Monday, April 11, 2011

COLUMN: Wisconsin Pt. 2

For as long as I can remember, I've had a love affair with England. For this, I blame my dad.

When I was a wee Shaneling, my folks were pretty rigid when it came to bedtime, and I routinely hated them for it. I despised bedtime, and I still kinda do. Sleep is wasted time as far as I'm concerned, and even when I was a kid, I'd do anything to avoid it. Whether it was reading a book under the covers or silently tiptoeing across the room to plug in my headphones to the stereo, I was a master at dodging my parents' maliciously-imposed mandatory deadline for day's end. But there was always ONE event for which my dad would temporarily lift my life sentence: I could stay up late with him whenever network TV aired a James Bond movie.

Ergo, James Bond instantly became the coolest guy in the universe. Not only could he defeat the bad guys, travel the world, and get the girls, but he could do it AFTER 9 p.m.! Add cars that shoot fire, pens that shoot lasers, and dudes with armored teeth and razor-edged bowlers? Nerd-vana!

So if James Bond was the coolest guy alive, my young mind postulated, then it must reason that EVERYONE who spoke with such a brilliant accent and hailed from England had to be equally awesome, right? Adam Ant dressed in warpaint and was just untouchably cool; Bananarama were the hottest girls ever; Sting had great songs AND acted in sci-fi movies on the side; the Pet Shop Boys wore trenchcoats and sounded like the future; and you could never figure out what the hell Duran Duran were up to in their non-sensical music videos, but you knew for certain it was cooler than whatever YOU were doing. And they ALL had British accents.

As I grew up, so did my Anglophilia. I discovered the treasures of the BBC, the lure of Premiere League soccer, the mysticism of Stonehenge, and the taste sensation of kidney pie. Eww. Okay, so maybe British food isn't the best, but all these years later, England is still my go-to place for pop culture. In fact, I spent over a decade running a website devoted to US fans of UK music, where I got to bond nightly with fellow Anglophiles. We'd spend our nights swapping bootleg recordings of Radio One, planning our dream British vacations, and staying up til 4 a.m. to place orders with our favorite London record stores.

Now that I've reached my 40's, I've mellowed some and come to realize that some parts of British life are shockingly less great than our own (see: Revolution, American), but I've still got a soft spot in my heart for Old Blighty and I hope that God keeps on saving the Queen for years to come.

That said, I've recently run into grievances with a couple of Brits, and their incessant taunting has tested my Anglophilia to the breaking point. It might come as heresy to some of my long-term friends, but thanks to these two rechid women, I'm thiiiiis close to chucking in my Union Jack and buying a Bruce Springsteen record.

The first is the shrill woman who yells at me on the phone every day. See, as part of my day job here at the paper, I call on our customers who've placed classified ads to ensure their satisfaction. If you've ever placed a classified in the Dispatch/Argus, we've probably spoken.

Back in the day, it was fairly easy to determine where I was calling based on the number. But thanks to our cellular world, phone numbers are assigned all willy-nilly and I don't know when I pick up the phone if I'm calling Milan, IL or Milan, Italy. Sometimes, it's a guessing game as to whether a number is long distance or not, and I have no idea whether or not to add a 1 and the area code. All I can do is hope and pray that I get it right, because when I don't, that's when SHE shows up.


Now, I'm no expert, but I would imagine that in the wide field of contemporary voiceover artists, there are LOTS of choices out there. I'll guarantee that you could get a golden-voiced Casey Kasem type to record a few polite sentences for a bargain. Explain to me, then, why our phone company opted for Nanny McPhee's evil, elderly cousin. She doesn't thank you, she doesn't apologize -- she justs scolds, corrects, and hangs up on you, all with a voice that sounds like my thoughtless and incorrect dialing has absolutely ruined her day.

But she's not the worst. No, no. That award goes to a woman whose hostility knows no limit. A woman named Garmin.

Last weekend, I surprised my girlfriend with a daytrip to a concert in Milwaukee, and Mapquesting revealed that Milwaukee is a downright confusing town with no less than 63 turns between here and there. Factor in my fear of expressway driving, and I decided that the easiest way to navigate Milwaukee was to pull an old friend out of the trunk -- my trusty Garmin GPS navigator, whose voice is that of a slightly p.o.'d Mary Poppins.

"In... 2 point 3 miles... turn... left," she ushers in mildly hostile tones.

I thought I could deal with it, but here's the thing. In the center of Milwaukee, every interstate convenes downtown in what can only be described as the graphic representation of a migraine. Nothing makes sense. Ramps spin around and deposit you onto weird roundabouts from which there is little to no escape. And, it appears that ALL of this fun was built AFTER the last update to my Garmin. As we attempted to navigate, Ms. Garmin was determined to inform me that we were not, in fact, driving on a road. And, at precisely the most confusing part of the journey, she tragically suffered a stroke in the middle of barking out non-sensical commands.

"In... point one mile... turn... RECALCULATING... in... 1.2 mi... RECALCULATING... RECALCULATING... KEEP RIGHT, EXIT LEFT, KEEP RIGHT, EXIT LEFT, KEEP RI..." And with that, her whole poor British-accented system crashed. It was the happiest moment of the trip, and I had already spotted the marquee of the concert venue in the distance.

So why is it that the same land that brought us the Sex Pistols and The Office is also responsible for some of the most annoying voices in history? And why, Garmin Co., would you think that legions of drivers would want to get directions from a British-accented school marm? My proposal is that all Garmins immediately be re-recorded with the voice of Keanu Reeves.

"Okay, dudes, are you ready? In, like, 2 miles... go right. Wait, that isn't right. Go left, right? Or is it right, left? Duuude. I am SO confused."

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