Car Wars #2

I have a two-year old grandson who loves to takes things apart. If he can smash them, even better. My mother tells me that when I was his age I unscrewed the door to our refrigerator and when my father went to open it, the door came off in his hand. Of course, our refrigerator wasn’t a stainless steel Frigidaire with 23 cubic feet of space, an ice maker, individual tray lighting, and a digital dashboard on the front, but you get the idea.

So there I was driving along in my new car, which is to say new to me, since it is a 2014 model, with my grandson strapped in his car seat in the back as if riding in a space shuttle, when a warning light flashed on and the car started ping-ping-pinging.

Now, I hate pinging. I hate dinging. The most important thing I look for when shopping for anything other than food is what I call the “Nagging Factor.” This has to do with the number of pings, dings, or beeps the device makes. The higher the factor, the less likely I am to buy it. I don’t care where in the “customer journey” (thank you, Marketing Dept.) I am.

I once walked away from a salesman showing me a microwave oven, because it not only beeped five times to tell you it was done but continued beeping every minute thereafter until either you opened the door or went at it with a golf club. I’m sure the store had a policy about whacking their merchandise with a golf club, so I just walked away. I don’t really play golf, anyway.

Back in the car, I noticed that the dash indicated an open door. It was on my grandson’s side. Apparently, he had reached over and opened the door as I was driving down the road. Bless his heart. Frantically, I tried to lock his door but only succeeded in turning on the windshield wipers and defrost at full blast. Another button tucked in my side view mirror, which I didn’t even know it could do. I pulled over, parked under a tree, and did the one thing I hate doing with anything new. I read the owner’s manual.

Fifteen minutes later we were back on the road ready to take on the world of electricity although not before getting lost trying to find McDonald’s. Yes, the car comes with navigation but that may require a how-to video. That reminds me of the Starbuck’s video I had to watch a dozen times before figuring out how to make a cappuccino.

I say the world of electricity because that’s exactly what I was up against. Everything is electric nowadays or, worse, electronic. What’s the difference? The refrigerator door I took apart was electric. It wasn’t like the icebox in The Honeymooners. The Frigidaire with a digital dashboard? That’s electronic. And when things go electronic, mechanical goes out the window. That includes a power window.

You see this clearly with modern cars. Long before my car, BMW had completed the transition from mechanical to electronic. Today, their cars run on computerized systems and dozens of sensors. Unfortunately, this transition included going from metal to plastic. Everything from hoses and fans to bumpers and radiators are now plastic. Why? Because they’re cheaper to make that way. What happens when they’re cheaper to make? They’re easier to break. Did you know that car dealers make more money servicing cars than selling them? As they say on Twitter, let that sink in.

I have myself to blame. No one forced me to buy the X1, which is a small SUV eponymous with the aircraft Chuck Yeager broke the speed barrier in. How cool is that? But I also will not rant about how the modern world is going, as Archie Bunker once told his wife, Edith, “down the terlet.” I just miss the mechanical because it was simpler. And–let’s declare this with neither shame nor fear–simpler is better. Aquinas described God as pure simplicity.

I love my car. I love the way it looks, the way it handles, the way it sits at the curb waiting to whisk me away on a whim. I just have to read the owner’s manual and make sure the car seat is secure before I go. That’ll be another battle in the Car Wars.

Image credits: BMW by Clay Banks; dashboard by AutoPhotography. Like fiction? Check out the “Mercury trilogy” (The Gringo and Laura Fedora) as well as the autobiographical Nine Lives here. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”


  1. Conclusion: Nothing about this is easy, but I do my best to keep things light, right? I can’t tell you how much I have appreciated your blog this year. It has been many months since I could attend Mass or see people on an every day basis… But, I belong to a virtual Zen Community with members all over the world, and I am beginning to realize that I need to take some concrete steps to preserve my own health and well being to be able to continue. In the meantime, I remain in and with God. Thank you, Robert.

    1. Very sorry to hear that about your car and that woman. What an awful thing to do–stealing and then leaving you stranded. It certainly makes it difficult to trust anyone after that. I’m also sorry to hear about your physical condition. Maybe if you can get trustworthy help with Laura you can concentrate more on your work, which would be a big help, I imagine. As for the blog, I am glad you have enjoyed it and hope that it brought a bright spot or two in your day.

  2. I am trying to keep Laura out of a nursing home, because I care very much that she be as comfortable and attended to as possible. Unfortunately, I had a few bad falls that have not resolved as quickly as hoped for, impacting my own mobility. I get around most easily with lightweight walker or wheel chair. I am hoping that Physical Therapy will improve this and having the 8 hours of weekly care will allow me to leave for these appointments. Since I have been more or less home bound, caring for Laura, I allowed the lady who comes to help, borrow my car as she had no transportation. I needed to insist that my car be returned, and it was, minus brakes and the plastic door handles. This family is trying to do right by using the barter system used in our community, and I finally located my car with the Purepecha Chief, only 3 weeks ago. He was trying to fix the damage.

  3. Aye, Robert, I understand just what you are saying about mechanical and electronic, plastic and other more long lasting materials.
    I have a 2002 economy car that is now missing 4 door handles.
    This requires me to take my light weight wheel chair to driveway or garage, hope that the last person who borrowed my car remembered to leave the driver’s side electric window open, and balance myself on the car door to reach inside and open the door. During this journey, I am praying fervently that the wheel chair is still behind me, and sharing other thoughts with God, too embarrassing to report. If others are accompanying me to market, Wendy’s, or pharmacy, I consider them to be on their own as to car entry:). The family that borrows my car just told me that a Purepecha Native Chief in our community is searching for a used car handle. I practiced self-control when I didn’t ask them to check for 4 used, lost hub caps! How can I keep from singing?

    1. Check out the video I included with the post. Your 2002 is probably sturdier than many late models. I wouldn’t be embarrassed at all about asking for hubcaps. Also, the Chief has some options for door handles: (1) car parts store, (2) junkyard, (3) online.
      Pardon the question, but is the wheelchair for you, Aunt Laura, someone else?

      1. I have been blessed to have lived and worked within a migrant farm worker community that includes several Native American communities within our geographic region. The Purepechas are the largest, most visible group in our community and parish. 2019 has been challenging for me, as Laura, 91, has required my care and monitoring 24/7 due to increased dementia and her bed/couch bound status. Laura receives Palliative Home Care-once a week nurse visits, monthly practitioner visits. I provide care giving, and as the months passed was unable to leave Laura, except for the 8 hours weekly, when a lady comes to assist with errands, and watching Laura so that I may meet with immigration clients in my home. Continued…

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