*Maybe* you can drive my car…

I am not so much what you would call “fancy.” Most of my clothes have been spilled on or contain dog fur. I use our iron approximately twice a year, usually to iron on Annie’s Girl Scout patches. My sunglasses are purchased either at a gas station or a grocery store (which is a good thing, since I lose them so frequently).

This lack of fancy-ness also extends to my gadgets and electronics. For more than a year after the screen on my laptop came unhinged, I continued to use it anyway, held together with binder clips. My current cell phone will – not infrequently – just power down, claiming no battery (even though it was last at 56%); my contract isn’t up until June, though, so I just make sure I bring a charger everywhere with me. One spring, for a good six weeks, we used a toaster – daily – whose “on” button had to be held in place by a butcher knife.
I’m not saying this was safe or smart… I’m just saying that’s how it was.

It’s not that I’m cheap. It’s not even that I’m frugal. I’m more than happy to spend on things that I find important… like Starbucks and Amazon Prime and going out to eat and birthday presents and vacations and cheese and chocolate. It’s more that I’m lazy… And also just not that impressed by bells and whistles. If I can get by with what I have, I’m just fine, thanks.

But then there was the car. My car. The minivan that we’d purchased ten days before Annie was born (the one which, after retrieving it from the parking garage to pick Annie and me up at the hospital main entrance, Nick promptly backed into a concrete pylon). That car was our everything; we basically lived in it.

This was taken with some super-old phone way back in the day, which explains its general craptastic quality. Technology!

We drove that van from our home in Westchester County to our new home – and new life – in Rochester. That van took our girls to doctor’s appointments and preschool. It took us to Broadway shows in New York City, weddings in Boston and Maine, visiting family in Vermont, and on a ferry across Long Island Sound. We picked up our first CCI pup in that van and used it to return the others for Advanced Training.
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Car napping, 2009

We went through infant carriers, five-point harness carseats, full-backed boosters, regular boosters, and plain old seats. We’ve hauled around more children to more games and recitals and parties than I can count. We took our Christmas trees home every year atop that van and folded down its rear seats to make way for new furniture. That van had been puked on, peed on, pooped on (dog, not kid), and had enough pieces of God knows what strewn across its floor to be classified a scientific hazard.
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Rear view, 2011

We took sleeping children home in that car. We read books in that car. The girls did their homework in the backseat and changed clothes before dance class. We listened to the entire audio series of Percy Jackson in that car, drove to see the holiday lights each year, and seriously rocked out to our favorite songs. We laughed and cried – a lot – in that car. Essentially, that car was the chronicle of Annie’s life; it had been with us for all of her eight years. It had 105,000 miles; it had worked hard and well.
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Counting down to the New Year in… where else? The car!

As with anything that’s been well worn, the car had some… issues. The rear sun screen thingies had long since been broken by overenthusiastic children. The front charger ports (originally for cigarette lighters, now for phones and devices if you had the right adaptor) had stopped providing a charge more than two years ago (although if you strung an extra-long cord from the very rear of the car and snaked it through all three rows of seats, you were still in business). The battery – although recently replaced – was unreliable; I’d had to call neighbors for jumps at least three times in the past twelve months.

The side mirror was cracked (after smacking it on the garage doorframe); I reasoned that I could still see out of it, so there was no need to get another. The windshield had been replaced a few months back after having been hit by an rock; the replacement wasn’t fitted properly, however, so it whistled. The rear passenger door had become increasingly erratic – sometimes, it would slide open seamlessly. Others, it would open halfway and then close up again. Basically, every time we got in was an adventure.
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We’d driven over a particularly rough snowbank last year and part of the undercarriage had just ripped off; since it was plastic and didn’t seem to be doing much, I took it inside with me and drove on. When more of the undercarriage began to fall off and drag along the street, I just duct taped the rest in place and hoped for the best (this was not so noticeable at high speeds but was enormously loud when driving around the neighborhood; more than once, I had a neighbor flag me down to let me know that “something was happening” under the car).
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I was completely willing to live with all of these little deficiencies – they gave the car character. More to the point, I’d been saving up for years and years to purchase a new car, deciding I would do so around the time I turned 40… which is in November. (Not so much a 40th birthday present, because a new minivan for one’s own birthday seems both incredibly opulent and really lame, but rather it just seemed like a good goal.) I could scrape by (literally) for less than a year. It was all fine.

Then, without warning, the rear driver’s side door broke – when it closed, the system wouldn’t register it, so every time the car was in “drive” the vehicle emitted a non-stop, ear-piercingly loud, there’s-no-way-you-can-drive-like-this beeeeeep to let us know that THE DOOR ISN’T LATCHED STOP RIGHT NOW. Except that it was latched – the electronics had simply failed to acknowledge it. I found that I could disable the alarm by flipping the auto-door switch to manual, but that was unsatisfying and tedious (those doors are freakin’ heavy).

After doing some research, it appeared that a repair would cost, at minimum, a couple thousand dollars… Which, considering I’d been saving up money to purchase new car later this year anyway, seemed really stupid. And so, with both rear doors functioning poorly, I finally decided the time had come to admit defeat.

I didn’t want a nice new car; I simply wanted one that actually worked. When I told the dealer that I had no interest in taking the show model for a spin, he was visibly taken aback – but I knew there was no point. I liked my current van, Consumer Reports had rated the newer model highly, and I knew I wanted another. End of story.

Since I was trading in our 2008 towards our new car, the dealer – understandably – had to look ours over. The first thing he said upon completing his inspection: “Ummm… you do know that the underside is held together with duct tape…”

YEP. Got it. Totally aware. Thankfully, they took the trade anyway, and a few days later, I drove home in my new minivan.
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You guys, this car is… awesome. The dash is all electronic and touch-screen crazy. The backseat is configured differently so Ella and Annie don’t have to sit right next to each other, THANKS BE TO GOD. I splurged (see, do sometimes go for the gold) and got heated seats (cloth seats though, because leather and I are a bad combination). As with many newer cars, I have the super-fancy option of using my cell phone straight through the car, which is pretty cool. Most importantly, the windshield doesn’t whistle, the power adaptors work, the side mirror isn’t cracked, and all of the doors are fully functional. TALK ABOUT BELLS AND WHISTLES, Y’ALL.

Like most new-model cars, there are no keys; it’s all keyless starting – you just step on the brake, press a button, and the engine awakens. I’ve never really liked the whole keyless thing; it just doesn’t feel right to me, to not need to insert the key into the slot to get a car to go. And indeed, from the very first time I got into the car and wondered what was wrong with it (“Uhhh, Em… You’re pressing the stereo button, not the ignition button…”), I knew that the keyless entry system and I would not be buddies.
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Fast forward to last week, when I took Fenwick with me to run a few errands. I put the puppy in the car and had just begun to pull down the driveway when I realized that I’d left something inside. Rather than pulling all the way into the garage, I elected to leave the car where it was and just run back into the kitchen. As I did, the car emitted this faint “beep” to let me know that the “key” (which was in my pocket) was no longer as close to the engine as it should be. I had no idea what would happen if I got too far away — would the engine shut off? Would the car lock itself down? So, to play it safe, I took all of my keys out of my pocket and placed them on the hood, right by the windshield wipers – so they wouldn’t slide off, naturally – and promised myself that as soon as I came back out of the house, I’d grab the keys and be on my way.

Did I remember to grab the keys when I got back in the car? OF COURSE I DIDN’T. I am me, after all.

I didn’t realize my mistake until I’d arrived at the grocery store (Fenwick in tow) and powered down the car; the moment I moved to get the keys so I could lock the car via the key fob, I knew that I didn’t have them. How on earth the car had managed to continue driving – when the “key” was nowhere near the engine – without warning me in any way, I didn’t know; I also didn’t know where the keys were, given that I’d driven away with them sitting on my windshield wipers.

Thankfully, Nick was in town that day (as opposed to on a business trip), had the extra “key” with him at his office, and was able to meet me at the grocery store posthaste and hand me the replacement (I even managed to get my shopping done in the time it took him to arrive, so I didn’t waste a second – ADHD filling-every-spare-moment FTW!). When I returned home, my keychain was sitting patiently for me on the driveway – so, all in all, it ended just fine.

But still. I posted about my experience on Facebook and within minutes, several friends chimed in that they (or their family members) had gone through similar headaches with their keyless-entry vehicles — driving away from the keys, reaching the destination, and then effectively being stranded. Although, obviously, I’d been responsible for not bringing the keys back into the car with me when I headed to the store, there are soooo many completely innocuous ways that this scenario could occur…

You could jump into the car with your partner, start driving, mistakenly think you had your keys with you (when, in fact, they were at home or the office or wherever), and then only discover that it was your partner whose keys had started the engine after dropping him or her off. And then driving away. And then you’re stuck. Or, heck, the keys could fall out while you load groceries, or help your grandma in the car, or go around to buckle your kids in their carseats. AND YOU’D NEVER KNOW, BECAUSE ONCE THE ENGINE IS RUNNING, THE CAR JUST KEEPS DRIVING WITHOUT WARNING YOU THAT THE KEYS NOWHERE NEAR IT!!!

Car manufacturers! Listen up! This is a major design flaw. The instant a seatbelt is disengaged, a loud, audible alarm rings out inside the car – justifiably so. There is no reason for the same not to occur when a keyless vehicle gets x-distance away from the key fob. This is not rocket science, car folks!! Get with the program!

Getting stranded aside, I’m a big fan of my car. There have been a few other hiccups… Since I got it in the middle of a Rochester winter, I only worried for about 0.47 seconds about keeping it clean – because everything within a 500 mile radius of any road just winds up being covered in salt, anyway. Additionally, the car is about 2″ wider than my previous van – which was already tightly tucked into our garage – so I’ve managed to lightly bump both side mirrors on the garage posts. More than once. BUT THE MIRRORS ARE STILL FULLY INTACT.

Overall, my new car is fantastic. It is a little fancy for me – I’m still figuring out how to work all of its bells and whistles (and, woo boy, actually getting it to call someone using only voice recognition is an adventure unto itself; I’m still not sure why “Nick Work” and “Target” sound the same, but whatever) – but, with due time, I’m sure I’ll have everything straightened out.

At least I’m not trying to start it anymore by turning on the stereo. Progress, people. Progress! (Plus, um, I’m fortunate enough to have a new, safe car… which is pretty much winning in every single way, in my book, is it not?)