Tuesday, 14 November 2017

From Here to Edisto: My Life as a GPS Angel

As I mentioned in my speech at a recent mental health event, I have occasionally been called upon to act as a personal SatNav (GPS) service for Fran when she’s traveling.

When Fran’s away from home it’s often easier for me to look stuff up online than it is for her on her cell phone. I’ve booked hotels on her behalf and checked out restaurants and places to visit. I’ve even acted as an emergency SatNav, using a combination of Facebook chat, Google maps and an app called Glympse which lets you share your location with someone. It’s never boring with Frannie!

I had opportunity to reprise this role last weekend, as Fran travelled with a friend from Portland, Maine, to Charleston in South Carolina—a journey of 1,100 miles (around 19 hours on the road). We’d planned the trip well in advance. Jim would rent the car and do the driving. Fran would navigate, a challenge she was keen to take on even if she doubted her abilities. I would be on hand if needed.

We explored a number of navigation options. Google Maps would work, but is a bit basic. Waze was recommended by friends but we didn’t find it particularly intuitive. Researching alternatives, I found HERE WeGo. It seemed straightforward to set up and we liked the fact Fran could download the maps she’d need ahead of time to save data on the road. Fran also had a printed AAA TripTik Travel Planner. Glympse would let me track Fran’s location in the event they got lost or needed me to assist.

Hours before they departed, Fran realised we’d not considered the cost of road tolls. A quick online search turned up Tollsmart, an app which gave details of each individual toll along their route including which accepted cash and which didn’t. Fran had an old E-ZPass unit, but the battery was dead. (E‑ZPass is an electronic toll collection system used on most tolled roads, bridges, and tunnels in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States.) We discussed alternatives methods of payment and I checked the options offered by their car rental company. This page has information on not paying too much on tolls when using a rental car.

Fran and Jim got on the road around 11:30 a.m. and were soon making good progress. Their original plan was to break their journey overnight in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Fran and I had researched a few suitable hotels in advance. An hour or so into the journey they realised Fredericksburg was a little optimistic and decided to look for somewhere a little closer.

We’re thinking of stopping at Wilmington Delaware, can you find anywhere to stay?

I checked Booking.com and soon found one likely place—the White Oaks Motel at Pennsville—as well as a couple of others in the area.

Fran: Jim asks if we could get a place about an hour south of there. Tomorrow will be a long day and we need to check in around 4pm.

Martin: I found one in the Baltimore area about 3 hours from where you are now. It has various rooms available but doesn’t look as nice as the White Oaks one.

Fran: White Oaks it is then. Now to book.

Martin: Yayay

Fran: Booked. Now to put the address in the app. Jim says Big thanks to Marty. I think we all made a good call. Can you help us get to the motel?

Martin: You’ve put it in the app?

Fran: Yes but when I use the GPS I get confused. And the voice isn’t loud enough. Is it far from our path?

Martin: No it’s not far from your path. Program the app from wherever you are now, to the hotel. You are on I-95 now?

Fran: Garden State Parkway

I found that on the map but it seemed some way off the expected route.

Martin: Can you put Glympse on for a few minutes so I can see where you are?

Fran: Done. Are we on track? Below Asbury Park.

Martin: I haven’t received an email re the Glympse. Never mind. Looks like you are a little bit over to the east. Get onto 195 West.

Fran: I think we missed the exit.

Fran called me on Skype and we had a short call to confirm what road they were on and what they planned to do next. Once they were back on track I sent Fran screenshots and other details to get them to the motel.

Fran: You’re an angel. Do you have the motel number so we can tell them we’ll be late.

Martin: One moment... Here you go... When you get chance, it would help me to know where you are.

Fran: Just got on NJ Turnpike south for 195

Martin: Almost exactly one hour to go. You’re doing good!

It was about half past midnight here in the UK. Confident they’d be fine, I said goodnight and went to bed. Fran messaged me an hour or so later to let me know they’d arrived safely.

I am glad to be on this journey.. so far! We’ve navigated things well. Whew! Only 11 hour and 18 minutes from here to Edisto Beach (with no delays, stops, mistakes.. lord help me). We are supposed to be there around 4p. Sigh. We will get up at 5.30.

Five thirty a.m. for them is ten thirty a.m. here in the UK. I messaged Fran next morning to make sure they’d not overslept.

Beep! Beep! Early morning call for weary travellers.

She replied almost immediately with characteristic (and half-joking) candour.

Fran: Fuck you! It’s too early!

Martin: Good morning Fran! Good morning Jim!

Fran: Good morning! Jim says hello!

They were soon on the road. Fran sent me a short Glympse so I could see where they were. This time it worked perfectly. She was a little concerned about her phone data and asked me to check it for her: something I do when she is away from home. It was fine. We chatted on and off along the way.

Fran: It’s mostly I-95 until we get close to Edisto.

Martin: Yes. It should be easier going/navigating today. You both did really well yesterday.

Fran: I’m learning the satnav!!!

When they got to Selma I sent them a screenshot showing how far they had travelled since leaving Portland the morning before. They had about five hours left to go.

Martin: The U.S. is so BIG!!!!

Fran: YES! Wonder how many hours across the country?

Martin: I’d sooner take the train on something real long.

Fran: Me too.

Martin: So that’s something we can do some time!

They were making good progress, but you can never be complacent.

Truck ahead of us just went off road but recovered. That was unreal. But we’re safe. Damn. Send angels.

Fran put Glympse on again for the final hour or so of their journey. I watched as they missed a turn, turned back and corrected themselves.

Fran: We’re here! Our place is unbelievable. I’ll do a video of it tomorrow to show you.

Martin: You’ve both done brilliantly! I’ll let you settle in, and catch up with you tomorrow. Goodnight!

Next morning I saw Fran had posted this to her Facebook page:

After getting lost in Jersey, staying over in a Bates-like hotel, running over the treads of a truck tire, and watching a fuel truck run off the road and back on again (way scary) 22 hours on the road! We practically kissed the ground in Edisto Beach, South Carolina.

A friend had commented “Yikes! I’m glad you made it safe.”

Fran: There were angels ♥



  1. You are surely the God Father of all GPS Angels I have ever heard of lol. See how you travel round the world from the comfort of your sofa? hahaha - so grateful for all I learn from you

    1. Thank you so much, Marie! You are right, I have never actually left the UK in my life, and yet I have accompanied Fran on her travels to many places - and of course I love to connect with folk all over the world! Like your good self! This is the power of technology for good, to enable caring, supportive connections no matter the geographic distance between people. ~Marty