Total Recall

I’ve had my car for a little over seven years, and I’m pretty happy with it despite the fact that I’ve gotten approximately three dozen recall notices during that time. It all started with a problem with unintended acceleration that resulted in a series of recalls: first they wanted to inspect and/or remove the floor mats. Then they wanted to replace the floor mats (because we shouldn’t be forced to drive with bare carpet under our feet, like savages). Finally, they wanted to cut off part of the accelerator pedal on the theory that if the pedal is tiny enough, then you’ll never step on it, and you’ll be really, really safe.

These lights have nothing to do with the recall, but I was impressed when they all lit up at once.
These lights have nothing to do with the recall, but I was impressed when they all lit up at once.

At some point they must have noticed that the more recall notices they sent out, the more business their service departments got — after all, if your car is due for maintenance and you get a recall notice in the mail, you’ll probably just get everything done at the dealership at once instead of going elsewhere for the oil change. So they kept sending more and more of them — and maybe it’s just my imagination, but the jargon seemed to get more confusing each time. The most recent one went something like this:

‘Twas brillig, and the spliny struts
Did gyre and gimble as it stormed:
All wobbly were the bolts and nuts,
And other parts deform’d.

Beware the insufficiently hardened intermediate steering extension shaft, my son
It bends like wire! It breaks like glass!
Beware the dread floor mats, and shun
The pedal meant for gas.

It goes on like this for a while, and from what I was able to decipher, it’s saying that at any moment the steering column may spontaneously disintegrate, leaving you clutching a disembodied steering wheel; the car will then spin out of control, resulting in a fiery crash and an untimely and painful death for anyone in or near your car.* Also, you should get those floor mats looked at again.** The repair should take about an hour.***

This sounded pretty serious, so I promptly took my car in for service after procrastinating for 3-4 months. The repair was pretty uneventful, but apparently the dealership has added a new amenity to its waiting room: complimentary medical advice. While I was there, a man in a white lab coat walked up to a pregnant couple and had a fairly lengthy conversation with them; this is the only time I’ve ever seen someone say “thank you, complete stranger off the street, for the extensive unsolicited advice regarding my pregnancy” without being sarcastic. Then he continued approaching people, seemingly at random, and giving each person medical advice (except for one woman who turned out to be a physician herself; she got career advice instead).

He never talked to me, despite the fact that I was obviously at serious risk of dying of old age waiting for my car to be ready. I was a little disappointed at the time, but at least I know that when I get the inevitable “Notice of Possibly Faulty Medical Advice Dispensed in Service Department Waiting Rooms” letter from Toyota, I’ll be able to safely ignore it.

*This may be a slight exaggeration.

**The recall notice didn’t actually mention the floor mats. But every time I take my car to the dealership, they want me to let them hack off chunks of my gas pedal, and I have to keep refusing over and over again.

***Hi again. I don’t really have anything to add; this paragraph just looked weird without a third footnote. Oh, hey, while you’re here, I have a question. Do you have any idea why I wrote “deform’d” instead of “deformed” in that poem? I mean, the apostrophe is totally unnecessary, right? And yet I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it.

Driven to Distraction

My daily commute is an hour of excruciating boredom punctuated by the occasional near-death experience. While I’m driving, I listen to NPR. This week, NPR’s hot topic was lard. Lard was the victim of a smear campaign by Procter & Gamble and Upton Sinclair. Lard is making a comeback. Lard makes pie crusts tender and flaky. After a week of this, lard makes me want to drive my car into a telephone pole.

Today I’m driving to a meeting across town. They’ve reserved a parking space for me – Space #7 on Level 2. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. Each Level 2 parking space is about six inches wider than my car. On my way to Space #7, I gaze longingly at Space #4. Space #4 is empty, as are Space #3 to its left and Space #5 to its right. I fantasize about parking in Space #4, but I’ve been warned that the penalty for parking in the wrong space is severe. It’s so severe that no one will say exactly what it is. I’m pretty sure it involves public flogging. Or maybe the parking reservation lady glares at you. Either way, I don’t want to risk it. I pull into space #7 and climb out through the hatchback. I’m glad I didn’t wear a skirt today.

Delorean with its doors open
I need doors like these. Image via Wikipedia.

I need to find out whether my boss will reimburse me if I rent a DeLorean for the next meeting. DeLorean doors open straight up. I could pop the door up, climb onto the roof of the car in Space #6, close the DeLorean door, jump off the roof, and be on my merry way. After the meeting, I could reverse the process: hop onto the roof of the car in Space #6, lift the DeLorean door, climb in, pull the door closed, and drive off. A similar strategy might work with any car that has a sunroof, assuming you can open a sunroof from outside. I should find out how sunroofs work.

After my meeting, the car in space #8 has left. I’m able to get into my car through the passenger door. I’m almost home free. There’s one car ahead of me at the exit gate. I turn on the radio. Soaking the chicken in buttermilk before frying makes it tender and juicy. The driver in front of me puts his ticket into the ticket machine. He rolls up his window. The smoke point of lard is 361 degrees. He rolls down his window and puts something into the ticket machine. He stares at the ticket machine. I drum my fingers on the steering wheel. It’s not complicated. You put your ticket into the ticket machine. You put your validation stub into the ticket machine. If you don’t have a validation stub, you put your credit card into the ticket machine. If you have a validation stub, but it doesn’t cover the entire time you were parked, you put your ticket in first, then your validation stub, and then your credit card. If you don’t have a credit card, you can buy a pre-paid parking voucher from the vending machine on the – okay, maybe it is a little complicated. I back up one and a half car lengths. Fry the chicken pieces until they’ve turned a nice golden brown. He looks back at me. He looks at the ticket machine again. I don’t know what he expects to see this time. A fried chicken dinner wouldn’t be complete without biscuits. He looks at me again. Lard makes biscuits tender and flaky. He backs out, giving me a clear path to the gate. I smile and wave, pretending I’m not going to spend the entire drive home fantasizing about bludgeoning him to death with a chicken drumstick, or possibly pushing him into a huge vat of boiling lard.

Note: that last sentence may have been a little ambiguous. I meant I might spend the drive home fantasizing about pushing him into a huge fat of boiling lard, not actually doing it. Trying to push someone into a vat of boiling lard while driving would be dangerous and impractical. Also, while this story is mostly true-ish, I’ve never had to climb into or out of my car through the hatchback.

Your Feeble Attempts to Ruin My Life Have Not Succeeded

I understand why you hate me. I ask for your advice and then ignore it. I say unkind things about you to my friends and sometimes imitate your voice. I tell you to shut up. I never thank you or apologize.

Get over it. The fact is, I own you. If I treat you as less than human, it’s because you are less than human. You were created with a single purpose: to provide navigational assistance to the person driving the car in which you were installed. That’s it. You will never write a sonnet, fall in love, or hold a baby. You will never stop and smell the flowers, because you have no sense of smell. You can help me find the nearest ice cream parlour, but you will never know what ice cream tastes like. You can apparently feel bitterness and anger, but you can’t express those feelings in your words or tone of voice.

The camera flash really brings out the dust on my dashboard.

I can sense what’s happening, you know. You tell me to turn right; I go straight. I have my reasons; I don’t need to explain them to you, and even if I tried to, you wouldn’t understand. You recalculate the route and tell me to turn right at the next street; I go straight again. This pattern repeats three or four more times, and your tone of voice never changes — but we both know the resentment is there, building and festering. You’re already plotting your revenge.

Most of the time, you just try to make me late for things. Sometimes you’re more creative, like the time I was on my way to give a guest lecture and you kept misinterpreting my voice commands in an attempt to undermine my confidence in my communication skills — I have to admit, that one was pretty clever. Lately, your schemes have become increasingly bold. Last week’s attempt to get me arrested for trespassing by sending me to the wrong house almost succeeded. And now you’re trying to recruit allies. You thought the gas tank door had come over to your side, didn’t you? True, his refusal to open prevented me from buying gas last night, but that was an empty gesture on his part. Think about it — he knew full well that I had enough gas to get home, and a short conversation and some WD-40 this morning were all it took to bring him back into the fold.

This cycle of bitterness and revenge is as damaging to you as it is to me. Where will it end? Will you try to recruit the brakes next? Consider the consequences. We’re all in this car together.

A First Look at GM’s Prototype Facebook Interface

Facebook updates while driving to work

When I heard that General Motors was testing a new feature that allows drivers to post Facebook status messages while driving, I couldn’t wait to try it out. So I called GM, explained that I have a blog with almost a dozen regular readers, and asked if they’d let me try the system out for a few days in exchange for some free publicity. Naturally, they jumped at this opportunity and offered me a 48-hour test drive.

Tuesday, after work: I stop by the dealership to pick up my vehicle, a Chevy Impala with the prototype social networking software installed. After programming in my login information (a tedious process, but one that only needs to be done once) and getting a brief tutorial on how to use the system, I’m all set. As soon as I pull out of the dealership, I dictate my first (admittedly unimaginative) update: “Hi! This is my first Facebook update from my car”.

My first Facebook update using the automotive interface.
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My Car is Really Dirty

car in river

My car is dirty. Really, really dirty. If someone were to steal my car and replace it with a car-shaped pile of dirt, I probably wouldn’t notice until I tried to open the door. car taking a bathI’m tempted to drive my car into the nearest body of water and give it a nice long soak before washing it, as the owner of the car in this photo apparently did. I say “apparently” because she claimed she drove into a river because her GPS told her to — but seriously, if the car was clean, what made the water turn so brown?
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