Ground Control to Major Mom

Michelle’s Review:  This week’s blog really conveyed the frustration of learning the new-fangled workings of a new car.”


Engines on

We recently purchased a space ship.  I had it shipped from New Jersey and we ran over to the Lowe’s parking lot on Smokey Park Highway to receive it off the large trailer that had hauled it over three states to arrive, if not at my doorstep, then close enough.  The freight carrier, Rashaad, a congenial young man from Philadelphia, did not give us any advice as to how we would get the thing home.  We mostly chatted about the weather and our experiences with the city of Philadelphia (I grew up across the river in South Jersey).  My husband ran around taking pictures of the newly acquired vehicle, then clambered into the cockpit and piloted it to our house and into our driveway.  We parked our ancient Toyota behind the thing to hide it from curious people passing by in the street.

Check ignition

We purchased the car/rocket ship from my brother, who warned us it was a luxury vehicle, i.e., complicated as hell.  But I have been driving since 1974, and have the kind of car intuition that comes with years of multiple car ownership.  This vehicle came with a lot of literature describing its general operation and maintenance schedules.  Comprised of three books, the bulk of information felt useless until we were brave enough to sit inside the car and push buttons.  So, the day after it arrived, we hopped in with the booklet entitled Quick Guide to Reducing Your New Car Stress, and began the arduous process of learning to start the engine, the purpose of all the buttons and how to find the windshield wiper controls. You know it’s new-fangled if the written literature has to explain how to start the car.  I got it on the second attempt. 

If this guide was meant to reduce our stress, it was not achieving its goal. My husband, sitting in the passenger seat exclaimed, “We are too old for this car!”  Nonsense!  Though it will take some time before I’m willing to put my memory to the test when I am driving on the freeway and suddenly need to activate the Lane Keeping Aid device, the button for which we have not yet located.  The booklet shows the button, but not its general geography on the dashboard/car interior.  It may be that we don’t have that feature.   

Knows which way to go

The Volvo company makes a nice car.  Its interior workings resemble the Space Shuttle control panel I saw when we toured Space Center Houston with my son some years back.  As I sat in the car, I pictured a crew of engineers sitting in a NASA-like control room, ready and willing to assist me with any questions and concerns and indeed, such a place does exist, though the engineers are customer service representatives behind locked doors in an undisclosed location.  It’s nice to know someone is being paid to help me sort out this jumble of amenities.

There's something wrong

The first day I drove the new (to me) Volvo, I settled into the nice leather seat, trying hard not to think of plush gray cows.  I fiddled with the seat position which operates with five or six different buttons.  I yearned for the days of grabbing the bar under the seat to bring one’s butt forward or back, until I found myself in that perfectly tilted position with the made-to-order lumbar support cradling my lower back and decided I liked this particular little luxury.  The owner’s manual had said you can lock your ideal position into the seat memory apparatus, but I could not remember how that was accomplished.  Next, I attempted to adjust the steering wheel.  Most cars have that feature, but I could not for the life of me find the mechanism on the steering column which releases the steering wheel from its current position.  I began to fuss.  I was fairly certain the release was down there somewhere, just not where I was looking.  So much for my keen car intuition.  I had to contort my body so that my eyes were closer to the lower level of the steering column, looking for signs of any indentations into which fingers might fit and pull up.

Once found and adjusted, I sat back, confident that I was now in the position to pilot this crate out of the driveway.  Reverse is the second position back from park on the gear shifter, and once engaged, my driveway appeared on the little tv screen with some stern looking yellow lines reminding me of the fence on the right and the rock wall of my house on the left.  Thanks, but I turned to look out the back windshield anyway.  Faith in this particular maneuver would come with time and experience and lots of trust in that camera.  Rock walls are notoriously unforgiving.

May God's love be with you

At the end of my driveway, as I was checking the street for oncoming vehicles, the car started making a bonk-bonk noise.  I looked to my husband for a clue, as he shuffled the pages of the anti-stress guide.  Did I forget the parking brake?  Where was that damn parking brake anyway?  I stopped the car and searched.  Push with your left hand to set the brake, pull toward you to release.  The directions were not the least bit helpful until I found the actual lever.  We are conditioned to stomping on a pedal with the left foot, obviously an archaic move which we continued to attempt to do with the spaceship. 

At last, the parking brake lever was located and I played with it for a while until I was certain it was no longer engaged.  The bonk-bonk continued.  We looked at each other in utter frustration.  My passenger quipped, “I think it’s telling us you are too close to that tree in the neighbors’ yard.”  Dear God, how do we turn off that feature?  If this car was going to get on my case every time I get close to a tree, I will be fuming with resentment as I drive along the tree-lined boulevards of Asheville.  So, I ignored it, much like the way in which I ignored the snide remarks from our former GPS system.  Damn right you’re going to recalculate!

Far above the world

Once on the road, the car handled well.  That’s car talk for it moved forward and stopped when I intended it to.  Thankfully, this type of automobile action was pretty much the same as in all my previous vehicles.  My husband opened the sun roof and played with the radio.  I pressed a few buttons on the console.  The NAV button brought up a map on the little tv screen.  We have homework to do if we want to put an address in and be guided to it with 21st century precision.  Thankfully, we already knew where we were going.

We arrived at our destination and were able to unlock the wayback to retrieve our lawn chairs for sitting awhile in the park, visiting with friends.  Thankfully I remembered how to shut down the whole shebang and didn’t have to suffer the embarrassment of sitting in the car leafing through the guide until we found that section.  I stepped on the brake, pushed Start/Stop and pulled the little box out of its slot and locked it up with the push of a button.  I guessed I could get the hang of this souped-up wagon with a little more driving and a lot more tutelage. 

You've really made the grade

When we returned to the car to drive it home, I found my seat position had returned to its original position.  The bonk-bonk noise reminded me there were a lot of other cars in the parking lot, as if I was vision impaired and could not actually see them all there, behind me, blocking my effort at a dramatic and reckless departure from my parking spot.  I need to peruse the epic owner’s manual to see if there is a tea kettle option in this fancy-ass crate.  I’m going to need plenty of chamomile to soothe my nerves for our trip to Boone, you know, once we get back from Mars.

Commencing countdown,


Guest Editor Michelle knows how it feels to buy a fancy new car.  “New-fangled” is her way of saying it might take me awhile to learn how to push all the right buttons, but I’ll soon be able to drive it to her house for ice cream.

Also thanks to the late, great David Bowie for providing the soundtrack in my head!


  1. I understand that all the “learning how to use this contraption” nonsense is worth it for the heated seats and your lovely warm behinds on Asheville winter mornings – congratulations

    • We are currently intimidated by the 4-wheel drive. I love the word “contraption,” so thanks for using it! I intend to use the seat warmer even if it’s 57 degrees. Thanks!

  2. I did not know you grew up in south Jersey! I thought you were from Maine! Congrats on the news car. The angst you described was very well said. The phrase that made me laugh was “ Once on the road, the car handled well. That’s car talk for it moved forward and stopped when I intended it to.” Again—congrats!!

    • Thanks! We are still maneuvering along that steep learning curve! I am originally from Maine, but we moved to NJ in my early childhood, so I claim both places.

  3. This is such a relatable story and made me laugh, quite loudly, at the distress of too many buttons and controls in a new car! Yes, we like safety features but mainly we just want to go and return to a destination of our choosing. Great job Cheryl!

    • Thanks Gina! Getting from A to B is much more complicated than it used to be! If nothing else, this car is that perfect brain teaser we are told will keep our minds from deteriorating.

  4. Very relatable. We purchased a new car in January and my husband is not adjusting well to improved technology 🙂

    Thanks for the laughs!

  5. Don’t forget you also lived in Central Jersey!

    • I did!! The high school years seem to have taken center stage, but I remember fondly my mid Jersey, poetry club days!

  6. Your mention of the Lane Keeping Aid device reminded me of how irritating it was on a rental car I drove recently. It let me know every time I changed lanes without signaling. I don’t think I ever figured out how to disengage the bleeping thing!

  7. Fantastic blog, one of your best!

    My 2018 Prius is a lot like this. It replaced a 2004 Prius which comparatively felt like it was made just after the Civil War (1860s, not January 6th).

    I still can’t find the Ctrl-Alt-Del buttons to reboot my car either. It must be somewhere in those deep menus.

    • Thanks Maurice! If your 2004 car was made after the Civil War, our Toyota must have been forged by a blacksmith during the revolution (not Jan 6th). It’s nice to know we are not alone in this computer-on-wheels confusion. We may be reading more than driving for awhile!

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