Want extra cheese on that?

Thursday 1 June 2017 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — General Motors Corporation declared bankruptcy on this date in 2009

As a child, dear readers, I played with scale model toy cars. I enjoyed identifying passing automobiles by make and year. I remember being outside one day when a brand-new red Ford Mustang convertible drove past. My jaw dropped. I was in fifth grade. In high school, my school guidance counselor predicted I had a future in the auto industry.

But my interests changed radically. I went in another direction. Now a car is for me just a way to get from one place to another. 

Recently, the time came to trade in my car. I telephoned a dealership “over the bridge,” as we say in these parts. 

“Hello. I would like to order a car, please,” said I. My words threw the salesman into confusion. To calm him down, I informed him I did have a model in mind. This did little to allay his bewilderment. “When can you come to our showroom?” queried the salesman. “Is that absolutely necessary?” I responded. “Well, what color car?” he inquired. I answered, “You pick the color. I’m sure it’ll be just fine.” He politely requested my name and other basic information and said he would get right back to me — which he did. 

“Well, then, Father Goldrick, I did some checking. You’re not making this up, are you? You’re for real.” “No,” I assured him. “I am not making this up and yes, I am for real. By the way, do you deliver?” 

He did. My new car arrived within the hour. “Nice color,” said I. “I’ll take it.” And that was the end of that — or so I thought.

“Not so fast. I’m required to show you the car’s features first,” the salesman stated firmly. Then the computer system took over, just as it did in that landmark 1968 film, “2001 — A Space Odyssey.” I suspect my car computer is known as “Son of Hal,” but I don’t know for sure. 

“Let’s begin with the automated liftgate. Just use your foot.” I gave the bumper a swift kick. Nothing happened. “No, no. Don’t kick it! Wave your foot under the bumper.” I did so. Nothing happened. “You need to wave your foot more.” Although I once took a course in tai chi, that was long ago and these days it’s not easy to stand on one foot while simultaneously waving the other around in the air. “I’ll just use the key,” I suggested. “This car doesn’t have a key,” the salesman informed me. “It comes with a remote control. If you walk within three feet of your vehicle, the car will recognize you and respond to your every wish.” Do I really need this?

“Let’s move on to the cabin. See, you can choose various colors for your ambient interior lighting. Program the computer’s memory and the car seat will automatically adjust to your seating preference. It can identify the preferences of three different drivers.” Don’t ask me how it distinguishes. He didn’t mention the seat also reverts to a default position as soon as I exit the vehicle. I have to wait while the computer moves me into my “preferred position” before driving off.

“You have a safety system that will alert you to another car approaching on either the left or right.” Why can’t I just use the side mirrors? 

“And the rear camera will show you what’s behind when the car is in reverse.” Why can’t I just turn around and look?

“Your new car has both an automatic transmission and a manual transmission.” I learned to drive on a stick shift, but haven’t used one since. Not sure I remember. 

“Is it hot in here, or is it just me?” I interrupted. The salesman quickly identified the problem. “For some reason, your heated seats have adjusted to the highest setting.” So, “Son of Hal” is a prankster.

The salesman continued, “As a fuel economy feature, should you get stuck in traffic, the engine is programmed to shut off after a few seconds.” I soon discovered the engine also shuts off at stop signs. 

He went on: “I’ll return tomorrow to pair your smart phone to your on board computer so that you can use your console to make voice-activated phone calls, remotely start your car, check your fuel level over your phone, sync to your garage door opener, and convert spoken word to text messages. Your dashboard also has a real-time navigation touch screen. It will tell you the five-day weather forecast, give driving directions, show traffic conditions, inform you of local fuel prices, and point out nearby restaurants when you’re hungry.” This is way too much technology, but I didn’t have the heart to say that to the salesman. He seemed so enthusiastic and engaging. 

When did high-tech gizmos become standard equipment? Cars are now computers on wheels. I long for the days when there were only two knobs on my dash — one the radio and the other the heater. Call me old-fashioned. 

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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