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A handful of mayhem and a pinch of confusion 0

Dear Bradshaw,

Last week we had dinner at Francesca’s boss’s house. Being the first time for both of us, and also the first time she was to meet her co-workers’ husbands and wives, Francesca was determined to arrive on time. For this reason, though the drive was only 20 minutes, we left an hour early with printed directions from the boss himself, and also with the confidence that her brand new company car was equipped with a GPS.

The GPS, however, was challenging from the get-go. Its map was vague, noncommittal, and difficult to understand. Nevertheless, Francesca opted to ignore her boss’s directions and rely on the GPS instead. Keep in mind, Shaw, Francesca is capable of getting lost in our own apartment. If she gets up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, there’s no guarantee she’s going to make it back to bed unless I get up and guide her.

Meanwhile, as you know, whoever planned the city of Rome had no plan. The blueprints must have been thrown together by someone who wished everyone luck and then split for Athens or Istanbul. I imagine he started with a handful of mayhem and a pinch of confusion before adding winding avenues, dead ends, and a slew of side streets. Then, after the city was left to simmer for a few thousand years, roundabouts, alleyways, train tracks, and bus lanes were sprinkled all over the chaos and disorder.

By now, Francesca and I — about halfway to our destination and with ten minutes left (according to the GPS) — missed an off ramp and had to drive an extra two kilometers before backtracking, and then making a U-turn. Now, however, we were on a different route, heading toward a three-pronged fork in the road. With the GPS suggesting we bear left, we had two viable options. Taking the fork furthest to the left, and which the GPS seemed to be indicating, we ended up on the same street as before, so again we had to cover two kilometers, backtrack, and then make the U-turn.

This time we tried the middle fork. Perhaps that’s what “bear” left meant, right? Wrong. Incredibly, we were on the same street again and had to go the two kilometers and backtrack to the by-now-infamous U-turn. This time we were left with nothing to do but defy the GPS’s instructions and take the right fork. In fact, as expected, we ended up on the wrong street. This time, however, after an instinctive turn or two, the GPS got us onto the “right” road.

Inevitably, we reached the boss’s house, and only 20 minutes late, which in Italy means on time. Not surprisingly, the evening was entertaining and the food excellent, but the real fun began when we left at 2:30 in the morning — an issue only because I had to wake up four hours later. Starting off, Francesca again chose to favor the GPS instead of following her boss’ suggestion that we make a right and then another right. Exhausted, I told her that if she was going to trust the GPS, I was going to sleep, which I did, reclining the seat and sawing logs in an instant.

The next thing I knew, Francesca was shaking my arm. “We’re lost!”

Cracking my eyes open while sitting up, I saw a gate and a villa surrounded by a forest of vegetation. “Where are we?” I gazed around at the trees towering above us.

“I don’t know,” she said, poking the GPS with rapid-fire fingering.

“How long have we been driving around?”

“Awhile. What should we do?”

“We should let me drive.”

After taking the wheel, I backed up a hundred feet and then curved down a road suggested by the GPS. As before, the GPS was vague, ambiguous, but on its screen I saw a path running south from where we were and where we wanted to be, so relied on my instinct and consulted the GPS only to make sure we were continuing in a southerly direction.

25 minutes later, we were home, and Francesca was sound asleep. In bed by 3:30, I was up three hours later for a six-hour shift at the school. I survived, of course, but no thanks to the GPS or Francesca’s (lack of) sense of direction.

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