Expedia, Fun with GPS

Expedia is awesome

During my travel adventures last week, I realized that the reason airlines make passengers wait in an aircraft sitting on the tarmac (versus letting us mill around the terminal until we’re really expecting to leave) is so they can officially blame air traffic control for the delay.  “Hey, we left on time, ATC delayed us [because of those pesky midwest summer thunderstorms – imagine!]” translates to “We will compensate you diddly/squat because it’s Not Our Fault.”

Anyway, I was rerouted to Hartford, CT, instead of Providence, RI.  With about 20 minutes left before my (new) flight, I canceled my rental car with Enterprise and tried to find an alternative rental as Enterprise doesn’t do point-to-point rentals.

The top half shows the default results on expedia.  On first glance, it’s easy to miss the difference between “preferred vendor view” and the other options. I did. Since there was only one result for this itinerary — Hertz — I initially overlooked the other tabs, thinking they were just different ways of sorting the result (singular).  Because the rates exceeded my perception of what I should be paying for a car for a day and a half – even if I was going to attempt driving in Boston – I began contemplating other methods — train, cab, zeppelin, whatever.  I finally “saw” the smallish white font under “Car Price View.”   That rate sheet, shown on the bottom panel, has a vendor at one half the cost. I have hard time grokking what “special customer care guarantees” Hertz could provide that would justify twice the rate of Thrifty.  I don’t know if Expedia gets a percentage of the rental fee.

The next morning, the Hartford EconoLodge dropped me off directly at the Thrifty counter.  Thrifty “upgraded” me to a Dodge Nitro. “No, really, I want the small car.” “We don’t have any.” “Uh, thanks.” It also had a portable GPS as an add-on option.  (On the mellow, pre-Boston part of the drive, I got a respectable 24.8 mpg.  From Cambridge on, driving like my life was in jeopardy, it was only 17.3 mpg.)

The last time I’d used a GPS in the car was in the late 90s. Hertz’s NeverLost system was more helpful than not, but had a disturbing tendency to be off by 100 feet at times, leading to some hilariously wrong turns.  Or, if surrounding downtown landscape mucked with the line-of-sight, it would crap itself.  Ironically, this is where I needed it the most.

The Garmin Nuvi was a huge improvement in that it never lost track of the satellites during my 450+ miles of driving.  Until Cambridge, it behaved admirably, even issuing clear instructions when navigating the abundant roundabouts: “Enter ROUND-a-BOUT.  Take THIRD exit.”  I got to my last appointment with plenty of time to spare.

But on the way to the TF Green Airport (Warwick, RI), it wigged out, sending me along a challenging labyrinth of five- and six-way intersections. I often heard this: “Turn RIGHT in 100 feet.”  I turn right.  “Recalculating.”

As I watched its routing unfold, it was clear it was taking me along the scenic route.  Thing is, there’s this road called “Interstate 95” that would theoretically get me out of the Boston metroplex.  The GPS was adamant about finding ways to avoid this, routing me through Dedham (where the local fire department had traffic backed up until you “filled the boot”).  The last straw was its routing me down US 1 (“Providence Highway”) that crossed I-95.

The biggest problem, and one that I was unaware of until I got to the airport because (because I had given up on it by now) was its database had a completely incorrect address for the Thrifty return center.  As in: “in another town, 30+ miles from the airport.”   I mentioned this when I brought the car back. “We know.” “Well, why don’t you fix it?”  (It’s apparently a “custom point of interest.”

Perhaps, as Kevin said, the GPS thought I was Californian, and was just fucking with me.  All I know is I was getting frustrated at all the “Recalculatings.”  If the machine had any capabilities of sarcasm, I am sure it would have added colorful commentary like “Did I say THE OTHER right?”  or “Okay, I give up, WHERE are we going?

I’m surprised one of those “let’s mess with people and film it” shows (aka “Candid Camera” or “Punk’d”) haven’t tried this as a prank:

  • Make someone do a circuit around a block.
  • Start randomly chatting about something irrelevant to trip directions:  “Say, that’s a nice tie you’re wearing!”
  • Offer commentary on places selected “That place sucks, you don’t REALLY want to go there, do you?  I thought you were cool.”

Any other suggestions?

One comment

  1. Two pieces of hardware that have similar experiences:

    There’s a PVR, then there’s the Tivo.
    There’s a GPS, then there’s a Garmin.

    The difference between a GPS and a Garmin are amazing, especially if you need customer service.

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