Gina blew out the 19 candles and her family clapped. She’d taken the bus overnight to be home because she knew how much her being there would mean to her mother.
Her father handed her a small box, nicely wrapped, and everyone watched expectantly as she unwrapped it. It contained some car keys. “Happy Birthday, Gina,” everyone yelled.
“I got a car?” she asked.
“Yeah, just look out the front door,” her father replied, the excitement in his voice bubbling over.
Gina ran to the front door, threw it open and looked in the driveway. Nothing there. “Across the street,” her father’s voice behind her instructed. She’d noticed the white Camry when her Mom and Dad drove in with her this morning but figured it belonged to a neighbor.
She ran across the street, fitted the key in the lock and opened the car door. Her father was right behind her.
“I know it’s a little old, a 2003. But it’s in great shape, only two owners,” he told her. “Last one ran it into a tree, but the damage was completely fixed, good as new.”
“So why was it sold?”
“Kid got shook, and his mother refused to let him drive again for a year. Good mileage, too, less than 60,000. We figured you might want to drive home instead of taking the bus.”
Gina got in, adjusted the seat and looked around. The inside was pristine and smelled almost new; she was sure her father had spent hours cleaning it. She was equally sure the car was a way for her parents to wangle her home more often. She loved it, though, and promised herself she would drive home more frequently.
The she noticed it: a GPS unit attached to the front windshield. “Dad, it’s even got a GPS! Did you buy that for me?”
“No, sweetie, it came with the car. But I feel a whole lot safer that you’ll have a GPS to help you find your way around and not get lost in some bad places.”
“Fantastic, Dad. I could never afford one for myself. Thank you so much for my car!” She got out and gave him a bear hug.
Throughout the spring semester, Gina drove her prized possession, taking her girlfriends out for fun nights at local spots, and yes, driving home at least once a month. And she used the GPS unit, too. At first she was somewhat put off by the vaguely slimy male British accent of the voice, and try as she might, she couldn’t figure out how to change it. She knew the newer units let you choose the voice you wanted. But after a while, she got used to it and trusted that voice to find where she needed to be and to get her there. It became her lifeline, just as her Dad said.
Her college roommate Kate asked her to visit her in July. Kate lived in Wyoming and Gina had never been west of Wisconsin, so she said yes and asked when? It was decided she would drive there at the end of May, after finals were over and before she began her summer internship at a local vet’s office.
Gina set off for Wyoming with Kate’s address programmed into the GPS and she also had maps her father had gotten for her at AAA. Kate lived in the small town of Lander, near the Wind River Range, and Gina was excited to see the mountains and compare small town western life to hers in Chicago. Her leaving was not without family turmoil. The drive was 18 hours, too long for one day, her Dad declared and offered to buy her a plane ticket to the nearest big airport in Casper. But Gina stubbornly held to her idea of a great adventure, and only gave in to her parents’ demand that she stop for the night in North Platte, Nebraska.
Gina snuck out of the house at 4AM on the day she planned to leave, figuring that she could make it to Kate’s home by 10 or 11 that night, if she drove straight through. She had a hamper of food and a cooler of drinks her mother had prepared the night before and her GPS. She could do it, and she shivered with excitement as she started her car and drove quietly off.
She hadn’t realized how long an 18-hour drive could be after she’d been on the road for about eight hours. She played the radio, ate, talked to her parents on the phone several times, stopped for gas and the bathroom, stretched and counted the time. When she came to North Platte, she almost stopped, but then thought I can surprise Kate. In their last phone call, she assured Kate she was going to stop, but now that she was this far, she wanted to push on.
The GPS reminded her from time to time where she was, how many miles to go, and when she finally reached Lander just short of 11, she felt a great sense of accomplishment. She found the dark here overwhelming, no streetlights like in Chicago, just the stars and blackness all around. The GPS now took her off the main road, and she was comforted by the voice that would take her up into the mountains to Kate’s.
It seemed that this last part of the drive was interminable. Because the car was dark and she didn’t want to stop, she couldn’t check her maps. She trusted the GPS would get her there, following the voice’s commands through zigs and zags up the mountain side, turns onto side roads, until finally she was on what appeared to be a narrow gravel driveway. At last! Kate said they had a gravel drive and it was not easy to find.
Gina thought she could see lights ahead and stepped on the gas, so anxious to be there. Her Camry shot forward and all of a sudden she found herself suspended in space, nothing below the car, in free fall.
The last thing she heard was the GPS voice saying, “Welcome home, Gina.”