Ticket to Write: Traveling with Siri leads to unlikely destinations
First, let me say that I do not actually believe that Siri has ever tried to kill me.
I know that my digital iPhone assistant is not sentient and has no feelings for me at all — which may or may not be worse than murderous hatred. The precarious situations in which she occasionally embroils me are never really life-threatening.
Be that as it may, Siri, at times, leaves something to be desired as a co-pilot and navigator.
On one recent trip, I was trying to find a route from Tennessee across the Mississippi River to New Madrid, Missouri, and the earthquake museum therein. Siri wanted to go by boat.
At the time, this suggestion seemed reasonable. The nearest bridge was 40 miles away. Siri assured me that a ferry would probably be running from the small Kentucky town where she was leading me.
It was late in the day when we arrived at the isolated, and empty, ferry dock. I pressed an unlikely looking “call” button screwed to a telephone pole and waited.
Much to my delight, the ferry soon appeared and docked. Then the captain immediately climbed down from his cabin, exited the ferry and continued on toward a parking lot at the top of the hill.
The mate assured me that we’d be starting soon on the day’s last crossing. But the captain first needed to either call his doctor or retrieve medicine from his truck (I’m unclear on this point) because he had been bitten by a spider while re-stowing life jackets — something they never warn you about in those Coast Guard-mandated safety drills.
Eventually the captain, limping slightly, returned, and the four of us (counting Siri) proceeded slowly across the river.
While Siri certainly cannot be blamed for the spider delay, what came next, I think it’s safe to say, was mostly her fault. After we exited the ferry, my co-pilot confidently directed me 27 miles up a narrow, sketchy road, past vast acres of emptiness, to a “road closed” sign.
Siri had no other ideas.
I’d had plenty of gas to drive directly to New Madrid and the gas station I would have surely found there, but not enough to cavort around unmarked single-lane gravel roads through the cornstalk-infested Mississippi floodplain.
Siri suggested a gas station on the other side of the river, but I would have had to swim for it. And then I lost both my temper and my signal.
Steaming, I doubled back to a tiny crossroads and turned in the direction of what I hoped was civilization.
The gas gauge warning light came on about the time the museum was closing in New Madrid. I was seriously considering the ramifications of spending the night in the car when Siri awoke from hibernation and routed me, supposedly, toward an intersection with Interstate 55, 17 miles away.
I knew I’d never make it. I considered calling AAA; perhaps a real person could someday locate me, or my body, wherever the heck I was.
Then fate, which has generally been kinder to me than Apple has, stepped in. At a pull-off in the middle of all the nothingness, a gas pump suddenly manifested, like an angel.
It was a co-op, but the credit card scanner cheerfully approved my purchase.
“See that?” I said to Siri. “That’s how electronics are supposed to work.”
She sulked for the rest of the trip.
— Steve Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SteveStephens.