Kevin Short: Adventures with Jill

I have finally been beaten down and joined the GPS navigation wave of today. Gone is the clunky, gimball-mounted marine combo GPS/sonar unit with the puck antenna mounted on the dash of the truck. The unit that never spoke a word but has guided us across the continent for the past five years. The unit that has traced a route for us from border to border and coast to coast. The unit that has drawn a pink line across hundreds of thousands of miles. It has been replaced by a sleek, slim, svelte (look it up) little thing named Jill.

My introduction to Jill came on a trip with Don Barone to some far off nether land of ghosts and a guy named Munster. Check that out here and here. The thing that amazed me about Barone's Jill was the fact that she could navigate through tunnels. How does this work?

Barone and I are under the Boston Harbor in that major tunnel they dug under the freakin' water and this Jill chick is telling us which way to go. And she's right. She didn't get lost. She didn't lose track of the satellites. She didn't scream "GPS Module Not Responding" or any of that crap. I knew then that my clunky, gimball-mounted GPS/sonar unit was history. It would have never worked in the tunnel.

My Jill is a Garmin Nuvi 755T. She started out as a He. Yep, American Jill was actually English Dan when I first fired her/him up. Dan lasted about two hours into a five-hour drive to Tennessee and he had to get back on the boat for England. I knew it would be a short relationship when he told me within our first five minutes together to turn left on "R-8-9's" in his best English accent. "R-8-9's?" What the ... ? Took me a minute to realize that he wanted me to turn left on AR (for Arkansas, duh) 89 (the highway number) S (for South, you English idiot). So I turned left on AR 89 South, after telling Dan that he was an English moron.

Somewhere in Memphis, I decided that English Dan was toast. Jill was the least offensive of what few choices are available on the 755T. English choices, that is. I couldn't go the Aussie choices, mate. Oh, yeah, I could go for some Turkish or Arabic or Russian or Chinese or some language that I totally don't understand, but why? I was having a hard enough time with English Dan and he's supposed to be speaking English. They need something in the Southern American vernacular. Like Southern American Debbie. Maybe Southern American Clem. "Ya'll hang a left up there on Arkensaw 89, why don'cha?". Give us something in American we can understand.

Jill's okay to deal with, just a little plain. Plain until you take a wrong turn or get off the course she has calculated then she gets a bit testy and has to do some "recalculating". "Recalculating". That's the fun part of having one of these GPS things that talk to you; you can screw with their brains. Just how boring do you think that driving across the country is that where deliberately trying to throw off the GPS? Pretty damn boring. I like to take a different route just to see what she'll say. I need a life.

Other than plotting a pretty good route most of the time, Jill has some other fine qualities about her. She tells us what our estimated time of arrival is, where the closest everything is located, even what the speed limit is where we are currently traveling. She even has this traffic thing that pops up and tells us if there is a traffic delay ahead; how does she know? How does she know what the speed limit is? How does it change from 70 to 55 shortly after we go past the sign? Who sits around in a cubicle in Olathe, Kansas packing all this into Jill's brain?

Jill will even show us a photo of the next intersection with arrows pointing to the lane that we need to be in. Who's taking those photos? The guys in Olathe get to take a road trip once in a while for a photo session? Pretty cool.

I don't think that Jill is the best thing since sliced bread, as she also has a dark side. Maybe not a dark side, but a less than glamorous side. She doesn't seem to know what an RV Park is. Either that or I don't know how to prod her into finding the nearest one. How can that be? Who needs more direction that people roaming around in 35 or 40 foot long boxes on wheels? No category for "RV Park". It might be nice under the "Fuel" category if there was a sub-section for "Diesel". You know, what all those big trucks you see running up and down the road burn thousands of gallons of? Just a thought.

Jill also doesn't discriminate on where she seems to take us. On the trip from Maryland to Smith Mountain Lake, she actually took us up across and down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Yes, there were huge yellow signs that said "Caution: Not Recommended for Recreational Vehicles or Trailers. No Commercial Traffic." The next sign was "Last Chance to Avoid Hang-Ups". What's a "hang-up"? After three of the double S, switchback, hairpin curves up toward the top of the Blue Ridge, I knew what a "hang-up" could be. During one curve, I swear I looked out the corner of my eye and saw the Mercury hanging on the back of the BassCat — beside us. Believe the signs and don't take the Blue Ridge Parkway, even with a truck camper or a small RV. Ever. Even if your Jill says to go that way.

The Ultimate Jill would probably be something along the lines of "Bassin' Barb". She would know where every tackle shop and boat ramp is located around every lake. Instead of traffic reports, she could have a fishing report or weather report. She would know where every Mexican restaurant with boat parking is located. She would also know that I'm pulling a boat and don't need to take any routes with double S, hairpin turns.

Why not? Why would Garmin or some other manufacturer not program one of their units like that? I might trade in Jill for a model like her.

For more info on Kevin Short or to contact Kevin, check out his website at www.kfshort.com.