[George's Pond]

Computers on Wheels

My first car was the infamous 1964 Rambler American – a horror show right off the assembly line. After that, came a series of equally basic forms of transportation with few bells and whistles.

These days my ride is a ten-year-old geriatric, which in human years is probably well into its 70s or 80s; but it does the job.

Then a week ago it unexpectedly developed a few issues that have sidelined it for a while. That’s a problem. I need my wheels. Bless you, dealership. Thanks for the loaner. And what they gave me was not the expected beater but an almost brand-new SUV.

After a brief verbal primer, I was deemed fit to drive it, but anytime I get behind the wheel of an unfamiliar vehicle, I become anxious about my ability to adapt to its idiosyncrasies in a timely manner.

It had been ten years since I’d driven a current year vehicle, and I was greeted by a bewildering array of dials, knobs, buttons, and a video screen that looked larger than the first TV my father brought home back in the 1950s. Overall, a frightening gaggle of gadgets.

Relax, George, you don’t have to master it in ninety seconds. Just start the car and go.

Where’s the key? Oh yeah, this is a push button starter. I pushed it. Nothing. Again. Nothing. A third time. Still nothing. I imagined the entire service department enjoying a good giggle at my expense. Deep breath: Om, om, om. Of course, I’d forgotten what the nice lady told me. Step on the brake as you push the starter. I was on my way.

The drive home was uneventful. As usual, I parked in the driveway. No part of town is immune to unsavoury hijinks, so I always lock my cars up tight. The loaner would be no different. Hit LOCK on the fob and mission accomplished.

Better double-check.

Doors? Secure. Tailgate? Open? What the…?

Try again. Still open. A third time. Same result. Okay, simmer down, George. Either the lock was malfunctioning or the solution to my dilemma was hidden deep within the owner’s manual. So, I wrestled that hefty tome out of the glove box, but intimidated by its sheer bulk and voluminous technobabble, I failed to find an answer.

My BP spiking, I decided to call the dealership. It would be embarrassing, but after 40 expletive-riddled, wasted minutes, enough was enough.

Then it came out of nowhere. Divine intervention?

Could this have something to do with the location of the fob? Perhaps the tailgate only locks once the fob is removed from the vicinity of the vehicle. Since every failed attempt had been made with the fob in my hand right next to the vehicle, it would be worth a try.

I hit LOCK again, walked away, left the fob on my porch, and returned to the driveway.

Eureka! Locked! It was a difficult lesson, but the bottom line is press LOCK and trust technology. Relieved, I took solace from the misadventures of an out-of-town visitor who like me grew up with vehicles that weren’t nearly as smart as today’s computers on wheels.

Anyway, said visitor left his late model rental overnight in his brother’s driveway. The next morning, he fired it up, put it in drive and stepped on the gas. It wouldn’t budge. A few jerky spasms – nothing more. Repeated attempts produced the same result. Host brother to the rescue. Game to try, but just as clueless; he had no better luck.

A second helping hand in the form of a passing neighbour solved nothing. Eager to help, but no more car savvy than the sibling brothers, he was equally baffled. But all the activity had caught the attention of a landscaper working nearby.

“Anything I can help with?”

“Sure, you’re welcome to try.”

Thirty seconds later: “That was easy. Your parking brake was on.”

How that happened remains a mystery. When did the familiar brake handle you yanked up give way to a tiny button hidden among a collection of similar buttons?

I understand that recent advances in automotive technology are just the tip of the iceberg, but I think car dealers are missing a very lucrative opportunity. Advanced technology is not an issue for younger drivers, but many of us old folks struggle with it. Why leave us with just a ten-minute tutorial and five pounds of unfathomable text to decipher when you could offer a week-long mentorship program which would see a qualified technician in the passenger’s seat to hold our hand while we acclimate to all the intricacies of our new wheels?

You think it’s a crazy idea? Maybe you’re right. And it would cost dearly. But that’s one extra I’d buy.

Story by:
George Smith

Illustration by:
Charles Bongers

[Winter 2022/2023 departments]