Thanks, smartphone; I don’t know how I got along without you

Humor column
By: By Tony Overbay Special to The News Messenger
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As we made the left-hand turn onto a street that looked much like any other street in suburbia, my two youngest kids let out the four words that have become clichés to parents everywhere, words that sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, “Are we there yet?”

I looked down at my smartphone with the GPS app guiding me along the route and confidently said, “Just another 2 miles, kids, and we’ll be feasting on Cool Ranch Doritos Locos tacos!”

We were on a mini-vacation and I was happy to hear that they wanted Taco Bell for lunch and not a more expensive option. And after a day and a half of vacation eating already in the books, my wallet was significantly lighter and I was looking forward to the lettuce on a taco, viewing that as “health food.”

On March 7, The News Messenger ran an article, “Students win big at problem-solving contest” (page 2). My daughter, Sydney, was one of those students and here we were at the state meet in Concord. Her team from First Street School had just completed their event and, with the pressure of competition gone, we were starving.

The sun was shining, I knew the majority of the words to the song that we were all singing on the radio and all was well … until I saw the sign that said, “detour ahead, road construction” and a very serious CalTrans worker leaning against a stop sign.

I followed the detour sign and made a right turn. The GPS scrambled and told me to immediately make a U-turn. My daughter looked at me and asked in a frightful tone, “Dad, what’s the matter?” I told her to stay calm; everything was going to be OK! I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw a familiar panic enter my son’s eyes.

“Dad, will we ever make it to Taco Bell?” he meekly asked.

“I don’t know son, it’s too early to tell. We have some snacks in the back. I think we’ll be OK. Everybody just stay calm and listen to the phone,” I answered.

Suddenly, my phone spoke up, “Go straight for one mile and make a right-hand turn.”

That’s what I was afraid of. I have no sense of direction. I wasn’t born with one.

Some people enter the world color blind, others have taste buds that allow them to eat all manners of hot things.

Me, I can’t match my shirt with my pants (and rumor has it dark socks and shorts are making a comeback, sweet!) and to this day, my eyes glaze over when people start using “east” and “west” in their directions instead of “turn left before Safeway” or “when you get to Joiner, you’ve gone too far!”

But when my phone told me to go right, even I knew that she (yes, it’s a female voice, I even made her British because it makes her sound so nice) was leading us away from our intended destination.

Smartphones, GPS devices, they are truly amazing. To find the Taco Bell, I literally pushed a button on my phone and said, “Find a Taco Bell near me.” She complied.

But on occasion, Caltrans workers or unknown one-way streets pop up and send us in a direction contrary to where my GPS was leading me and the results are typically disastrous.

Recently, I finished a particularly difficult 32-mile race in a personal best time. The last two miles, all I could think about was cruising across the finish line to the applause of my kids and the adoration of my wife. As I sprinted the last quarter-mile looking left and right wondering just where my family was located, I was all smiles, my head on a swivel.

I wanted to make sure I was smiling for the picture they would take. They must be here somewhere. And then I crossed the line, still smiling, still swiveling. Over the next few minutes, the smile turned to a look of concern as I realized that they weren’t there.

Ten minutes later, they showed up and told me that the GPS had taken them on a goose chase to get to the finish. Darn you technology!

And once again, here I was, darning technology.

But then it hit me, this was truly a “first world problem.” I doubt I’d get much sympathy from, well, anyone for that matter. My smartphone, that for all intents and purposes had far more computing power than the computers that first put a man on the moon, sent me off on a slightly longer route than I had anticipated, guiding me to a place to eat. A place I found, no less, by asking my phone where a place to eat was!

I tried to explain to my kids that, if even a decade ago, somebody would have told me that I would literally ask my portable phone where to go for lunch and it would talk back to me and tell me turn by turn directions on how to get there and even re-route me when I ran into unexpected road construction, I would have been laughed off as a complete nut-job!

This led to a conversation about pay phones and phone books and calling people for directions. I watched their eyes take on that familiar glaze as I droned on and on.

My phone spoke up and took me out of my “back when I was a kid” rant and she guided us safely to Taco Bell. As we entered the restaurant, praising technology, I was approached by a young couple who immediately asked me if I knew the area. They were looking for a particular address.

I just smiled and said, “Just ask your phone.” As the door shut behind me, I glanced back and noticed they had an older-model flip phone, no doubt without a GPS app, and I said out loud, “Cavemen! How will they ever get along!?”


Tony Overbay won’t need a GPS when he does his annual 24-hour run around Glen Edwards Middle School’s and Lincoln High School’s tracks for 24 hours, starting at 8 a.m. April 26. The 24-run is to help raise funds for the middle school’s programs and to encourage students and their families to exercise. The 5k starts at 9 a.m. April 27 with a kid’s free quarter-mile fun run at 8:30 a.m. The public can sign up for the 5k by visiting There will also be a community event at the Lincoln High School track on April 26, including food, music, crafts and food booths. and an inflatable obstacle course for the kids.

   Overbay is a humor writer, a 16-year-Lincoln resident and father of four. You can find more of his writings at