The other day Kish and I were driving, listening to some classical music and using the car’s GPS feature to direct us to a place we were visiting for the first time. That combination of activities didn’t work out very well.
Why? Even though the classical music was being played at low volume, the monotone female GPS “exit in one mile, then right turn” voice couldn’t be heard distinctly with a Beethoven piano concerto in the background. So, we were left with the option of turning off the music and driving in silence because we never quite know when the GPS voice will speak (an intolerable choice for me) or not hearing the directions, which doesn’t exactly use the GPS function to its maximum potential.
I suppose you could design the GPS speaking function to cut off the music automatically whenever a message is being delivered, but that seems a bit presumptuous. I think the better solution is to offer a range of accent options so that the GPS voice can be heard above the music — accents that are so different and distinctive that the driver immediately sits up, takes notice, and gets the message.
I think a strong hillbilly accent would do the trick, if you could get used to the concept of taking directions from Cletus the slack-jawed yokel. Maybe an over-the-top Cockney accent, with a few “guv’nors” thrown in, would work, too.
It hasn’t been easy for the Chevy Volt. Announced with great fanfare as the electric hybrid, alternative energy car of the future, the Volt has had problems getting traction with consumers.
The most recent news is that some Chevrolet dealers don’t want to take their allotment of Volts. The sales of the car have been disappointing — only 7,671 were sold last year — and there have been some concerns about the risk of fires in the Volt’s battery packs, which led to a government investigation that concluded the cars weren’t at a greater fire risk. Whatever the reason, dealers are balking at accepting lots of Volts and devoting precious showroom and on-the-lot space to a car that most consumers apparently don’t want.
Some people hoped that the Volt would lead General Motors back to profitability. The Volt hasn’t filled that role. And dealers are pretty reliable barometers of consumer demand. If hordes of potential buyers were flooding dealerships demanding a Volt, the dealers would be perfectly happy to sell them. The fact that dealers don’t want even a modest allotment of the cars is a strong indication that America isn’t quite ready to be an electric car nation.
People tend to smile at our Acura SUV as it trundles past. I think it is because our car looks like E.T.
I’m not just saying this because humans have a well-recognized tendency to see patterns as human faces. Our brains seem hard-wired, from birth to dotage, to interpret random blotches and spaces and to organize them into face-like shapes. This is why we see “faces” of religious figures and celebrities in wallpaper patterns, on buildings, on plates of food, and in rusted spots on the sides of giant oil storage drums.
In this case, however, our car’s eerie resemblance to E.T. is no fluke product of randomly firing synapses in the human brain. No, our vehicle actually looks like the friendly visitor from another planet, with its large, wide-set eyes, its button nose, and its shy, happy smile — just like E.T.’s expression when the ship from his home planet returned to Earth to take him home. Of course, our car lacks a glowing finger and a glowing chest cavity, but that’s beside the point.
Judge for yourself!
We’ve replaced the Blue Beemer with a brand spanking new Acura mini-SUV, and the new car has been something of a revelation.
It’s been about a decade since we last bought a new car, and it’s obvious that a lot has changed since our most recent new car purchase. For one thing, cars are a lot more expensive. For another, designs seem to have moved away from a soft, rounded look toward a much more angular appearance. And the biggest difference, to us at least, has been the technology.
We got the “technology package” when we bought the car, and it makes us feel like slack-jawed rubes. If you sit behind the wheel, you feel like Mr. Sulu at the helm of the Enterprise. We’ve got a built-in garage door opener. We’ve got GPS. We’ve got Sirius XM satellite radio. There are multiple toggles and buttons and a large central knob that functions like a mouse. We’ve got a hands-free cell phone that linked with Kish’s cell and, through the miracle of Bluetooth technology, downloaded all of the phone numbers from her address book. And everything is voice activated. We can ask the car to find the nearest Chinese restaurant and, a few seconds later, it will give us a report on every Szechuan, Hunan, or Mandarin option within five miles, including phone numbers in case we want to call for a reservation. It’s pretty amazing stuff when you are used to a simple dashboard that has a few gauges, a clock, a radio, and a CD player.
We don’t know how to use even a tiny fraction of the features that are available on this space-age vehicle. It will be fun learning.
Yesterday as I was driving to Cincinnati my car passed 150,000 miles. It is a milestone worth noting.
My car is a black 2003 Acura sedan, and its condition reflects the mileage. After all, 150,000 miles is a bit more than 3.5 circumnavigations of the Earth. The side doors are pitted and pockmarked, the inevitable result of countless dings suffered from parking in tightly packed garages. The windshield has a chip or two, and the hood has uncomplainingly borne the indignity of innumerable bird droppings and scratches of unknown origin. Yet still the car sits in the driveway — battered, yet triumphant and ready to serve, having survived to roll on and on where many of its fellow graduates of the class of 2003 have long since been consigned to the scrap heap.
The inside of the car feels as comfortable as an old shoe. The seat and rear view mirror are positioned just where I want them. I know every inch of the interior. I love and trust this stalwart, dependable vehicle because I know it will faithfully take me where I need to go (and with pretty good gas mileage, too). I want our mutual journey to continue. My next goal is 238,857 miles, which is the average distance from the Earth to the Moon.
Kish and I decided to walk to the library this morning, and when we got to Market Street we saw that there was another festival of some kind going on. (Another weekend, another festival.) Today it is the Classic Car, Cycle & Truck show.
If you like chrome — and what red-blooded American doesn’t really? — this is a show to see. All of the parking spots around the library, and on Market Street itself, are filled with tricked-out, candy-colored cars and motorcycles of all kinds. You can listen to some loud rock music as you walk among the rows of lovingly restored, flame-sided, overpowered, hoods-up tributes to the glory years of Detroit and the American auto industry. In today’s bright sunshine the glint of chrome is blinding and a bit intoxicating.
Admission to the event is free, but all proceeds of the various concession stands will benefit Flying Horse Farms, a local camp that has opened this year to help kids with serious illnesses. It’s a good cause. Today’s event runs until 5 p.m.
Temperatures have warmed the last few days, and it is a perilous time for anyone who drives a black car. With the snowmelt comes slush, uncovered potholes, and the incessant spray of tiny droplets of dirty water infused with salt and minuscule cinders from the pulverized asphalt pieces broken off from the potholes.
The front of my car, today
The result is a formerly sleek jet-black car that looks like modern-art study of shades of gray that could have been created by the controlled drip technique of Jackson Pollock. My car is coated with sticky grime, and if you happen to brush against it while wearing a dark coat you end up with a dusty gray streak on your formerly clean overcoat.
This weather also puts a premium on maintaining an ample supply of windshield washer fluid. If you are on the road and your supply runs out, you end up with an opaque windshield that approximates a bad case of cataracts.
We hope for the day when the snowmelt has ended, the roads dry out, and a good car wash lasts for more than a 15-minute drive.