December 31, 2007 9:56 pm ET by Kyle Whelliston
Beatrice and Sandy
Ever since faces launched ships, men have been giving inanimate objects women's names. Who knows why, really. It might be a subconcious effort to tap into the whole earth-mother provider thing, or it might just be an excuse to think about sex more often. Whatever the reason, it's something deeply ingrained.
In modern Western times, we have even more opportunities to do so. We may not have ships or bomber planes, but a high percentage of American males have given at least one of their automobiles a female name (I've tended to name mine in honor of Playboy Playmates from my college days). And then there are all these new electronic items, many of which ask to be named right out of the box.
I have a very distinct and ordered system of naming. iPods are given names of ex-girlfriends, TiVos after actresses I like. Desktop computers get named after fictional girls I've fallen in love with, something that doesn't go over particularly well with my wife, who gets my old Macs when I upgrade. Last year, she got my old modular eMac, and it was, "Who the hell is Claire?" Oh, Lauren Ambrose's character from Six Feet Under. Harrumph, came the reply.
This season, I have two virtual ladies who help me in my basketball travels. Their names are Sandy and Bea. Whenever their names come up, I get creepy lonely-dork sympathy from colleagues, but that's okay. I can withstand the shame, because if it wasn't for my girls, I'd be totally and completely lost.
Sandy is my invisible secretary. She's actually a product created by some fellow geek computer programmers, an extensible database with a dynamic front end that allows for a variety of input and output methods. "She" collects bits of information fed to "her," like reminders and account numbers and directions and lists. Interfacing with Sandy is done via e-mail, the short-message service Twitter or even via the telephone with a third-party web widget called Jott. Having a pretty virtual secretary makes me feel like a big-time executive. Who sleeps in truck stops.
Sandy is like any 21st Century reminder service-slash-appointment calendar, but is packaged in a humanized, persoanble, totally non-sexist stereotype way. We even know what Sandy looks like -- she's a craven-haired cartoon beauty with dark eyes, who looks like she'd be right at home in an Archie Double Digest.
I have little idea, on the other hand, as to what Bea looks like. Bea is the voice of the Verizon GPS Navigator on my phone. I gave her that name because of Beatrice, the woman who led Dante through purgatory in The Divine Comedy. I never got my head around the whole name, though... there was once a food conglomerate with that name, back in the 1980's, and as a classical connoisseur of women's names, I always felt that "Beatrice" sounded hard, cold and marmish. Considering the strict-sounding voice of the GPS device, though, it's a name that fits.
"Turn left... on... US 13... south," Bea might say in a Teutonic monotone. Or maybe, "Exit highway on the left... for... I-85 north."
Drive off Bea's carefully planned path at your own peril, however. Even if it's jsut to get gas or a bite to eat, you will unleash the wrath of a woman scorned. "Recalculating route," she seethes through clenched virtual teeth. "Recalculating route."
But once you're close to where you're heading, Bea becomes as excited as a housewife after a long humdrum day alone, even if you're just coming up to a college campus.
"Drive point... six miles," she'll purr. "Towards your destination."
Nurture, nature or nothing, one thing I don't rely on women for is clothes-washing. I lived independently for 14 years before getting married, and I lived in a dormitory through high school. I'm perfectly capable of doing my own laundry, thanks.
And out on the road, you're not going to find many people willing to do your wash anyway. Even if I were to stay in fancy hotels, I'd need to stay for more than one night to take advantage of the same-day laundry pickup, and I'm rarely in the same place for more than 12 hours during the season. Living truck stop to truck stop means that at least once a week, I have to schedule a Laundry Day.
Laundry is a snap at truck stops, all the TA's and Flying J's have coin-op machines, and some of the Pilots do too. A little Dr. Bronner's soap -- something I picked up in my Grateful Dead-following days -- means I've got detergent as well as shampoo, and quarters are readily available in the change machine in the arcade. But when I'm in the remote areas of the OVC or Big South, there aren't any truck stops at all. That's when I have to go into town and try to blend in.
Bea can be given search criteria -- self-service laundromats, for example -- and she'll provide directions to the nearest one. Immediately, I'm in the social nerve center of a tiny town, with the giant dryers spinning and tumbling, women carting heaping baskets of wet clothing, watching "Judge Judy" or "Divorce Court" on overhead TV's while they wait.
Nobody talks to me. Not only am I the outsider stranger, I'm the only male in the building. No matter -- I break out the Moleskine reporter to work out a Travelogue entry or two, then I pile all the clothes back into my suitcase. There are always sideways looks at the drifter in a sweatsuit, living out of a bag. Am I a murderer, maybe a rapist? A few women clutch at their shirts at the neckline, the universal symbol for "you won't be savaging these breasts, mister."
But when I'm done with my laundry, I duck into the bathroom -- laundromat restrooms are always so big and spacious, for whatever reason -- and change into my work clothes. The dingy sweats go back into the mesh bag in preparation for the next Laundry Day, and I emerge in slacks, a sateen-finish Arrow shirt and a silk tie, freshly-shining leather dress shoes on my feet. As I parade out of the small-town laundromat on the way to the next game, all eyes are on me. Without saying a word, I'm one big unanswered question.
Sometimes, though, there's no time to stop for laundry. On a Wednesday or Thursday of a weeklong trip, the suitcase can get very empty as the mesh laundry bag overflows. When this imbalance occurs, and there's a half hour to spare instead of two, it's time to go shopping.
I love Kohl's, and I'm so happy to see that it's a chain that's expanded from coast to coast. It's what Marshall's used to be before it tried to achieve hip-kid cred by signing contracts with washed-up designers. Its what Bob's Stores would be if they had anything resembling selection, what TJ Maxx would be if they could keep their customers' credit-card information safe from hackers. Kohl's is my favorite store, because it keeps saving my ass.
In a pinch, I can duck into the nearest Kohl's (Bea has the name on preset) and pick up a whole outfit, a brand-name slacks and shirt combo for about 40 bucks. There's always a sale, and in March when long sleeves are on clearance, I can buy two outfits for that price. This has happened often enough that I've outgrown my closet space at home.
But a lot of that has to do with all the mid-major gear I find at truck stops. At a Love's in central Virginia, I hit another jackpot, West Coast style. There's a beautiful dark blue size L Loyola Marymount sweatshirt with red lettering -- I slip it on and feel the spirit of Hank Gathers, like I could go hit one-handed free throws or score 141 points. There's also a sweet Nevada Wolf Pack windbreaker, which takes the "Pack" aspect to a whole 'nother level. It folds up and fits in its own pocket, allowing it to fit in my suitcase until the next rainy day.
Bea has one major shortcoming, and that's that she -- or rather, Verizon Navigator -- doesn't know where a lot of truck stops are. About half of the Pilots are there, only a handful of Love's locations, and nearly zero Flying J's. Some TA's are under "TA," some under "TravelCenters of America." But I understand fully -- Bea's a classy dame, and doesn't know from truck stops much.
Another problem is college arenas. She can find campuses and bookstores, but searches for "Knott Arena" (Mount Saint Mary's) or "Beeghly Center" (Youngstown State) come up empty. She's not much of a college basketball fan, I guess, so on nights like this, I'm driving aimlessly around Akron, looking for Rhodes Arena. Bea refuses to help, but I have someone else I can call.
"Sandy," I say into the phone. "Look up Akron."
The text arrives seconds later, a brain dump of everything Sandy knows about the Zips. There's sports information director Gregg Bach's phone number, the 26-7 record from last year, and ahh... there they are, the directions to the gym I'd emailed earlier.
"Take 77 South to Rt. 8 North to Carroll and turn left," she texts.
I'll say it again... can't do it without my girls.
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