SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Triangulate This, NAVSTAR!
By Dave Kiffer


February 10, 2008
Sunday PM

Ketchikan, Alaska - I was sitting behind a car at a stop light the other day.

That in itself always seems a little exotic, because - naturally - I can remember when Ketchikan had no stop lights.

jpg Triangulate This, NAVSTAR! By Dave Kiffer

Yeah, I can hear you saying, time for a blast of nostalgic drivel about the good old days when Ketchikan was "less big city" and had no stop lights.

Those WERE the good old days, of course. Primarily because you never had to stand at the side of the road for a half an hour getting drenched because no one would stop their car - and interrupt their crucial five minute drive across town - for you.

Once upon a time, folks would stop to let a pedestrian cross, or another car go through an intersection.

Now we need a set of pretty colored light bulbs to remind us to let someone else go, but of course, I digress.

Anyway, we were stopped for the light and finally it turned green (is it just me or does the light really stay red longer when there is absolutely no cross traffic?!?).

I didn't immediately tromp on the gas because the guy ahead of me didn't move. The light remained green. He didn't budge. It never occurred to me to honk. I wasn't raised that way.

The guy still didn't move. I noticed he was fiddling with something on his dash board. It was too high to be the stereo or the heater or even the cigarette lighter. I wondered if he was engaged in a "life or death" text message. Lots of folks seem to be doing that while they drive these days,

He kept fiddling.

Finally the guy behind me - obviously a big city type - leaned on his horn. The guy in front stopped fiddling and proceeded to pull away. I followed him through the intersection. He was driving pretty slowly but at least he was making some progress. He was indeed moving slightly faster than Continental Drift.

When the road widened up, I pulled along side to pass him. He was still fiddling with the doohicky on his dash board. Finally, I realized what it was, a GPS.

For those not in the know, a GPS is a global positioning system. It basically uses satellites and other cool stuff to tell you right where you are at any given time.

They are really handy if:

(A) you are in a plane, it is dark outside and one cloud pretty much looks like every other cloud.

(B) you are in a boat in the open ocean, where one wave pretty much looks like every other wave.

Or ( C ) you are driving along Highway 50 in Nevada where one bleached out cattle skull pretty much looks like every other bleached out cattle skull.

I will even grant the contention that when you are driving into an unfamiliar, congested urban center - say Sitka for example - a GPS that also gives you driving directions can be a handy thing.

It can tell you where the next public bathroom is. It can tell you the proper turn off for Jeff Davis Street. It can even get you safely and quickly to McDonalds. If you have children this is a good thing.

But - on Tongass Avenue - I'm a little puzzled about just what the yahoo in front of me was looking for or at least trying to get calibrated so he could "position" himself later.

Just what was the GPS supposed to tell him that he was so concerned about learning, even in the face of being called an "eegit" or worse by his fellow (Tongass) travelers?

Did he need to understand that you must "turn left" at the Jefferson intersection in order to access Matty's World?

Was he unsure about whether it was two miles or three miles (turn right!) until Walmart?

Was he unclear about whether or not he was heading the right direction on Tongass if he was trying to get to Settlers Cove?

The mind boggles.

I continued to drive northward on Tongass Avenue.

And I cared not a whit that - at that very minute - satellites overhead were desperately trying to triangulate me and let me know that I was heading in the wrong direction.

Because, while I was pondering what that goofball with the GPS was up to, I had missed my own turn.

Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2008

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