Seven years ago, I drove to the Las Vegas airport with three suitcases, handed the car keys of my trusty Jetta wagon to my friend Dave and said, “Your wife has the title. Hope it’s not a pain to sell.” It had 81,000 miles on it. I bought that wagon in Charleston, South Carolina 12 years earlier. When I took the Vegas job, it drove me, my 95 lb. Labrador, and everything I owned, across the country without complaint. However, I did have to buy a book of road maps because the only technical support this car offered was electric windows, an FM radio, and one single, solitary cup holder.
Yes, you read that right, I had a 12-year-old car with only 81,000 miles on it. The first question I get from people is, “did you not ever leave your house?” Actually yes, I do a great deal of traveling – just not by car. When I left Las Vegas, I was on my way to New York City, a land invented for people who hate to drive. I’m a good driver, I’ve never been in a car accident, but the thrill of the open road is only thrilling to me if someone else does the driving.
When I moved out here – even though I was moving to a house a half a block from a commuter train station – it was immediately clear that I would once again have to own a car. So, I did what any self-respecting nerd would do. I Googled the problem, “What do people drive in New England? How do you drive in snow? How quickly does salt eat a car? What, exactly, is a snow tire?”
When Google returned an overwhelming amount of information (and increasingly aggressive car ads) I took the next obvious step of walking over to Farms Full Service and asked the men in the garage, “What kinds of cars do you guys like to fix?”
Armed with advice from both the digital and human world, I set off to the car lot to buy a used whatever. My list was, “It must help me drive in snow. It must have a cup holder. A sunroof would be nice.” I took home a 2015 Subaru Something and parked it in the garage where it spends most of its time. In the first year I owned it, I put a bit over 1,000 miles on it. According to my accountant, the car costs me $10 per mile to own. Why? Here’s where my secret, hidden luddite screams to be recognized: ALL THE TECH IN CARS IS STUPID. There. I said it. Take away my nerd card now.
Seriously, I’ve had to replace the battery twice in two years because it (obviously) sits for long periods without being turned on. The guys at Farms Full Service know my name and garage door code by heart. The automatic lights. The automatic windows. The sensors, computers, heated seats, the dome lights, a button to start the car…is there anything in cars today NOT connected to the battery?
Recently, while battling the silliness of a dying car key battery (Seriously?! The KEY needs battery?) I spent an hour pouring over the owner’s manual to try to figure out how to turn off ALL. THE. THINGS. How can I make it so I can just get in a car every week or two and drive 10 minutes in bad weather? Turns out there is a way to turn off most of the stuff, but you have to take it to a dealership to do it. Why? Because the car’s computer insists that resistance is futile. “What are you doing Hal?”
Hal (and The Borg) you have no idea who you’re dealing with. I can throw around technology quotes with the best of them. But, first and foremost I am a wily human who has also read Sun Tzu. “Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.” I will find a way to tame the tech in my car.