I am Very Happy in the Back Seat, Thank You

So my husband and I got a new car. Traded in both our old cars and, miraculously, found a single car we both liked and could share. A midsize Audi.

I liked the way it drove — kind of sporty. I’m not sure my husband waited that long before he fell in love with it, though. The minute the salesman started talking about all the car’s high-tech gizmos and doo-dads, my husband was a goner.

“Wait’ll you see this,” the salesman said. He punched a slew of buttons in the console and said, “Find the closest coffee shop.”

The navigation system lit up with an alarming number of possibilities. Coffee next 150 feet. Coffee in two blocks. Coffee around the corner, coffee on the access road, coffee in the strip mall. Never fear, you do not have to drive a block without opportunities for multiple caffeine transfusions. Bring us your tired and huddled drivers and we will put exclamation marks in their eyes!

“Pretty cool, huh?” the salesman said.

“Just incredible,” my husband said raptly. I hadn’t heard him so excited since Richard Nixon died. “Wow. Amazing!”

I sat in the backseat rolling my eyes. At least, I think I was in the backseat, but maybe if it was just the metaphorical backseat. There’s something about high-tech frou-frou male junkies that commandeers all surrounding air space and makes you feel like a flat tire that should be stashed in the trunk.

“And, look, you can put all your music here,” the salesman continued, punching more buttons. “All of it.”

“That’s just great,” my husband said.

He kept on listening and asking questions with the kind of laser focus you only find in open-heart surgery or sporting events. The two of them got more and more excited about how the car could support umpteen laptops and how the GPS gives you a 3D view of the world that, evidently, makes looking out the window unnecessary and old-fashioned.

Resigned to my flat-tire status, I added silent punctuations to the ongoing high-tech frenzy, such as, “So what?” and, “Who cares about this shit?” and “Big deal!”  I thought we’d been buying a vehicle to drive from A to Z, but, as it turns out, I’d been wrong. We were buying a fucking spaceship. Who cared about little things like mpg when your car could talk to you?

Anyway, that’s all debris under the bridge. We bought the car, we both like it, and so far, we haven’t gotten into any fistfights over sharing it.

But those great masculine dreams of high-tech nirvana and oneness with the Internet while careening on the interstate at 70 mph? Well, I regret to say, they haven’t been realized. Not yet, anyway.

The first night we had the car, my husband retreated to the parking garage to familiarize himself with all the new systems. He came back half an hour later in a mood I could only describe as snappish. The next day, he suggested I take the little voice-recognition tutorial so that I, too, could commune with the car and ask its advice.

Every time we got in the car, he went all OCD, twirling buttons, punching buttons, swearing, yelling. This led to my suggestion I do all the driving so he could sit in the passenger’s seat and devote his full attention to the console. It was similar to chauffeuring a tantrum-prone three-year-old with a very foul and sophisticated vocabulary.

I didn’t know why he couldn’t adopt my enlightened, zenlike idea that there was a universe of machinery out there I would never conquer because frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. But no. He fumed, he poked, he raged.

Worse, he bragged to everyone how high-tech our new car was. “Listen to this,” he announced to our son when he was in our car the first time. “You’re not going to believe this.”

“Call Nick,” my husband said confidently.

No answer.

“Call Nick.”

“I am sorry,” the automated voice said. “I do not have that song in the jukebox.”


“I am sorry,” the voice said again. “I do not — ”

“Goddammit!” Garbled screams and swearing followed. The scene was so memorable that our son managed to capture it on Facebook.

“Did Dad show you our high-tech car?” I asked our daughter when she arrived in town.

“All the way home from the airport,” she reported. “It never did work. He screamed at it a lot.”

When the dealership called to announce we should bring our car in so they could put on our new license plates, my husband suggested we both take it in so we could get a “refresher” course on the high-tech cockpit.

We?” I said.

By the time the weekend rolled around, my husband’s brother and his wife were in town. I urged the two guys to go to the car dealership together, since I had better things to do like breathing and drinking coffee. “The car’s ridiculously complicated,” I told my brother-in-law. “You can connect a ludicrous number of laptops to it. Eleven, I think — ”

“Twelve,” my husband corrected me.

He and his brother left our place for the dealership in a state of high high-tech anticipation. My sister-in-law and I went shopping.

We didn’t have to ask her car one damned question en route. We already knew exactly where to go.

(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read more about my dysfunctional relationship with machines that talk to me



16 comments… add one
  • Ward Link

    But you forgot the outcome: Victory over technology! Now there’s no need to ask for a coffee shop; you just ask it to fix it for you on the spot. It’s pretty incredible.

  • Sounds like you need to connect a laptop to the car to learn how to connect the laptop to the car. Delightfully circular.

  • I’m so with you on this. I STILL haven’t figured out most of my cars gizmos , six years after the fact. Why learn? By now they’re all antiquated, anyway.

  • This was so funny. Not having a cell phone, I cannot imagine learning to live with a car like this. My husband and I still encounter problems with the automatic features of our 2005 Volvo.

  • Christine Link

    Oh, I feel for your husband. I can picture myself being excited, and then frustrated, in a very similar way!

  • Jenny Link

    Thanks for the giggle. Sounds like my love/hate relationship with most technology. Most times I’m oh-so-grateful I still know how to write with a pencil on paper. But then, I also like to learn new technology. Can’t let the gizmos win!

  • This is hysterical. My husband just decided against a car he was looking at because it did not have enough high tech gadgetry. My car has a voice control phone. Half the time it decides to call 911. The other half of the time I tell it who to call and it asks me to confirm (“call Terry, is this correct?”). I say yes and it shouts at me that the only available options are yes or no. Apparently it cannot understand me when I say yes.

  • Ruth,
    This completely resonated. Funny, great, you!
    I am in “high high” expectation for your next wonderful post.
    Thank you for this gem.
    xo nancy

  • As usual, very well put. It’s a car only men can appreciate. Hope it never talks back to you.

  • We’re in car shopping mode and feeling demoralized. Thanks for the laugh!!

  • Paul Link

    Dear Ms. Ludd: Demean your husband’s technological aspirations at your own peril. Someday it could be his prowess with iDevices and data that allow you to ride in the Singularity front seat (which is where you want to be). Our robot overlords won’t care how cute your shoes are. Resistance is futile.

  • My husband goes against the grain. Doesn’t really love technology. In fact it was a hard sell to get satellite radio in our car. Iloved your line about having more important things to do like “breathing and drinking coffee”.
    This all reminds me of cell phones that talk back and take better pictures than my camera–when I can figure out the settings, and tell me where I am and where I should go….when all I want is to call somebody–like, you know, a real person?

  • This is hilarious. A month or so ago, I noticed a button on my dashboard. I’ve had the car since 2005 and had no idea what it was. It gets me from point A to point B. That’s all that matters.

  • merr Link

    I still haven’t understood how to sync my iPod, and I’ve had that for years. All to say, I totally get this!

  • Thanks for the laugh. I’ve never even mastered the personal seat selections (very old tech now). My one question, who is paying attention to driving with all of those buttons to push? Great read, thanks.

  • I don’t think I need a car that requires me to take a class to learn how to drive it. I’ll stick with my 1990s-era Ford Escort.

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