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The Waze Craze

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Clash--"Police On My Back" (mp3)


Through a series of synchronous events, I am suddenly a Wazer.  Have been about three days.  Don't know what Waze is?  Well, imagine a social network that was only for people trying to avoid traffic and police (and stuff in the road).  That's Waze.  I'm a Wazer.

Three weeks ago, I'd never heard of Waze, but then, on a plane flight back from New York City, we had the misfortune of sitting in front of a woman who would not shut up, not for the entire trip, and not even through my semi-noise-cancelling headphones.  Anyway, as part of her 2-hour monologue about every aspect of her life, her children, and all that other stuff you tell a complete stranger on a airplane, she had occasion to mention Waze to her seatmate for some reason.  I couldn't really tell what it was, except that it sounded like a more sophisticated kind of Google maps with real-time updates.

Then, during my random Internet reading last week and the week before, I noticed that Facebook was in talks to buy Waze (maybe for like a billion dollars or some drop in the bucket for them).  And then, I saw that Google also was interested in buying Waze.  And I thought a) bidding war! and b) there must be something to it.  So I downloaded it.

One of the things I really like about Waze has to do with my healthy/unhealthy distrust of police as the result of my high school years in the first half of the 70's, driving around in cars doing and carrying things we shouldn't have been, although really it was more cultural than personal, part of the hangover from the 60's when anyone who represented the man was worthy of suspicion.  

So not only do I like seeing cops show up on my phone before I get there and then seeing them actually where Waze said they would be (validating my obsession), but, even more, I like reporting them.  I like to come across a motorcycle speed trap and spread the news to my fellow Wazers and, admittedly, I look hard for police cars, especially the hidden ones, so that I can report them.  It's kind of like being a reverse narc.

ONE CAVEAT:  It's easy to forget that just because there are no police indicated on Waze, that does not mean that they are not there.

Which raises an interesting point: how many Wazers are out there?  Are there enough to make it a viable resource rather than a matter of luck or geography?  I don't know the answer, but I'm not particularly surprised that here in the South, at least, the legions appear to be strong.

But what I really like about Waze is what happened in Georgia last weekend.  My family went down to the outlet mall in Dawsonville, a place which can hold my attention for about a half hour (Williams-Sonoma and the Bass Outlet).  So, with a newly-downloaded Waze app in my pocket, I decided to see if there was a Trader Joe's nearby, since I'll always go to TJ's if I have a chance.  Well, yes, indeed, there was a Trader Joe's 36 miles to the south and not far off of Highway 19/411, the road I was on.  So off I went.

As I moved closer to Atlanta at a pretty good clip, I started to get concerned about 15 miles into the trip, when I noticed the cars coming to a complete standstill heading back where I had just come from.  But I was committed by then.  So I decided that maybe whatever was causing the problem would be gone by the time I headed back in an hour.  Hey, it could happen.  Right?  Right?

After a fruitful Joe's run, I retraced my route and headed back up 19/411.  I entered my destination into Waze.  The funny thing was, about 15 miles from the outlet mall, Waze had me getting off the highway and taking a series of state roads in what seemed like kind of a roundabout way to the mall.  Well, I thought, I'll ride it out and see what happens.  Eight-tenths of a mile before the exit that Waze told me to get off on, traffic slowed to a crawl.

First, of course, I reported the slowdown like a good Waze citizen, even though other already had.  My information at least confirmed what had been true 30 or 45 minutes ago.  But then, I took the exit.  There were a few others taking it, too.  Whether they were fellow Wazers or just human  beings with common sense, I have no way of knowing.

What I do know is that fairly quickly, I was sailing down nearly-empty roads at about 60 miles an hour, following the path Waze had designed for me through rundown, rural houses and stores juxtaposed with the creeping, upscale subdivisions of Atlantan sprawl, complete with newly-bricked rotaries.  And in no time, I was eating lunch with my family in a tasty little French place near the outlets.  Thanks, Waze!

Pause for one second, though:  if everyone had Waze, would everyone have gotten off of the highway when I did?  And then what?  That is a future determination, I suppose.

The one downside I've noticed (well, two) is that Waze chews phone battery power like nobody's business. If you don't have a phone charger in your car, Waze's charms may seduce you and then leave you hanging.  The other downside ( my own fault) is that if you stare at the Waze map from the backseat while your wife takes the car through the winding roads of North Georgia, you are going to get very, very nauseous.

My family is very amused by my Waze craze.  They know about my policeophobia.  They know of my tendency to go "all in" until I get bored.  They have heard me say, "Uh-oh, there's a trash bag in the road up there, I'd better report it" or "Slow down, I don't want to get too far away from that parked police car before I post my alert, I want people to know exactly where it is."

For now, though, Waze has done me a good deed.  What I've given away in return has yet to be figured out.

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