A lifetime ago—but really, only a few months . . . in fact days before the sensible world went into lockdown—I had the happy joy of going to the Signs Publishing marketing meetings in Victoria, Australia.
I like going to these meetings. There is the freedom of a few days away. There is that strange world beyond Customs but before boarding. There is plane food, there is the battle of not losing all your data upon landing in a different country, and there are new books.
This time there’s also the saga of the rental car.
When a car comes with a GPS it is reasonable to expect that it will work. This is a difficult thing to test in the depths of a carpark, surrounded by solid concrete, so I ask the nice man at the exit gate which lane I need to be in when I get out of the carpark. He kindly tells me, and away I go, fully trusting that this amazing piece of technology will take over once it has its bearings. I am dependent on the GPS; my phone is flat.
Unfortunately, the GPS prefers to remain silent. I know I am on the right road, thanks to the nice man, but from there I am lost. There are no instructions, just silence. I decide to ignore all exits until I recognise a landmark, which is an excellent idea, but after driving a very long time and recognising nothing at all I decide I will take myself off at the next exit and ask for directions at a service station.
As is common when one is looking for something, I come across no service stations. So I begin to look for other helpful possibilities. Somehow I end up at a shopping centre. Thankfully I recognise the suburb and know that I am going in, generally, the right direction.
Since it was much more freezing that day in Melbourne than in NZ, I stopped to buy warm clothes. The helpful lady at Kmart told me I had a half-hour drive. That was good. I would not be late to the meetings.
But then . . . I lost the car. The shopping centre had many levels of carpark on all four sides of the building. I knew the supermarket had been on my left when I went up the ramp, but which supermarket was it? I walked around the outside of the shopping centre—if I could find where I drove in, I could find the car. But I couldn’t find the entrance, and I couldn’t find the set of lights, and all the signage looked the same, and it began to feel very Alice-in-Wonderland-ish.
There was no information desk in the mall. After visiting half a dozen retailers, a shop assistant (from Specsavers, no less) pointed me in the direction where help might be found. In the far corner of the topmost floor my car was located on a staff person’s computer, its location along with a photo was printed, directions given, and most helpful of all, “your car is parked beside a white car”.
It doesn’t matter—I have the floor number, I have the parking lot number, I have a picture of the car and I’ve been told how to get there.
Except the escalators don’t go far enough. According to the instructions I need to go two floors beneath the one at the bottom of the escalator, but how? There are no stairs within the carpark. Neither the lift nor the elevator go down further.
I am tempted to give up, to wait until closing time, which is only eight hours away, to find the last car remaining, but I realise that hysteria is settling in. I must rise above it.
"All the way to the airport the GPS voice shouted TURN BACK NOW TURN BACK NOW, while a calm voice directly in my ear told me which lane to be in and how long until the next turn."
I make my way through the people coming into the mall, back into the carpark—the endless carpark with rows all the same, numbers all the same, cars all the same—and there is Bai. Lovely, patient Bai from Signs Publishing. My guardian angel, Bai, who was waiting for the ABC managers from the Islands to complete their shopping. Bai is as nonplussed as I am, but, to my great relief, he stays with me. He is calm, he is solid, he is a man of few words and his presence is a great comfort.
It is Bai who finds the ramp that leads to the lowest carpark. He walks me to the car, makes sure I get in and gives instructions on how to get to where we are going. He does not once laugh at my predicament. And so, finally, I arrive.
The return journey was worse. Impossibly worse. It was broken in two parts. The GPS decided it could work; it did what it had to do. It gave me directions. Every 50-100 metres it told me to “turn back now, turn back now”. I did that for a little bit, but there is only so long you can keep obeying a monotonous and repetitive voice that takes you only a few metres further at each turn. So, in peak hour traffic with no road map, a phone with no charge (again), I found myself being told to “turn back now” all the way to my accommodation.
And then it was time to return to the airport. I asked real people for instructions. They were straightforward. I turned on the GPS in my phone as a backup, which is linked to an earpiece. The instructions were identical to those given by the real people, delivered in a calm manner. The rogue GPS sprang to life and would not be silenced, nor would it allow me to change my destination. All the way to the airport the GPS voice shouted TURN BACK NOW TURN BACK NOW, while a calm voice directly in my ear told me which lane to be in and how long until the next turn.
There are road signs—looking for all the world like I should be following a different route. I am caught up in a stream of traffic, and rain is falling so hard, the wipers can’t clear the windscreen fast enough, I can’t see more than a few metres ahead and I’m sure I’m late returning the car. It is all too much. There is only one thing to do.
I stop listening to the commotion around me, and I focus on that calm, clear voice in my ear, and it leads me to my final destination.
“Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him” (Psalm 62:1). Be still. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
Christine Miles lives in Auckland, New Zealand. She enjoys reading and empowering people for ministry.