I don’t end up in the ditch too often, fortunately. When I unwisely bought a new car a few months ago, the roads here in Santa Fe were still covered with snow and ice, and this car—expensive, its brand not to be disclosed—was said by the salesman to perform beautifully in those conditions without need of snow tires.
I should have known better. No car here performs beautifully without snow tires in the winter; we are in the foot hills of the Rockies, after all. But I was beguiled, as surely the plan was, by the suave, good-looking salesman, and it was much easier to believe him than to begin the search for another set of expensive tires.
So I set out, exactly like Mr. Toad, with no worry about the consequences, and ended up in a ditch on my very first drive, the headlight and driver’s side mirror smashed and a very conspicuous dent in the front bumper. At least the air bags didn’t deploy, a measure I have always dreaded. (I’m sure Mr. Toad would have disabled them.)
So now the brand new, expensive car would have to go to the shop for even more expensive repairs, but since it was still drivable, I put off the appointment, with a sad result.
These new cars as everyone knows have become almost impossible to drive. The number of commands one must master, the number of buttons and switches to be pushed, the glaring yet unreadable screen with its gnomic explanations—all seem meant to deter any sense of mastery or control on the part of the driver. My old car was fourteen years behind the times and so had none of these disastrous gadgets. I didn’t know what I was getting into, and being—like Mr. Toad—no reader of manuals, I was never going to look at the thick black book of instructions, most of which seem to be written in a foreign language.
Well, among its many “improvements,” this car boasts a turning signals that continue to beep and flash after the turn has been completed.
Yes. It just goes on and on, as though the car is involved in going eternally around in a circle.
Even the suave, handsome salesman warned me that this eternal turn signal might cause me dismay. However, he assured me that a certain light touch on the turning-signal shift would stop the endless bleeping and flashing.
But it didn’t. My touch was not light enough, or it was in the wrong place.
Over the weeks, my anger grew at the thought that such an inconvenience—a turn signal that wouldn’t stop—was somehow considered an improvement.
My anger peaked last week when I was driving to Taos. On a little mountain road winding through Peñasco, where to my disappointment my favorite café, Sugar Nymphs, was not open, the turn signal went into a fury of blinking and flashing. I still had a long way to go and the thought of enduring that blinking and flashing for another fifty miles was more than I could bear.
I laid hold of that lever and gave it a good wrench, a really good wrench, meanwhile shouting unlady-like profanities, and the thing came off in my hand and then hung from a thread.
Now I had no turn signal.
For some obscure reason, I found it difficult to roll down my window and revert to the old hand signals. Fortunately, most people in New Mexico do not use turn signals, figuring, I guess, that anyone can tell a car is going to turn from the direction it is heading, and so the lack did not cause me alarm. And I was free, at last and permanently, of the blinking and flashing.
But this meant the car really had to go to the body shop. A nice man there called me after assessing the damage and wanted to know what had happened to the turn signal. He appeared to want to believe that some flaw had caused the lever to drop off of its own accord, it which case it would be repaired at no expense to me.
I was rather relieved to be able to leave him a message, rather than having to explain to him face to face (or real voice to real voice) that I was the culprit.
It’s going to cost me a pretty sum, but the Mr. Toads of this world don’t worry too much about that.
People go on and on—or salesmen go on and on—about the aphrodisiac qualities of the “the new car smell.” I’ve never noticed the attraction. At this point I would be absolutely delighted to exchange that famous new car smell for the warm, worn, familiar smell of my old car.