Death by Google Maps

Death by Google Maps(You can get the graphic above – Map Marker of Death – on a T-shirt here)

It took a little while to realize I might get shot. If I was, I vowed to write a message in blood to my wife revealing the identity of my killer. With a blood stained finger, I’d scrawl: Google Maps.

I was in Beverly Hills at a speaking engagement and needed to get back to my hotel near LAX. I had tried to rent a car with no success, so I was traveling by bus. I was using Google Maps on my iPhone to navigate L.A.’s bus system.

I followed the directions exactly without a second thought, as one is apt to do with technology. Unlike a local friend, a kind passerby, or a gas station attendant, Google Maps doesn’t mention info that is just as critical as getting from A to B as right turns and wrong turns, such as pot-holed-filled streets or the presence of gang violence.

To get from Beverly Hills to LAX I had to change buses twice. The first bus stop was nearly my last.

I grabbed my laptop bag with my shiny new Mac inside and headed for the bus door. The bus lady gave me a look in her mirror as I exited.

“Maybe she’s just admiring my new blue sweater,” I thought. “Or maybe she’s giving me props for doing such a fabulous job of navigating L.A.’s public transit system.”

The bus pulled away and left me alone on Crenshaw Boulevard.

What you need to know – and what I was so blissfully unaware of – about Crenshaw is that it’s the neighborhood that the movie Boyz ‘n the Hood was based on. The “hood” has been mentioned in songs by Easy-E, Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, and Dr. Dre. It is an area very, very unlike any that I could stumble upon in my hometown of Muncie, Indiana.

Dr. Dre on Crenshaw in “Stranded in Death Row”:

What don’t you bring you’re ass on over to Crenshaw and Slauson
Take a walk through the hood, and we up to no good
Slangin’ on things like a real ho
G should, I’m stackin’ and mackin’ and packin’ a ten so
When you’re slippin’, I slip the clip in
But ain’t no steady tripppin
Cause it’s Death Row, rollin like the mafia

The Damu Ridas on Crenshaw from their album “How Deep is Your Hood?”:

On Crenshaw and Century the Mafia has made history, and even know punk [n-word] wanna do shit.

“Oh. My God. I’m going to die.”

The seriousness of my location set in when I saw the bars over the windows on the nearby McDonald’s. In case you are thinking that a fast food restaurant is some oasis of peace when it comes to gang violence, and I had nothing to worry about: three days ago a man was shot and killed in the drive-thru of a Taco Bell on Crenshaw. The bullets got him before the tacos did.

According to Google Maps I was doing everything right. According to evolution I wasn’t. The look the bus driver gave me was actually like the one that the farmer gives the lamb when he takes him to market, “Well, it’s been nice knowing you.”

“Act like you belong here. Act like you belong here.”

I was wearing a pair of shoes that resemble Chuck Taylors. My jeans had a fashionable hole in the knee. I shouldered a Timbuk2 laptop bag the color of moist moss that sits next to mountain biking trails frequented by weekend warrior yuppies.

And my sweater…Lord help me…my sweater. It was blue!!! I was in Crips & Blood country wearing Crips’ colors. Or as they say, “trued up” in Crips’ colors.

I tried my best not to look like a gang-initiation prerequisite. Wide-eyes equal fear, so I squinted like Clint Eastwood. I acted like this was my normal commute. I whistled. I checked my watch even though I wasn’t wearing one.

On the inside I was panicked. I pondered escape routes and places to grab cover. I held my laptop bag in such a way that it could be used as a weapon.

All this to say: I looked like an idiot.

As cars pulled into McDonald’s, the passengers did double-takes, undoubtedly wagering if I’d come to my final resting place on the sidewalk, in the street, or in the McDonald’s landscaping behind me.

In 2010 a pedestrian sued Google after Google Maps directions on her Blackberry told her to cross a dark street in Park City, Utah. She crossed. There wasn’t a sidewalk. She got hit by a car and sued Google for $100,000.

Would my wife have a case?

Using GPS makes us dumber. Researchers at McGill University found that GPS users have a higher chance of damaging the part of the brain knows as the hippocampus. The hippocampus tells humans where they are and where they are going. Atrophy of the hippocampus can expose a person to a higher risk of cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Whether led by brain damage or blind faith, I shouldn’t have been standing on a street corner in Crenshaw.

I sat my mind to the task of finding words that rhyme with Hoosier: loser, boozer, snoozer, cruiser, doozer, newser, ruser, muser, woozer.

Standing on the corner like a Hoosier
Holding my laptop like a muser
About to go down like a loser

L.A. buses require exact change. My wallet had credit cards heaped with frequent flyer miles, a one-dollar bill and a ten-dollar bill, and an Indiana license announcing I was an organ donor, but it didn’t have exact change. I pondered running into the McDonald’s to break the ten, but what if I missed the bus?

The wait was supposed to be ten minutes, but twenty long minutes went by, each passing like a dog year and being subtracted like a cat’s life.

Finally, the bus rolled up and the driver threw open the door.

“Hello, mam,” I may as well have said howdy. “I don’t have exact change…” I paused allowing her to fill in the blank with, “I don’t have exact change, but I’m scared shitless and really need to be anywhere but on this street corner holding thousands of dollars of electronics ‘trued up’ in my Crip colors. Please, oh please, let me have a ride.”

“Honey, just get on,” she said.

My life, nearly brought to an end by Google Maps, was spared and I learned an important lesson: I need to pull my head out of my GPS.

Melissa says:

Great piece! My inner native Southern Californian was laughing at you. The ma’am definitely gave you away 🙂

We’ve had trouble with Google since moving to TX. We get to where Google tells us the place should be, but it’s clearly not the correct place.

Interesting about the McGill study. I’ve recently started printing out maps again. After almost two years with my iPhone, I’ve noticed that I seem to have some spatial disorientation when navigating on my own. I’ve been blaming just blindly following directions weakening my senses.

Kelsey says:

Oh how the brain in our pockets make us dumber. The nice thing about living on an island is that you can never get too lost.

Becki says:

I learned how wrong Google Maps (and Mapquest) can be, when twice my friend and I were trying to get to restaurants and the directions both times sent us the opposite direction on the correct street. Since then, I’ve learned to look carefully at the maps, checked the destination’s address, and checked the destination’s site for directions.

I refuse to use my husband’s GPS unit after it kept trying to direct me home from Long Island via Manhattan, which was the last place on earth I wanted to drive during rush hour traffic! Now I never go anywhere without both detailed Google maps for the exact neighborhood I’m visiting, plus AAA maps for the city I’ll be in. Can never have too many maps. : )

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