The Car with no Conscience


I always battle a feeling of gross inadequacy when I take the car to a mechanic. It’s a boy’s world. I don’t fit.

My last mechanic company left me with a great first impression when I visited for the first time. I’d arrived with every stereotype working against me: I had no man accompanying me, I was wearing a pink dress, I was heavily pregnant, and I couldn’t give a description of the problem. (That was the problem. The car had no listed medical history, so I needed them to figure out what it needed and when.) I was (quite unintentionally) as girly as I could have possibly been, but they were pleasant and friendly; not condescending at all.

Then because life isn’t fair, they ceased trading and I had to find a new family doctor for our car. Its ‘GDI Eco’ light hadn’t been lit for a while, and I wanted to know if I had a simple case of a blown bulb in the dash, or if the car had developed a drinking problem.

Time to make a new first impression. I wore my Hollywood Stunt Driver T-shirt, as if to say, ‘Look! I like cars! I’m on your side! Let me in your club!

“Can you drive a manual?” the mechanic said as he led me to the courtesy car after I’d left him with my own.

“Yes,” I said, confidently and proudly. “I prefer them.”

That was true. I do believe manual transmissions make driving more fun. But it’s also been a while since I had the opportunity to drive one. That, coupled with the discovery their courtesy car was a piece of schizophrenic tin foil, meant that I was not going to have an easy time.

I thought I’d done well to check before I left which side of the steering wheel the indicators were on. I didn’t discover it the popular way—by putting the wipers on at an intersection! Okay, indicators on the left. I’m glad I checked for that! (My autopilot would have put the wipers on at an intersection.) I also noticed another backward thing: the Reverse gear was at the top left. Good to know in advance.

The next challenge was appropriately positioning the seat. If I put it so I could fully depress the clutch with my left foot, my right leg felt almost bundled up under my chin as I moved it from the two remaining pedals. (This makes a statement about differing pedal depths, not differing leg lengths. Just in case you wondered.)

I needed to be able to work the clutch of course, so I figured I just get used to the discomfort necessary when operating the accelerator and brake. It was a little lurchy as I left the mechanic’s drive, trying to get the feel of the right clutch/accelerator balance for this particular car. Considering how long it had been since I drove a manual, I forgave myself a little for this, but hoped the mechanic who’d lent me the car wasn’t watching.

I managed to get it out the driveway and pull onto the main street. Then I stalled it.

A queue built up behind me.

Ordinarily if I needed to take a moment to assess my situation while I’m blocking the road (which, I have to defend myself, has only happened once before), I flick the hazard lights on first, so other drivers know that I realise I’m being a pain in the hole, and to just cope with me as well as you can, please.

Then I discovered I didn’t know where the hazard light switch was in this car.

I manipulated the foreign-feeling widgets to restart the car, desperately hoping the one immediately behind me wouldn’t start honking. (It didn’t, which pleasantly surprised me. Taxis aren’t renown for manners or patience.)

I navigated the short distance into The Warehouse carpark, and felt some measure of success as I locked up and strode inside to look at photo frames.

It was on my way out that the next paranoid plunge hit my gut: I don’t know what the outside of my car looks like, and I didn’t take note of its number plate.

I walked to the area of the carpark when I was pretty sure I’d parked, and walked to the junkiest piece of metal shame I could see. This looked like it. It was probably it. Was it?

The car next to it (which hadn’t been there when I parked, if this was indeed my car) had its passenger door open as its owner busied about, so I couldn’t immediately access my own driver’s door.

Rather than stand about looking dumb, I figured I may as well try the key on the other side. If it unlocked, at least I’d know it was my car.

It didn’t. The key went in, but didn’t turn. This close to the windows now, I could see inside to what I was sure was the correct piece of junk. This had to be my car! ‘I’ll try the key on the boot,’ I thought. Just to test my key-to-car compatibility. Alas, no luck. Rather than deter me from what would increasingly be making me look like a car thief (with taste to match my scruples), I tried to look busy until the person parked next to me had left.

Then I tried the key in the driver’s door. Nothing. I had to get in! This was my car! This was my—!


Oh. Apparently this car was backwards all over: I had to turn the key to the right. (I was starting to be surprised the steering wheel was on the right side.) I was sure I’d tried turning the key that way on the other side, but I tried not to think about it now as I gratefully sunk into the driver’s seat.

Forget grocery shopping. I wasn’t going to navigate a supermarket carpark in this death trap! I planned to take it straight home and wait for the call to pick up my own beautiful cooperative Lancer.

As I was circling a roundabout, I made a cursory glance at the dashboard…and saw both indicator arrows lit. Had I been inadvertently putting the hazard lights on every time I turned a corner?! I couldn’t drive home doing that! So I went into the closest driveway — the carpark of a fitness centre — and pulled into a parking slot to assess the workings of this machine of doom.

Engine off… Indicators on… Walk to the back of the car to see if both sides are flashing…

Phew. Just one. Evidently the dashboard only had an indicator light to say, ‘You’re indicating, but I’m not going to tell you which way.’ Petulant, yes, but not problematic.

It was taking me much longer to get home than I’d anticipated. As I got back into the car, I hoped Timmy wasn’t awake and disturbing my husband’s work.

Engine on… Gears in reverse—

—wait, what? Reverse…?

Apparently there wasn’t one.

Except, there must be, because who would make a car with no reverse? And as I was now parked with my nose against a wall, I had to find it. I didn’t want to be ‘that’ woman: the one who hands the mechanics the biggest laugh of their professional life, as she wails, ‘I don’t know how to make the car go backwards!’

I had put the stick in the upper-left-most position — where the gear head said ‘R’ was — and the car crept slowly forward. Nope, 1st gear, wrong one. I wondered if there was just a misleading gear head on the stick, and ‘R’ was in fact in the more conventional bottom-right position…but no, it wasn’t there either.

Not relying on the gear head diagram at all now, I turned the engine off and assessed all the gear positions by feel, and counted them off. “First…Third…Fifth…that’s all that’s up there… Second…Fourth…no other slots down there… This car has no reverse!”

I so desperately didn’t want to walk back to the mechanics’ garage with such a ridiculous issue that I contemplated flagging down the next stranger to cross the carpark, to see if they could figure it out for me. But that would mean waiting for one. And as I imagined a crying baby causing a frustrated husband, I concluded time was a luxury I didn’t have. It was hotter than the sun inside this car now, anyway. I would have to be ‘that’ woman, after all. I would have to walk back to the mechanics. (Just to put the pressure on, I’d discovered that my cellphone, for reasons still unknown, now wouldn’t make outgoing calls.)

The mechanic who’d given me the car spotted me walking up the drive, and came to meet me. As I approached him, I hoped my face wasn’t pink with embarrassment as I started with, “This is going to hand you the biggest laugh of your professional life.”

His smile already started quirking (it must have been the warm-up), “Yes?”

Here goes.

“…Is there a secret to finding Reverse?” I said.

His smile looked more reassuring than derisive as he said, “Yes.”

“Oh, phew!” I let out a breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding.

“It’s caught other people out, too.” He said. “On the gear stick, just underneath the top, there’s a little flange sticking out. Hold that in, and it’ll go into Reverse.”

I didn’t recall seeing such an abnormality, but then, I hadn’t been looking for it, and why would he lie? So I thanked him profusely (also thanking him for not laughing at me), and jogged back to the car. Would fate let me get home now?

Back in the car, I saw…there was nothing unusual about the gear stick. No flange. Nothing sticking out. Had he been thinking of a different courtesy vehicle? What should I do now? I tried to feel for it. But that gear stick was smoother than my baby’s cue ball head.

I don’t know why it occurred to me pull it up, instead. But apparently that was the secret. It then slid easily into the newly formed Reverse position.

“I’m going backwards! I’m going backwards!” I bounced in my seat and yelled excitedly, not giving much thought to how I would have looked.

The remainder of the trip home was the longest I remember it ever being. I feared a new challenge from the death trap, and with my mobile not working, solving it would be harder. Mercifully, it was uneventful. I’d even become familiar with the car’s gear balance, so by the time I arrived home I’d been enjoying the drive.

Still, when I go back to pick up my Lancer, I think I’ll wear a different T-shirt.


(2) Comments

  • Eve
    23 Nov 2012

    …And I’ve just discovered my fly was down all morning.

    • Naomi
      23 Nov 2012

      And that is why I have my mechanic come to the house. Hehehehe

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