In the parking lot, she had a question.
“Must you swear?”
“It’s the only language your car understands,” I told her.
I was frustrated because she insisted we drive her car to her eye appointment and I drive it home. Unlike my car, her’s fails to comprehend simple commands. I had flipped the headlights on but got the wipers instead. Now as we squabbled, the wipers hissed and thumped back and forth across a dry windshield.
“Getting angry doesn’t help,” she observed (which is precisely what I wanted to hear at that moment).
But perhaps she was right. Maybe anger does not work with her car – but it sure as hell works with mine. I swear at mine all the time and it swears back at me.
In the mind-numbing language of corporate-speak: we dialogue.
Every time I take a corner too fast, my car clucks at me. If I speed, it squawks and God help me if I fail to fasten a seat beat – then it shrieks hysterically until I buckle up.
But that’s okay – because it works the other way around too. Whenever it tells me that I am low on gas or in need of an oil change, I cuss at it, and every time it looses one of the presets on my radio, I tell it to do things that are anatomically impossible for a car to do.
But for the most part we get along because we are used to each other. It is when I use another car, like a rental or my wife’s car that I get into trouble.
You wouldn’t think it would be that difficult.
All cars have the same rudimentary interface. There is a wheel for steering and a pedal for stopping and a pedal for going. But beyond that, everything is chaos. Every time you get into a strange car, the only thing that is the same is the disorienting drill of trying to figure out how the essential functions work.
Every make and model is different, some have speedometers with needles that wag, others have bars that slide and some tell you how fast you are going by flashing digits. Some have headlight controls on the turn signal arm – others use a switch, but the most frustrating of all features is cruise control: a perfectly usable function hidden behind a bewildering array of buttons, paddles, toggles and indicators – all specifically designed to take your eye off the oncoming cattle truck.
“We should have taken mine,” I told her.
She just rolled her eyes. My truck was “too muddy”, so we took her car and that is what led to the state we were in – squabbling as the windshield wipers thudded back and forth.
“Lean over,” she said, “so I can see what’s going on.”
I obliged her.
“Oh!” she said and then:
She smacked the arm that controls both the wipers and the headlights. I mean, she really clobbered it. The wipers immediately shut off and the headlights came on.
“You just have to know how to talk to it,” she said.