Bring On Self-Drivers!

Not only do I own what I am sure is the last station wagon in America, but apparently I am among the last drivers to be unfamiliar with push-button cars. I learned this on a recent four-day trip to Colorado where I attended a funeral for a friend of long-standing, followed up by a quick visit to Nieder family relatives.

I’d ordered a Volkswagen Jetta but at the Denver Airport’s car rental facility I was presented with an upgrade at the same price, “a white something-or-other parked at the curb” but as a lifetime VW owner, the names of other makes and models is meaningless to me. I did remember “white” and “parked at the curb.” It was evening so as I made my way out in the dark in the indicated direction, I headed for a white vehicle avalon-front.pngsitting at the curb with the motor running. The driver side door was unlocked so I put my bag on the back seat and got behind the wheel. That was when I noticed no key in the ignition. Where a key should be was a button with the words “push to start or stop while keeping your foot on the brake pedal.” I’m paraphrasing there but since the car was already running, I eased away from the curb and headed toward the exit, stopping at the gate to get pointed in the right direction,

I set the mobile phone’s GPS to lead me to the mortuary. I had very little time before the visiting period ended and sure enough, one missed turn or two and the required backtracking and reasserting of myself on the dark unfamiliar highway, and I quickly missed the visiting time altogether. Okay, so I told the GPS to take me to the motel. Once there, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the headlights; I went inside and played the first of what would be several days’ worth of “old lady cards.” The nice young man behind the desk came outside in the cold – Did I mention it was cold and I’d just flown in from Southern California? – and walked in his shirtsleeves with me toward the car. Just then, the lights went out on their own. “Oh, that’s one of those cars that keep the lights on long enough to get you in your building,” he said, “My car does that.”

I didn’t tell him my car at home doesn’t do that. If you forget and leave the lights on, you will be greeted in the morning by a dead battery. So passé.

Other old friends of the deceased arrived a little later, having “UBER-ed from the airport, and we agreed to meet at breakfast the next morning. There, they accepted my offer of a ride to the funeral later that morning, albeit pointing out that if I hadn’t made plans for a visit after the funeral, I could have done without the rental car. (My shared-ride company of choice is LYFT, so yes, I could have LYFT-ed everywhere, but didn’t.)

At the agreed-upon time, we met at my car and headed for the funeral, which was in a chapel at the mortuary located at the edge of the cemetery. Armed with individual mobile phone GPSes, each shouted directions at me, but we nevertheless arrived shortly to take seats in a pew at the last row. The chapel was lovely with tasteful flower arrangements and our friend’s flag-draped coffin at the front. A large glass window overlooked the cemetery beyond, a natural setting without headstones and other statuary. Shortly after the minister began the service, a flock of wild geese flew past the window, wheeled and circled again, as if on cue. Could Hollywood do any better? I wondered.

At the indoor service’s conclusion, we were informed that those who wished could follow in our cars to the gravesite where prayers were offered and the coffin lowered into the ground. A bagpiper stood off playing, and at the final conclusion, continued to play as he walked off into the distance. It was all very moving and beautiful. The snow boots I’d purchased especially for this instance were in the trunk of the car but it was alright.

Back at the mortuary, a reception was underway with refreshments and a slide show of photos from the life of our friend and his family. Deep in conversation with someone, I caught a glimpse out of the corner of one eye, of a picture of our friend sandwiched between two of our giant dogs. I smiled to remember when we moved next door to that Bismarck at fencefamily, our friend’s consternation, not only that we had a giant dog but that we planned to completely fence in our yard, placing one side up against that neighbor’s driveway. It took hardly any time during the brief year-and-a-half we lived there, for the dog and our friend to develop an early morning ritual, the dog on his hind legs looking over the fence and our friend calling a greeting on his way to his garage.

Snow started falling the day after the funeral, and I headed – wearing my newly purchased snow boots – up the 65 miles to Fort Collins. I quickly realized I didn’t know how to work the windshield wipers, except to do it manually with one finger each time I needed to clear snow away. The same was true of defrosters; as the clear visual area became smaller and smaller, I put the palm of my hand to use. But what to do about the heat blasting out at my midsection? I pushed every button I could reach in an effort to make some of these functions work. Why don’t rental car agencies keep a copy of the car’s manual in the glove compartment?

There was no place to stop, no one to ask and so I just kept driving straight ahead for 65 miles until I pulled into my sister-in-law’s driveway. The bright white car was a mess with splatters of slush and mud and gunk. The next morning I drove to a car wash where I played the “old lady card” once again. When a young employee noticed me puzzling over the start of the drive-through, he approached and showed where to insert my credit card. “When I get through,” I said, “do you suppose someone could come out and show me how to work all these various buttons on this rental car?” “Oh sure,” he replied, “I’ll meet you in the parking lot. I have a car just like this.”

 

6 comments on “Bring On Self-Drivers!

  1. Carolyn Niethammer says:

    Ha ha! We have had our new car for about 14 months now and are still trying to figure out what the heck is going on most of the time. The deal with the lights staying on is unnerving, but it is nice when the headlights light up the stairs out of our garage and then turn themselves off when I’m inside. There is also some way to turn the car on from inside the house which would allow the AC to come on in the summer and the heat in the winter, but we haven’t learned how to do that yet. If you try to change lanes without putting on the turn signal, the steering wheel gives a little resistance (hey there! know what you’re doing?) and a picture of a coffee cup comes on the screen. Took us a while to figure out that the car thought we were weaving because we were tired and was suggesting a stop for a cup of coffee.

    • patnieder says:

      Not only self-driving but self-thinking — I love it, I think. Just now I’ve spent entirely too much time imagining other graphic images for your car’s screen: a cocktail glass with a diagonal line through it, or in the case of my momentary wrong-lane event (below) a screechy-face emoticon.

  2. soverelfield says:

    Enjoyable!

  3. Betty Dana says:

    Loved it and I know there was more to the story. It is always a challenge with a different car. However, 6 years later, we are still trying to figure out how the heat works on our very simple Subaru.

    I also must add that you were very polite not to mention that your helpful, also aging friends, while armed with phone mapping ability, were not only confusing but often failed to get you correctly headed to your/our destination.

    • patnieder says:

      And I refrained from mentioning the two unison screeches from said navigators when my too-sharp left turn took us into the path of an oncoming vehicle. Still waiting for congratulations for the aging driver’s quick reflexes and calm demeanor in maneuvering the car into the proper lane. I wonder what picture Caroline’s car (above) would have depicted on its screen in that instance.

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