We got lost somewhere between the Chattanooga Choo Choo and the

Chattanooga zoo. We circled blocks on the outskirts of the delightful

little city, and then circling them again, as the zoo-bound baby in

the backseat became more and more restive. We spotted nary a gas

station nor a convenience store as we tried turning left, and then

right. The streets, quite possibly slated for urban renewal, were

empty. There was no one we could ask for directions. We were well and

truly lost.

Then my son, the baby’s father, asked me to use my cell phone to call

the zoo and get its street address. Check. Address memorized, and also

text-messaged to my phone for further reference, we were set to exit

the maze. He turned the information over to his phone and right away a

pleasant voice led us, turn-by-turn, to the zoo’s parking lot.

GPS, or global positioning system, is technology that makes use of

satellites to let individuals know exactly where on earth they are,

and how to get from there to where they want to be. It has been

available for some time on stand-alone units, including the heavily

advertised Tom Tom, a small dashboard-mounted box that gives

turn-by-turn directions. But it’s expensive. Tom Tom units are now

selling for between $499 and $899. There are also factory-installed

GPS systems, including OnStar, which is available on new General

Motors vehicles.

Until recently, though, there was no low cost way to get spoken

driving directions, and most drivers venturing into new territory had

to rely on Mapquest print-outs or search out friendly gas station

attendants. But now anyone with a relatively new, web-enabled cell

phone can get inexpensive help in driving from point A to point B.

These cell phones are fast becoming ubiquitous. They are often offered

at little or no cost, after subtracting those wretched mail-in

rebates, to anyone signing up for a new cell phone plan.

The Verizon GPS service my son used to get us across the Tennessee

River and into the zoo has an enticing cost structure. It can be

accessed for $9.99 a month – or $2.99 a day, which Verizon defines as

24 hours. The latter option is ideal for anyone who has worn a grove

between home and office, but who occasionally has to visit a new

client or take the kids on a field trip.

Right now the price is even better. Verizon is offering a free two

week trial through December 31. It was the free trial that led to our

escape to the zoo.

Prices from other cell phone providers are similar. Sprint charges

$9.99 for its MapQuest Navigator, which became available on September

13, and Cingular is expected to begin offering subscriptions soon.

To get started on the GPS service, download software from the phone.

The software has lots of features. It lets users search for goods and

services by category, such as gas station or ATM, in any given locale.

It also stores locations, perhaps a home address or the addresses of

all of branch offices, for future reference.

Accessing the GPS feature uses air time, but not as much as you might

think. Minutes tick away when you request a route and the software

calculates it, if you make a wrong turn and the calculation has to be

repeated, and when you download maps or ask for the location of the

nearest Thai restaurant. But it does not use minutes as you cruise

down the road toward your destination.

Using the GPS feature does not affect the ability to make and receive

calls. It keeps you going in the right direction even as you are

chatting.

My son had downloaded the GPS just to check it out. He relies on

Mapquest print-outs and didn’t expect to use it. But he now thinks

that ordering up a subscription is a pretty good idea.

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