to drive through tolls in special lanes in which no slowpokes (ie cars without EZ-Pass) are allowed, sometimes significantly shortening my time on the road. EZ-Pass started out in 1991 in the New York metropolitan area (New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) and is currently used throughout the Northeast, as far west as Illinois, and as far south as North Carolina. It automatically deducts appropriate sums from my credit card, so I don’t have to worry about running out of funds or having to refill it. The system works. I’ve been using it since it started, and it’s never let me down. It’s stuck to the windshield of my car, and when I say stuck, I mean it really sticks, using a rigid plastic Velcro-like system of hooks and loops. The only time mine kept falling off, my husband eventually pointed out that I had failed to remove the protective clear plastic backing. Oops.

GPS. The global positioning system, which I also use in my car, tells me where to go and how to get there from wherever I am by consulting a satellite that detects my location from way up in the sky and instructing me in an electronic voice (gender and accent of my choosing). Unlike other navigators with whom I’ve driven, Sadie (almost everyone names their GPS) never loses her temper and always defers to me if I select a different route from the one she’s suggesting. She got me safely to bookstores and libraries in unfamiliar cities all over the country on various book tours starting in 2008. If I make a wrong turn, she calmly says, “Recalculating” and tells me the distance to the next turn and exactly what the road sign I’m looking for will say. Her presence is a huge stress reliever. I hate getting lost and like to arrive wherever I’m going on time. When I turn the key in the ignition, boot her up, and hear her pleasant, familiar voice, I relax. Her only flaw is a persistent desire to put me on the Cross Bronx Expressway, which any New Yorker knows is hideous with traffic and to be avoided at all costs. But they say the GPS is no substitute for local knowledge. So I just ignore her, and she recalculates and gets me where I’m going.

Coming in Part II: iPhone and iPad


Sheila Connolly said...

Sigh. You make me feel like a Luddite. I still don't have EZ-Pass, although the application form is sitting on my desk. And I've only begun using my GPS in the past month or so--and I still argue with her choices, especially after dark ("Are you crazy, lady? You want me to go through that neighborhood?") But I like technology, really, I do!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Sheila, I'm a New Yorker: I live on an island. I'd be waiting at toll booths and rolling windows down and up incessantly without EZ-Pass. And the GPS isn't for neighborhoods you know (or know to avoid). It's for when you're in Columbus, Ohio for a 7PM signing and you have another signing in Toledo at 10 AM the next day. I'd rather have her navigating in the dark than try to do it myself and get hopelessly lost.