Before we moved out to the "inner suburbs", my wife and I - and just I before that - lived in the middle of New York City. A lot of you probably know the old adage that New Yorkers don't drive, and it's true. I was born in New York and I've lived there off and on for a total of about 20 years, and for about 19 of those years I did not own a car. Every time I did break down and buy one, I realized why I didn't have one before and promptly sold it within just a few months. $1,000 worth of parking tickets and a $4,000 suspension repair bill will do that to you.
For most people, transportation in New York City consists of the subway. And while I know the NYC subway can be confusing for people new to the city, the fact is still that any given train goes to the same place every time you get on it. When you step on an "A" train, you don't generally have to worry about where it's going - it's going the same place it went yesterday and the day before that. Whole areas are defined by what subway line they're on. When you ask someone where they're from and they tell you a neighborhood that sounds unfamiliar, the common follow-up question is "what train do you take?" And if an area has no subway line, well, it's "the middle of nowhere" - even in New York City!
So when we moved out to Long Island, we were pretty unprepared for real freedom of movement, and having to actually find our own way everywhere. My wife's from a rural area so she's a bit better at it than me, but she doesn't know this area very well either. So we were like the stereotypical couple pulled over on the side of the road, lost and fumbling with maps on almost every trip. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, after getting lost on the way to an unfamiliar car dealer (our automobile needed some fixin') and ending up two hours late for our service appointment, I resolved to buy a portable GPS unit.
Long story short, I ended up with a refurbished Magellan Roadmate 2200T. My budget was quite low, and this model had text-to-speech (it pronounces street names), which most budget models don't. So far, it's awesome. I wrote up a full review at Epinions here, but the condensed, big-picture version is that this is a life-changing device. We're taking trips we never would have before, seeing and doing things just for the hell of it that just seemed impossible. Today, we went to a beer store 30 miles away in a town we'd never been to before, just to buy beer. (More on that later.) I mean, we feel like we can go anywhere and do anything now.
Someday, people like us are gonna be telling our grandkids about the olden days when we actually drove around not knowing where the hell we were or how to get where we were going. And our grandkids are gonna look at us with wide eyes and go "wow!" (Or, more likely, they're gonna tell us to shut up so they can concentrate on their video games.) Eventually, everybody's gonna have one of these things - it's gonna be standard equipment in both cars and in cell phones and probably other kinds of devices too. It's just such an incredibly useful piece of technology.
The good news too is that prices are really coming down. Our 2200T cost $169 refurbished from Buy.com, although you can get new, non-refurb models (though without text-to-speech) from various companies for $199. By next year, I'll bet you'll see one or two for $99.