With all my feminist pretensions, in some aspects I’m still that old-fashioned “Man”. One of these aspects is my deep relations with the car. Controlling the car is one way to prove your manhood.
When we went to visit our son in North Carolina last autumn, I ordered a rented car to pick up at the airport. I asked for a cheap car, only to have 4 wheels and a motor. Apparently there were not really cheap cars to offer, so I order the cheapest available.
When we arrived at the agency to take the car, the model that we ordered was not available, as the yard was full of luxury cars and jeeps. The agent went to the neighbors to borrow something that will not be too much above what we were paying for. Still it was an automatic car more modern than anything I’ve seen before.
“You can go; it is all yours!”
But I didn’t find the ignition to put the keys in and rotate. I was looking around, confused, and had to leave the car where it was, blocking the lane, and went to call him back from the office to the cold night.
“How do I start it?”
Well, there was a simple “Power On” button just in front of me, as if the car was a damned dumb toy.
I drove out and started to get used to the automatic gear that lets lazy drivers just press the gas pedal…
* * *
The real challenge came as we were driving in a narrow park road in the Appalachian Mountains. We took a wrong lane and wanted to make a U-turn. I entered in reverse an even narrower road that joined the park road. It was steeper than what I imagined. I stopped the car with its tail down and prepared for the driver’s ultimate test of leaping up a steep slope.
But where are my hand brake and my clutch pedal that I should release gradually and carefully? All I had is this lousy automatic gear and one gas pedal. I didn’t believe we will make it and had a strong feeling the car is going to roll down back into the valley.
As I pressed the gas pedal, the car moved quietly up the steep lane and into the park road. It didn’t show any tendency to roll back, not even by one inch. (Yes, it was an American car – so it was thinking in inches, not centimeters).
I was shocked. The car simply knew that while it is on “drive” and not “reverse”, it shouldn’t go back. It didn’t need any of my manly superior capabilities to tell her how to do the right thing.
* * *
As I started to doubt the future of mankind and ask existential questions, I didn’t notice that something went wrong with the car. I tried to speed up but it hardly responded – or rather responded by loud vocal roar of the motor but little motion.
I tried to slow down and accelerate again, but it was still the same thunder without lighting.
Finally I understood.
While taking the leap up on the steep slope, the car entered the power gear mode.
I had to stop and power off the motor in order to get it back to normal driving mode.
I was reassured of my manly superiority over the foolish car.
* * *
As we drove to the airport and turned the car back to the agency, they asked me whether it was all OK.
Well, pretty much so. I said. There’s only one problem. When I lock the car with the remote control, sometimes it locks, sometimes it doesn’t.
The man laughed at my provincial ignorance and showed me the trick.
If you lock the car but stretch your hand back to the door with the keys in your hand, the door senses the proximity of the keys and unlocks…
Well, maybe I’m still smarter than the automatic gear, but I’m surely no match to this damned thought-reading creepy door.