MY LIFE – Old dogs, new tricks

MY LIFE – Old dogs, new tricks

It would seem that I have reached a stage of life where that “old dog/new tricks” thing is coming into play with increasing frequency, the latest being in reference to adjusting to driving a new car.

I’d had the electric blue PT Cruiser for 10 years when my son-in-law Jonathan determined that I should be driving a later model, more dependable car, and so it came to pass that I was upgraded to a 10-year newer, dark red Jeep Cherokee. That’s when the learning curve began.

Lesson #1: the new car is just a bit longer, wider, and higher than the old one. The garage door opening, however, has remained the same size, and whereas I was accustomed to zipping in and out of the garage without a great deal of thought, the maneuver now necessitates a more studied approach. A hair too far right and I scrape the side view mirror against the door frame. Too far left and there’s not enough room to fully open the driver’s side door. That lesson was reinforced in reverse when the passenger side mirror just nicked the garage door opening as I backed out and ripped the whole trim piece right off the doorframe. A few finishing nails, a bit of hammering, and I was able to restore it to more or less its previous condition, but I have grown more careful since.

You wouldn’t think so, but that small difference in size has also messed up my radar when parking. I have had trouble lining the car up to park. I pull in, open the door, look down and realize I am always way too far to the right, so I try again. It gets to be pretty embarrassing when it takes several tries before I can get it right between the lines. And even then, I get out and start walking away only to realize that you could land a plane in front of the car, but the back end is still hanging out in traffic. It’s getting better, but it still needs work.

In addition to being larger, the new vehicle is also loaded with all manner of bells and whistles, most of which still remain undiscovered, but the first one presented itself as a problem on our first really cold day last fall when the seat warmer automatically went on. I was really liking it a lot. That is, until it reached an uncomfortable level and I couldn’t find the control. That’s when I drove right to the dealership in Franklin, Mass., and confessed that I needed a remedial tutorial.

“What’s the problem?” the young woman at the desk asked, to which I replied, “My seat warmer is cooking my bottom and I don’t know how to turn it off.” Aha! One tap on this icon and I now have a choice between high, low, and off. The power is mine.

Then, there was Christmas Eve when I pulled up to my daughter’s front door, all the easier to unload the car, only to discover that the car refused to budge when I later tried to move it. It felt like it wanted to, but just couldn’t. I got out to make sure the wheel wasn’t wedged up against something. There was nothing in the way, but the car still wouldn’t move.

That’s when I noticed the word “brake” had appeared in red letters on the big screen behind the steering wheel. Now I’m not a new driver and the house doesn’t have to fall on me before I catch on. I knew it must mean the emergency brake was on, although I knew I hadn’t set it, but although I searched high and low for the pedal or lever to release it, I couldn’t find one.

I went back in the house and told my son-in-law the problem. He couldn’t figure it out either. Other guests were arriving, other guys going out to try to solve the problem, but it wasn’t until Jonathan Googled it and discovered that in this particular car there is no pedal or lever. Heck, there’s not even an “Emergency Brake,” which would explain why I wasn’t able to find it in the owner’s manual. What I do have is a parking brake (duh!) and it is controlled by an unobtrusive, triangularly shaped little flap on the console with a discrete red “P” printed on it. And no, according to the owner’s manual (once I knew where to look), it is not meant to be deployed when the car is in motion (and thus not to be used in a true emergency, like when my brakes had once failed and pulling on the emergency brake was all that kept the car from careening down across the backyard and into the woods). “P” is to be used only when the car is at a full stop, and then its only purpose is to keep the car from rolling should the park gear fail.

Finally, I have learned, again only by asking, that although there is an actual key nestled into a slot in the key fob, it cannot be used to start the car in an emergency. I forget what it’s really for, but it’s obviously nothing critical.

One other big difference with the new car involves the color. Between the old car’s vibrant blue color and its distinctive style, I couldn’t hide anywhere. People spotted me wherever I went, and in some cases of mistaken identity, even in places I hadn’t been. Not so with this one. I am now anonymous. Dark red SUVs are plentiful to the point of being almost invisible, and except for trying to find it in parking lots, I find that pretty nice.

Rhea Bouchard Powers is a writer from Cumberland.