Nowadays, many new cars are rigged with navigation systems. For their lucky owners, gone is the embarrassment of having to stop and ask gas station clerks for directions. These gadgets have liberated us from the consequences of relying on the unreliable internal compass. Technology has made some of us smarter. But no satellite would have prevented a 21-year-old German tourist from mistakenly landing in Sidney, Montana instead of Sydney, Australia.
For a brief time in late 2006, Tobi Gutt, for his misfortune, became a minor celebrity in his homeland. The story of his vacation gone awry because of one fateful letter – he typed an “i” instead of “y” – spread quickly across the Internet (although I just stumbled across it recently). That simple typo took him on an 8,000-mile detour to the heart of frigid Montana. Meanwhile, his girlfriend awaited his arrival “down under” for a sunny four-week vacation.
I have little sense of direction. Once I made a wrong turn leaving Minneapolis en route to Bismarck, N.D. I ended up in the mysterious town of Willmar before asking directions back to U.S. Highway 95. I could have stopped in Cokato, but my internal compass convinced me otherwise. Gutt also waited. And it’s hard to imagine what he was thinking as his plight came into focus.
“I did wonder but I didn’t say anything,” Gutt told a German newspaper at the time. “I thought to myself, you can fly to Australia via the United States.” But continuing inland from Portland, Ore., to Billings, his stubbornness must have trumped common sense.
“I know where I’m going,” Gutt must have thought. Not until he was about to board a commuter plane en route to Sidney – spelled with an “i” and on the wrong continent – did he acknowledge his mistake. He spent three days in the Billings airport before getting rerouted to Australia.
In hindsight, he probably wished he had stopped in Oregon for directions.
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