MY FRIEND TOM IS A PRETTY CALM GUY. Hard to get a rise out of him. But a few weeks ago, as we were about to drive in my car from his Westwood home to Staples Center for a Lakers game it turned out actually mattered (Kobe went ferociously head-to-head with LeBron, scored a career high 17 assists, but three games later was lost for the season — again — because of a torn rotator cuff) — Tom discovered that I didn’t have Waze. He seemed incredulous, upset, very concerned for my future and questioning my sanity, and I immediately felt guilty without really knowing why.

“You don’t have Waze? You don’t have Waze?! Seriously? Really?” he kept saying, as if the repetition could alter the awful reality.

Clearly, I was selfishly causing him needless pain. There was a hint of, “I can’t believe you’re so ignorant and behind the times,” but more, I think, he was simply shocked and distraught that his friend’s life was so heartbreakingly lacking and dangerously out of whack.

For those of you similarly pathetically stuck in the early 2010s, Waze is a GPS app for your smartphone. You tell it where you’re going, it knows where you are, and tells you, turn by turn, the fastest way to get there. Sounds simple, and unremarkable. Any GPS has been doing that for decades.

So why is Waze so popular? Developed by an Israeli group in 2008, by early 2012 the app had been downloaded 12 million times worldwide. By mid-year, 20 million. A year later, 50,000,000. At that point Google decided it was the future and they had to have it, and paid $1.3 billion for it. Yup, a billion three.

Each of Waze’s 100 employees generously shared in the bonanza, scooting home with a bag full of bills totaling on average $1.2 million per geek. Even their copywriters? Boy, am I in the wrong business. You too, I guess.

Without knowing any of this, I found myself, as a brand new user, rapidly hooked. Now I read tales of people who swear they don’t drive their kids to school without flipping on Waze. Won’t leave the driveway.

But lots of people love their Google Maps. Doesn’t that do the same thing?

Well, yeah, but with important differences. Important enough to spend that billion-plus to acquire it. Partly to keep it out of the grasping hands of evil Apple and more evil Facebook, partly to replace or enhance GM.

Waze has managed to create that tech nirvana called community, offering points, competition and recognition to users, giving them the opportunity to be a good scout and warn the world that there’s a cop hiding in that alley, or an accident ahead that will stop the world.

I installed it to keep Tom from going apoplectic, but two times using it and I was in the club. I felt the Waze woman wouldn’t steer me wrong, and had the most up-to-the-nanosecond info to go on. (I’ve got the default American woman’s voice, but you can go male, Brit, even Elvis.)

Fifty-million-plus users are all tracked when they have Waze on, their speed and their route precisely noted and the stats instantly crunched to alert the Waze lady to tell you, get the hell off the freeway, now! Actually, she never is anything but professional, even dispassionate, kind of aloof, and that adds to the trust.

When I was tooling around Europe for nearly a year, in some countries where they don’t even use a Western alphabet on their street signs, a good GPS was as necessary as a good wi-fi connection. (Hah!) Unfortunately, we had James. James Bond, we called our GPS, because of his smooth British accent, and his propensity for danger. One time he sent us through a river bed because the bridge was closed, and we thought we would sink in up to our VW ornament in quicksand. But we made it.

I considered giving the Waze woman a name, but I think I’ll keep it strictly business. You see, I’ve already strayed.

It was only the second date, uh, second time using Waze. My friend Rick was along and we were sweating the traffic and the time. I said maybe I should use Waze and he said don’t be silly, just hop on the freeway, that’s the most direct route. So we did, and about 10 feet off the Lincoln on ramp we slowed to near-zero. When we finally crept close to the 20th Street exit, I turned on Waze and she advised me to bail. As I edged across lanes to make my escape, Rick freaked.

“What are you DOing!?!” he yelped. “I trust her,” I said evenly, with conviction, almost devotion. Rick wouldn’t calm down until she put us back on the freeway, then he lost it again when she took us off again. I looked him in the eye and said, “She knows what she’s doing. She’ll take care of us.”

He kept howling but eventually got quieter and quieter as he realized we were zigging and zagging but still moving, always moving, and those who stuck to the freeway were — stuck. Rick is now a believer.

A few days ago, when she took me off the freeway again, offhandedly mentioning there were police ahead, my first thought was, well, there’s an accident. But then I imagined, no, not an accident. Something worse. I would hear about it on the evening news, and marvel at my close shave.

“Protest of Police Killings Stops Traffic on the 10, Thousands Stuck for Hours!” or , “10 Freeway Collapses at Westwood! Dozens of Cars Plummet to the Ground, Many Fatalities!” or even, “Domestic Terrorists Detonate Small Nuclear Device on La Cienega, Freeway above Destroyed, Many Many Fatalities!”

But not me. I have my ways.

DON’T FORGET: School board meeting tomorrow night, 5:30 p.m., 1651 16th St. Nothing decided yet but people can sign up to speak in the public comments time, and it’s important to show again how much this community values the film program at Samohi and its excellent teacher, Bill Wishart.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” —Groucho Marx

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for almost 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com.

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