You’d think with all the technology taking over our lives we would understand more about our surroundings and stumble over them less. But since we are all looking down at some device most of the time, with earbuds keeping out all distracting sounds of humanity, it’s little wonder we don’t crash a tea party or fall down a rabbit hole every so often. I suppose an even bigger distraction now are cyber security threats that could compromise our way of living, zap the national electrical grid and empty our bank accounts. If it’s not the cyber threat, we will always have the glut threat.
We’re bombarded with computerized information, yet not all of it is that accurate. Wikipedia around my house is sometimes referred to as Wackipedia. And once you’ve read Gulliver’s Travels, you have to wonder about a site called Yahoo. To Swift, the term means a boor, a brute, a yokel.
We are awash in stuff, to the point where if we did not have all this stuff, alienation would no doubt sink in. Do I hear a haiku?
Now we have nothing to fear
But nothing itself
In fact, we are stumbling as well as experiencing alienation because our devices sometimes physically lead us astray, especially those of us who are geographically challenged.
Let’s start with the iPhone 5 Maps debacle. Ask it for Walden Pond in Massachusetts and it shows you a pond named Walden up in Lynn. Ask iPhone to find Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs and it answers “No results.” Go to Yelp and ask it for Lambert’s Cove Beach and it shows it abutting Mink Meadows in West Chop.
I even got waylaid by Google and instructed to take a parallel road to a home in Edgartown near Oyster Watcha, and all it did was made me watcha the road vanish without ever arriving at my destination, at least not by those directions.
There are also those commercial locator sites online that never take in account that you just put in a zip code for an Island. You look for a franchise, an outlet or a lodging and they tell you the nearest is six miles away but neglect to inform you that four of those miles are under water.
In this case Yelp doesn’t always help either. Put in Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts and the Vineyard Haven zip code and up come coffee shops all over the Island that do not serve up either brand of coffee. Not unless they’re incognito.
As a relatively new year-rounder acclimating himself to the Island, I have picked up some anecdotes of Island lore and laughter along these lines.
One car renter blew out a tire in New Bedford. He called Roadside Assistance, a service that relays calls to the nearest help center. The cordial voice on the other side of the line was in Edgartown. Luckily for the muddled motorist, Mister Nearest Help Center had a brother in law who ran a gas station in Fall River, about 10 miles from the blown tire.
A visitor in full business regalia, complete with valise, rented a car at the Vineyard airport and then inquired about how he could get to the nearest Marriott hotel. When he was told there wasn’t any nearby Marriott, the visitor shrugged: “Well, where’s the nearest Courtyard?” The rental clerk replied: “It’s back on the Cape.” Again the visitor shrugged: “Okay, so direct me to the bridge.” This time the clerk shrugged: “We’re going to have to build one. While you’re waiting for that, let me show you what hotels we do have here.”
Here’s another airport incident. A car rental company’s phone rang at its counter. On the other end was a woman who said she was waiting at the rental desk but did not see any representative. The rental clerk said: “Well, I am right here at our airport desk.” Woman: “I don’t see you.” Clerk: “Are you inside the airport?” Woman: “Yes. And I am at your company counter.” Getting a little exasperated, the clerk sighed: “On Martha’s Vineyard?” The incredulous woman responded: “I’m standing inside the Nantucket Airport right here on Martha’s Vineyard.” Dramatic pause. Once the clerk attempted to show her the error of her ways, the confused woman replied: “You mean there are two different Islands right next to each other?”
My latest personal experience: Driving up Main street in Vineyard Haven, a British tourist stopped his car to ask where Oak Bluffs avenue was. He wanted to return the car to the rental company and hop the next ferry. I explained that Oak Bluffs avenue was in Oak Bluffs. He blinked and stuck his phone out the window. His map app showed Oak Bluffs avenue in small print under the larger print of VINEYARD HAVEN. I told him the map was wrong and then directed him to Oak Bluffs avenue. He blinked several more times as he wheeled away, knowing he was in for a 15-minute ride and a missed ferry to boot.
I can hardly wait for the visitor in search of Martha’s Vineyard Winery (34 acres of Napa Valley, Calif.) or Martha’s Vineyard Wine Store (Grand Rapids, Mich.).
Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.