I don’t know how a conversation about speeding tickets turned into a debate about GPS, but my friend Premlyn suggested that I get one of those car navigation units to help me go from Point A to Point B. 

 I did some window shopping that weekend and decided that I will wait by the sidelines until prices dropped.  Friends and family who have GPS in their cars swear by them.  It is like that big sigh, “How did we manage without mobile phones?” 

We managed all right without GPS because we got on the phone and the person we were visiting gave us directions.  We wrote down the directions and kept our fingers crossed that the petrol/gas station was on the left hand side as per directions.  We were in trouble if it was actually on the right hand side.
“Hello.  I’m here next to the police station,” I call frantically.
“Oh!  No!  You are very far from the house.  Go back to the petrol station and you’ll see it on your right.” 

It is reassuring if you find that other guests at the party had the same problem.  If not, then you are a candidate for GPS.  Maybe not, because there are people who should be knighted for their impeccable mobile phone directions, peppered with landmarks.  I’m a great fan of landmarks because if you have unpaid traffic fines, you don’t want to be lost near a police station do you? 

I’m talking from experience.  My parents’ house does not have a garage so, when I was on a visit, I used to leave the car at the Lamontville Police Station overnight and fetch it in the morning.  One day, Police Sergeant Ngcobo told me that they got a phone call from the Mthunzini Traffic Department, 300 kilometres away with instructions to go to the house and impound the car.  Why?  He said there was an outstanding traffic violation where I overtook on a yellow line. 

I was just about to deny that I was ever there, when I remembered that we went there for a funeral a year ago.  Police Sergeant Ngcobo said they traced me because of the old address, before I moved to Johannesburg.  He told me that the Lamontville police reassured the Mthunzini Traffic Department that there was absolutely nothing to be alarmed about because the car was parked outside, at the police station.  Needless to say that the first thing I did when I got to the city was to pay the fine.  I came back home, showed Police Sergeant Ngcobo the proof of payment and continued to park at the police station until I left for Johannesburg.  All’s well that ends well.

Now back to car navigation.  I cannot afford GPS so I invent some excuses.  The old fashioned way of giving directions develops comprehension and writing skills.  If I don’t listen carefully, I will write turn right at the second stop sign, instead of the third stop sign.  I must be humble enough to admit that I did not hear the directions very well and ask the person to repeat what happens after the third robot or traffic light.  Spelling is also important.  I must write down Klakson Street and not the common Clarkeson Street.

Petrol or gas stations are another reason why I’m not in a hurry to acquire car navigation.  Petrol attendants usually know the area around their petrol station like the back of their hands.  If they don’t, they call someone who does. This never fails to amaze me because most of them don’t have cars. 

I don’t have car navigation but I have a companion called A-Z Street Map for Johannesburg, Randburg and Sandton.  It comes in handy when I want to confirm the directions you gave me.  I use it so often, I lost the cover and the contents’ page is holding on for dear life on the book’s spine.  I still have my Toronto A-Z somewhere in my Canada file.

I’ll let you know when I finally activate the GPS that lies dormant in my mobile phone or when I buy a navigation unit for the car.  By the way, how do I get to your place?

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness the novel.


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