One of the great things about traveling is that it opens up whole new vistas of opportunity for Cow Scrutiny. This post is the first in what I think is likely to be a continuing riff, as I commence my long stay in the US. These posts will all be grouped together under the new Stranger in a Strange Land category.1

Of course, one of the first things a Stranger in a Strange Land needs is a guide. And when in Rome Los Angeles, the must-have accessory is satellite navigation. On my arrival, therefore, I was provided with a TomTom XL – the XL presumably referring to the ‘extra large’ screen that I requested (it actually doesn’t seem particularly ‘extra’ large to me, which is remarkable in a land where ‘extra large’ usually means ‘so big that a normal human can’t deal with it in any meaningful way’).

The TomTom XL is a masterpiece of irritating technology. The TomTom people have taken the miracle of Global Positioning and created a way to interface with it that is clumsy and frustrating. It is a breathtaking accomplishment. Never in my life have I sworn at an inanimate object quite so much.2 Of course, my hatred for it is amplified by the fact that it has a robot voice that pretends it knows more about the world than I do, and we all know how fond I am of that idea.

One of the ‘features’ of the TomTom system though, is that you can log in to the TomTom site and change the default voice (Female Moron #1) for one of hundreds of alternatives. Some of these are for sale and feature the professionally recorded voices of luminaries like Kim Cattrall and Burt Reynolds (I kid you not) or ‘humourous’ instructions provided by C3PO and SpongeBob. Why ANYBODY thinks this kind of thing is a good idea is completely beyond me, unless of course you opt to choose the voice of someone you really hate in order that your levels of rage and frustration from using the device can be amplified just that little bit more. The last thing I want to hear as I miss the exit to the freeway because the damn thing told me to ‘go straight on‘ when it should have said ‘take the right lane3 is Yoda advising me that I should have used The Force.

Most of the downloadable voices on the TomTom site are free, however and (Oh frabjous day!) are created by the TomTom community. Now the fact that a person is willing to even admit that they belong to the TomTom community is enough to indicate what kind of very special surprises might be in store here. Sure, there are pages of interminable ‘My Sister’s Funny Voice’ and ‘Me Doing Impressions of a Dalek’4 but there are also some gems. Such as the voice of Alan from the Macedonia Primitive Baptist Church.5

Hey hey! Christian navigation! That’s bound to be laff riot. A typical ‘instruction’ from Alan’s voice is:

God has blessed you on your journey. You have reached your destination.

Of course if God doesn’t bless you on your journey and you die horribly in a collision with a truck you won’t ever get that message, but hey, that’s how religion works, right?

My mind goes wild when I try to imagine Alan’s other instructions. OK, we’re coming to an intersection… Alan! Which way do I go?

At the next intersection, take your advice from Genesis 13:9: Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.

Or, on approaching the entrance to the freeway:

You are about to enter the freeway. Let me remind you of Isaiah 35:8: And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.

Yes, I can see it now. First traffic lights and Alan and the TomTom would be out the car window and into the LA River.

I’ve been here one week and already I can see the root cause of America’s road rage problems. What, with all the sugar in the breakfast cereals and celebrity voices directing traffic it’s a miracle that anybody gets anywhere in one piece.

  1. As if I don’t have enough categories already! []
  2. I mean, seriously. Operating systems don’t need to be like this folks. This is why we Apple fanboys bang on so much about how good Apple stuff is – it’s all in the operating system and the interface! TomTom people – just take a look at the Maps app in the iPhone. See how EASY that is to use? There ya go. []
  3. I’m not exaggerating – the TomTom frequently tells you to do something which is plainly not correct, and I have become convinced that it is maliciously programmed to do so. []
  4. Still not exaggerating. []
  5. Now, I didn’t even know there was a thing called the Primitive Baptist Church, but the words ‘primitive’ and ‘Baptist’ do sit quite comfortably together. []