Getting there with the Garmin nüvi 650 navigation system

garmin_nuvi_650_gps I purchased the Garmin nüvi 650 GPS navigation system back in November 2007. Amazon offered a substantial discount at the time which knocked $100 off the normal retail price of $400. Still a considerable sum for an electronics gadget, I weighed my buying decision heavily, finally making the plunge after admitting I travel to new cities regularly and hate getting lost.

I have a decent memory and good sense of direction but the Garmin provides a level of confidence that makes it worth the money—especially when driving at night. The 650 model announces street names (Text to Speech) and works in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. Its 4.3” screen looks vibrant and sharp in all lighting conditions, from direct sunshine to pitch dark. The touch screen provides dependable control and navigation of the well-designed user interface. It offers quick-and-convenient ways to change routes on-the-fly and track statistics such as current direction, miles per hour and estimated time of arrival.

No navigation system guarantees 100% accuracy when calculating routes either for shortest time or distance. Accordingly, no system substitutes for common sense and paying attention to posted signs. Also, it can take some time for new routes to be added. I got burned twice while in Chicago for the holidays. The first occurred because I-355 was extended and the Garmin prompted me to exit on a ramp that no longer exists. The second was the shortest time route the Garmin offered to get me from the western suburbs into the city was not the shortest or most direct.

On the flip side, the Garmin saved me in Dayton while schlepping my brother, sister and niece around in the dark. We got caught in holiday traffic on I-75. I turned off at the next exit, just north of Centerville, blindly trusting the Garmin to find a faster route. A few moments after taking the off ramp, the Garmin announced it was recalculating then immediately provided a route which avoided the expressway. I lived in Dayton for 17 years and never knew that route was there. Further, the route involved several turns that I would surely have missed while driving in the winter at night were it not for the navigation system.

If you are in the market for a navigation system—assuming the fad has not already passed—I can unequivocally recommend the Garmin nüvi 650. As long as you don’t expect perfection, you won’t be disappointed.

Live Free, Fly Hard

TB and I have been in the Midwest visiting family and friends for the holidays. We left out last week flying from Seattle to Denver to Chicago to Dayton on the first leg. The bulk of the outbound leg went relatively smoothly despite the customary delayed, overcrowded flights. There were two notable things that happened during this part of our trip.

First, the captain of the United flight from Denver to Chicago had one of the flight attendants give me a handwritten note he jotted on one of his business cards. In it he thanked me for my loyalty to United and apologized for the delays and inconveniences TB and I had experienced. I felt special. I felt like I mattered. It only took him a few moments and about 40 words. Well done.

Second, our connection from Chicago to Dayton was too tight after the Denver-Chicago flight had been delayed over two hours. We ran from B7 to B8 (lucky!) to catch the connection only to find the jetway door closed (unlucky!) but the plane was still there and baggage was still be loaded. The flight wasn’t scheduled to leave for another 5 minutes but the gate agents and United flight operations decided to button things up early despite knowing incoming flights were arriving late. We pleaded with the gate agent. She said no. We showed her we only had carry-ons. Still she said no. I flexed my United 1K status. No dice. She directed us to the customer service line where we had to queue behind a dozen other marks.

I was livid. I wasn’t about to stand in that long line and risk not making it onto that plane which was still at the jetway being loaded with baggage. I unapologetically got out of line and went straight to the customer service desk since the woman who shot us down at the gate was now there assisting other customers. I wanted to give her a piece of my mind. She tried her best to avoid me; she wouldn’t make eye contact. I decided to take my frustration out on the more junior guy working with her. I relayed the story, flexed my status, issued hollow threats, cajoled, criticized and critiqued. I did all that without raising my voice or using colorful language. The guy offered a hotel, the first flight out the following morning and profuse apologies. I was quickly losing the battle but kept pushing for an alternative: Get me on my original flight.

It had been about 20 minutes since we arrived and I knew it was highly likely the flight had already departed or would depart soon. Just as I was about to throw in the towel, the woman from before finally came over. She chatted with the guy, barked out some orders and watched the screen over his shoulder. A few moments later, something caught her eye behind me, over by the gates, and she fired up her walkie-talkie. After a few more moments, she told the guy to stop what he was doing, told TB and me to follow her, and took us back to gate B8 where, lo and behold, the jetway door was open. She explained, as we neared the gate, the captain had requested more fuel for the plane and the flight crew re-opened to door. Since the door was now open and due to my status, they had to get me on the flight. The only problem was our seats had been given to standby passengers and the flight was full. Oops.

That turned out not to be as big a problem for us as it was for a couple standby passengers. An agent went on the plane, found two unsuspecting passengers, who thought they were leaving for Dayton on that flight over 30 minutes ago, and told them they had to go. Ouch. Two middle-aged passengers got off. One was a man, the other a woman, they weren’t together, they had checked bags, their bags would not be unloaded. They were pissed. As we boarded the plane to take those two now-vacant seats, all the passengers looked at us incredulously with a hint of bewilderment as if they were wondering, “Who the hell are they that United kicked two people off the flight 30 minutes after we should have departed?” I just smirked and took my seat. Membership has its privileges.

The Color Purple

TB and I are in Chicago this weekend visiting family and friends. It is always great catching up with our peeps but this trip would be even more exciting because TB’s mom, Momma B, had purchased tickets for all of us to go see The Color Purple musical. The production has been on Broadway since December 2005 and arrived in Chicago’s Cadillac Palace theater a couple weeks back.The Color Purple

The Color Purple is Momma B’s favorite movie of all time so when she heard the musical was coming to Chicago she was all over it. We attended the 2PM, Saturday show. The score, singing, ambience, set, props, lighting and audience were all terrific. The show is 2 hours and 40 minutes of all the best scenes from the movie (and book) with a bunch of on-stage elements mixed in. There were many black women in the audience who all seemed to have a strong emotional connection to all the characters either from previous readings of the book or having watched the movie for the umpteenth time during their lives. The delight, the scorn, the pain and the hope that weaves throughout the story bounced back and forth between the actors and those of us in the audience.

The acting was superb. The actress portraying Ms. Sophia stole the show. The main actress playing Celie was amazing too, but Sophia had all the spunk and classic one-liners that make the novel and movie classics — Oprah should be proud. LaToya London, of American Idol fame, played Nettie. The only disappointment was Michelle Williams who played Shug Avery. As a member of Destiny’s Child (Are they still a group?) and with a couple successful gospel albums under her belt, I expected more from her vocals than she delivered. Her acting was ok.

I highly recommend this show. It is definitely worth a trip to Chicago or NYC.