A Piece of My Mind: Brand-new car, same old brain

My trusty, ecologically correct little Prius began showing signs of early Auto-Alz- heimer’s a few months ago. Despite my husband’s urgings, I put off getting a new car. Sure, the Prius was 17 years old, but it only had 116,000 miles on it, and at the rate I was accumulating miles (less than 1,000 miles a year), I had hoped it would be the last car I would own.

But our trusted mechanic, the same one who told my husband that his 14-year-old Camry was good for at least another 100,000 miles, held out no hope. Those warning lights weren’t a fluke, the super mega battery that powered my car was beginning to fail, the power steering was liable to go out if I drove at freeway speed, and I should get rid of the car while it was still drivable at all. He obligingly cleared the warning lights one last time, and we trundled down to the car dealer.

My husband had done the research online, we had read reviews in Consumer Reports and checked out local inventories, and all that was left for me to decide was between the blue one or the white one. I chose blue for being easier to locate in a parking lot among a sea of neutral-colored cars, and two hours later (there is lots of paperwork involved in buying a car these days) we drove off – that is, my husband drove, while I explored all of the bells and whistles and electronic gadgets that are built into my 21st-century transport.

I was happily setting up the radio to receive my favorite stations when I noticed some things missing from the dashboard. No CD player or cassette player. How was I supposed to entertain myself on long trips? How would I refresh my rusty French or Chinese if I can’t listen to tapes in the car? My nerdier friends assured me that I could learn to stream music from the internet into my phone and then play it through the car speakers. Oh dear, you mean I have to learn something new?

But there are other gadgets to entertain me. There is a real-time graph showing the miles per gallon I am getting per minute, per trip and per average. There is a back-up camera showing what I am about to back into – but I still need spatial awareness and a sense of basic triangulation to parallel park.

The first time I made a trip on my own, I was startled to see a message on the dashboard screen – “Incoming Call from Husband.” I pushed a button, and there was my husband’s voice coming in over the speaker system, while my phone was in my purse in the trunk. I was overwhelmed with surprise and elation. Over the next couple of days, I learned that I could even make a call hands-free. What fun! I am now on my way to becoming a truly Distracted Driver.

My husband has realized that the new, compact car is very convenient for getting in and out of tight spaces on errands around town, so most of the actual mileage has not been added by me. And I notice that the old reliable 2005 Camry still has both a CD player and a cassette player. I won’t have to learn too much too fast.

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