Over the Christmas break, we used my daughter Sarah’s car as we headed to the D.C. area. It carried a few surprises along with our baggage. As I look back, I realize it joins a line of quirky cars from my past.
This vacation, we needed to get to Bethesda, and Sarah wanted to continue on to North Carolina afterward, so we decided we’d pile into her car and Nancy and I would take the train home. Sarah’s had this car a year, after buying it used last winter. It’s had its share of malfunctions already, but this winter’s issues caused mostly embarrassment.
The car came with a keyless entry system, though it didn’t seem to be the factory-installed kind. No, it seemed more like the purchased-at-a-portable-table-on-a-sidewalk-in-the-city kind. “Psst, hey, Buddy, wanna buy a remote for your car? Works just like a real one.”
When she first got the car, Sarah couldn’t get the remote to work at all. She ended up calling the dealer (the car dealer, that is) to get it to work. There was no manual. Now, it is operational. If you press the lock button it will, in fact, lock the doors. This is the good news. Unlocking is a little different. Here’s how it goes.
I volunteer to drive the CT-to-Washington leg of the trip. The first time I try to unlock the car is at our house in the morning as we’re getting ready to leave. Fortunately it isn’t too early in the morning. I amble out of the garage and smoothly depress the unlock button. Suddenly the horn blares and the lights flash. Woops. I must have pressed the wrong button. I look down at the remote and begin madly pressing the unlock button. No luck. Panic button? No. I press the lock button, and the horn rests. I try again. This time I carefully press the unlock button…and we’re back to “The Streets of New York” soundtrack. It’s loud…and persistent. My eyes dart from house to house, expecting my neighbors to come charging out. Instead it’s Sarah. “Open the door. Open the door. You have to put the key in the ignition!”
“Okay,” I think, “that’s doable.” I grab the front door handle. It doesn’t open. “Press it again!” Sarah yells. I follow her directions, only slightly flustered by the incessant horn. I dive into the front seat and frantically look for the keyhole for the ignition. This is not the car I usually drive. Finally, I locate the hole, and insert the key. The horn continues to blare. “Turn it on!” Sarah yells, exasperated by my incompetence. Right, I try to turn it on. The key doesn’t turn. I realize I’m not stepping on the brake. Somehow the routine is less automatic when it sounds like I’m inside an air raid drill. At last, the key turns, and the horn section takes five. “Well, that was fun,” I grumble.
I think nothing more about this until four hours later when we stop at a rest area in Maryland. We need gas and the girls need a pit stop. Amazingly, the gas line goes faster than the ladies room line, so I park the car and head in for some snacks. Naturally, with all of Sarah’s belongings in the car, I remember to lock the doors.
Exiting the rest area a few minutes later, I tell Sarah I’m going to be more careful about my button pressing this time. Very carefully, I place my index finger on the icon that clearly shows the unlock symbol. I press the button. Horns. Lights. We’re in “Wall of Sound” mode again, everyone at the Maryland House staring at the offending car…and the low-lifes who are clearly breaking into it. I grab for the door. No luck. I press again. Doors unlock. Horn solo continues. I dive into the driver’s seat, shove the key in the ignition, step on the brake, and turn the key. Ahh. Silence.
“What am I doing wrong?” I ask Sarah.
“I’m not sure,” she replies.
“Well, can you show me?”
“I’m not sure.”
“What do you mean, you’re not sure? Show me.”
“I don’t really know what you’re supposed to press. I usually just leave the car unlocked.”
“What!?” This from my wife. She believes in locking doors.
We arrive in Bethesda a few hours later, park on the street across from my parents’ apartment house, and lock the car. Well, we have to. It has a lot of Sarah’s stuff for college.
Later that night, long after dinner, we head out to the car. We need to drive to Mclean where we’re spending the night with Nancy’s brother. It’s cold and clear. The stars are bright. I’m whistling “Silent Night.” This time I have a plan. I’m not going to unlock the car with the black market remote. I’ll use the actual key. Old school. I love it. Pleased with this plan, I’m feeling relatively calm. I insert the key in the door lock. I turn the key, and…No more “Silent Night.” More like “Honk the Herald Air Horn Sings.” I yank open the door, scramble into the front seat and perform the silencing act once more. Man, that’s a very effective horn. Most of Bethesda agrees. We wave sheepishly as we pull out.
For the rest of our stay in the DMV, our departures look something like scenes from I Love Lucy or Little Miss Sunshine. I try locking the car with the key. I try locking the passenger side. I try hitting the buttons from the inside before exiting the car. Every time we try to unlock, our Sonic Subaru serenades the neighborhood. The only thing I get better at is looking casual as I scramble inside and crank the ignition. Alas, I never figure out the key to the keyless.
As Nancy and I ride the train home to Connecticut, I recall the quirky cars from my past: There was stalling car, the one that we couldn’t allow to stop during an entire trip from Poughkeepsie to Washington; there was the duct-taped back seat car that ruined a friend’s dress. She may never forgive me for that. And, of course there was the push-button-gear-shift-with-toilet-seat-floorboard Plymouth Valiant…but perhaps those will have to wait for another slice. Right now, I’m late for work. Where are my keys?