Monday, April 21, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Something to think about: Change of pace

Recently I had to replace my 11-year-old PT Cruiser with a new car. It caused some grief to relinquish my little red friend, but she had barfed up her power steering fluid on the garage floor and given up the ghost. I decided to purchase a hybrid because a Tesla is right out of my budget.

I have to admit, the new car has changed me.

The car came with a technology package which I didn’t care about, and it was in a color that I did care about (something other than silver, grey, black or white). Adrian, my salesperson, gave me an enthusiastic tutorial on my new car, beginning with, “This car can do everything your Smart Phone can do.” Since I have a digital dinosaur dumb phone, this makes my new car arguably more prepared for life in our social media-driven age than me or my phone. It was a bit intimidating.

Did I have a nickname for my new car Adrian asked as he registered it in the system. Are you kidding? We just met. Would I like to hear my horoscope? “Hello, Virgo,” purred a voice from the car’s mid-section. “Today is a 10 for you.”

I have to go to a class to find out all the amazing things my smart car can do, even if I never again plan to have it tell me my horoscope. There is a Brake Coach to tell me the percentage of energy  being returned to the battery when I brake. I’m up to 99 percent. I think that’s good, but the BC always reads “OK.” If I really stomped on the brakes to avoid a squirrel, in addition to having severe whiplash, what would the Brake Coach do to me? Would the BC read “BAD?” Is that in the 250-page manual?

The car has Efficiency Leaves which grow on the panel in front of me when I am driving in a fuel-efficient manner, aka slow and boring. When I left the dealership I had two leaves. By the time I arrived home, they had fallen off. Today, my vine overflowed with leaves and it took me a lot longer to get to work. In addition to being manipulated into driving like I’m 100, I’m also learning to sound like a centenarian since the computer lady in my car has a hearing problem.

“Increase fan,” I bellow at her. “Increasing temperature,” she responds as a blast of heat fries my face.

I have been understandably cautious with the new vehicle. Unwilling to park it on the side of Leisure Lane, my usual spot when taking the dog for a walk, I parked in the market parking lot, towards the back, far away from any other vehicles. When we returned, a white pickup had angled in very close to my car on the right side and another vehicle was squeezed up against the left side. A red-eyed old gent, part of the Bullitia that meets every morning outside the market to discuss life’s vagaries, was standing by the pickup’s open tailgate with his coffee. He informed me that he’d been parking in the same spot every morning for 21 years and I was in it. If I turned my wheel sharply all the way, I could probably get out, he said. I wasn’t sure I could safely squeeze a paper clip out of the space. A vision of my mutilated car still wearing its paper tags flashed before my eyes.

The Red-Eyed One mimed how to turn the wheel sharply. I slid into my car and began to back up. He nodded approval. Then he shouted, “Now just straighten it out. You got plenty of room.” The steam from his coffee clouded my side windows, we were so close.

When a fire off Fair Lane caused a power outage at our new building, a fellow reporter and I took off in my car to sneak a peek at the fire and find out who we could interview. We discovered a short dirt road across the creek from the still-smoldering fire and my colleague demanded we take it. I told her that my new car was not, repeat not, traveling down a dirt road. We would walk. Teetering down the slope and down the red-dirt road in my girlie heels was tough, but at least my car was unscathed.

There will be dings and scrapes in my car’s future, I know, but for now, it’s  schooling me in how to drive like an old lady before I become one.

Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly

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