Sunday, October 08, 2006


There are two gadgets that were invented, manufactured and marketed specifically for me.

One is the electronic calculator. I simply can’t do math in my head. Not even if my life depended on it. And a boatload of college and graduate-level algebra and statistics courses have done nothing to change that.

Want an example? Here’s one that I swear is true.

I once withdrew 130€ from an ATM and received a fifty and four twenties. I counted them, and they equaled 100€. I counted them again—knowing full well that ATM’s rarely make mistakes—and they still equalled 100€. I counted them a third time (still 100€!) and then complained to the bank manager who—with a look that exhibited both bewilderment and concern—showed me very slowly, very tenderly that 50+20+20+20+20=130.

The other invention is the global positioning system (or “GPS”). And that’s what I’m going to talk about today.

To say that I was born with a poor sense of direction is inaccurate. I was, in fact, born with no sense of direction whatsoever. Over the years, I’ve devised strategies for coping with this shortcoming. The most effective strategy has been to carefully determine the direction in which my destination lies...and then go the opposite direction. That usually does the trick.

But then, while I was in Chicago during Christmas 2005, I took my father’s truck out for a spin and noticed something unusual in the dashboard. It was a GPS.

A GPS! I’d heard about these things, but had know...touched one.

Or caressed one.

Or deep tissue massaged one.

And now, there I was...all alone in that truck...with a GPS.

I punched in an address. Any address.

“1313 COCONUT Grove. Yeah! That’s a good one!”

And as that beautiful little hunka silcone took me by the hand and lovingly deposited me at my destination as if we had made the drive a million times before, I fell madly in love.

The Beatles famously stated that “Money Can’t Buy Me Love.” But in this case, it could. The problem, however, was that the cost of love was 500€-700€. So I sadly observed an indefinite vow of GPS celibacy.

The vow lasted for what seemd to be an eternity. Until...I opened the newspaper a few weeks ago and saw the following announcment in the insert for a Spanish electronics store chain called Media Markt:


199€?!!! I leaped into my car and drove in the exact opposite direction of where I knew the store was located. An hour later and 200€ poorer, I was giddily licking the suction cup of my new GPS.

And yesterday morning, I took it on its first, real mission: “GPS, my dear. Take me to IKEA!”

And guess what? The GPS got me to IKEA in record time. And it got me there with neither an iota of stress nor a single U-turn. For me, that's unheard of!!!

And best of all, that little GPS freed my mind to focus on other, more important things while driving., like COCONUT!

I walked into IKEA feeling like a man with supreme confidence. And I walked out of IKEA 200€ poorer. But that’s OK, because you know what they say.

“Steel colander for straining pasta: 8€.”

“Drafting table and chair for your daughter’s birthday: 110€.”

“A sense of direction after 39 years of fantasizing about one: Priceless!”


At 10:13 PM, Blogger christina said...

I'll comment when I stop laughing.

BTW A fifty and four twenties just added up to €110 for me. I feel your math pain.

At 11:57 PM, Blogger The Big Finn said...

Awesome! That means that when we come to Madrid, you can just type "where TBF and Mrs. TBF are..." and your GPS will direct you right to where we're staying.

Just for the record...Media Markt is a GERMAN electronics store chain.

At 1:02 AM, Anonymous Culinary Fool said...

For a minute I thought you were going to end up in Sweden!
~ B

At 1:56 AM, Blogger Franje said...

This math teacher is rolling his eyes. :)

At 4:04 AM, Blogger Nyana said...

The only place I experienced GPS was in a car racing game on my high end game console.
A woman, bearing the voice of a librarian with a hidden wild side, kept telling me to make turns or warned me when I was going in the wrong direction.
I found this titilating.

At 9:10 AM, Blogger christina said...

Wait am minute...€8 plus €110 equals...oh, never mind.

This has to be one of the funniest things I've read in a long time, partly because it totally describes *me*. Which is why I usually take the bus and let someone else do the math.

How come they don't call Media Markt (that's where we bought our killer fridge!) Media Mercado in Spain?

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Christina: Hello?! This is IKEA! Do you really, REALLY think that I escaped with ONLY a colander, a drafting table and a chair? No, no, no...

TBF/Christina: So THAT explained the odd, unpronounceable "Markt." I'm still not sure if it should be prononced "Marked" or "Market." Anyway, I guess I was confused about the origin of this chain know...nobody has EVER spoken to me in German at my local Media Markt.

Franje: Please give me your personal mobile phone number. I am going to call you every time that I'm at a cash register about to pay for something. You might as well give your number to Christina, also.

BeeP: There was no danger that I'd end up in Sweden. Why? Because I was driving in the direction of Sweden.

Nyana: Your experience makes me wish that they'd start putting GPS's in US Voting Booths. "Wrong direction! Turn left! Turn left! Turn left!!!"

At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Kath said...

It's ok, Sal. Us laywer types use a different side of the brain. Mathematics are NOT our specialty. I counted your notes and eventually used a calculator to figure out how much you managed to get out of the bank. As for GPS - I think our experiences in Madrid and London speak for themselves...... ;-)

At 2:16 PM, Blogger christina said...

Right, I forgot about IKEA's unspoken "please leave your €200 at the door when you leave the premises" rule. But you, as an Italian-American, didn't already have a steel colander for draining pasta?? Tsk.

Markt, like most German words, is pronounced as if you were spitting the last two consonants onto the sidewalk - somewhere in between "marked" and "market" but with more gusto at the end.

Also, does that GPS (they call it a Navi in German, short for Navigationssystem which is all one word and pronounced in a weird German way) help with parallel parking, 'cause I don't think I'm ever going to catch on to that one.

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...


Of course I had a colander beforehand. But believe it or not (and I swear it's true), it broke...from overuse.

Suffice it to say, my diet is anything but low carb.

As for parallel parking, you don't need a GPS. You need motorcycle.


At 4:22 PM, Blogger euro-trac said...

I've been crying over reading that - so, so funny!!! To be honest, I cried before I started reading it, just at the pictures!


Shame you had to go to Ikea though... Poor you!

At 3:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What terrifies me most is that you took a picture of the coconut and the GPS while you were driving! I've driven with you one too many times to know that that was not a safe move for you!! Next time, stop and then take the picture!


At 9:58 AM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Trac: What?! I LOVE IKEA! I would ride a donkey 100 miles to shop at IKEA. Believe me, it's no coincidence that my GPS's maiden voyage was to IKEA.

Nina: What are you complaining about? At least I put down my Sudoku while taking the picture.


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