At the Raleigh-Durham Airport I picked up my rental at the Thrifty counter and took off for the coast and the mountains and a reunion with high school girlfriends.
Thrifty had give me a new Nissan Altima which is a lot bigger than my trusty 1999 Volvo. I've had a Volvo since college. Which means before 1999.
I tooled down Interstate 40 for a few minutes and, being without lunch, pulled in to a McDonald's to get my bearings and cheap nourishment, and, upon returning to the car, could not start it.
This is a car, mind you, without a key. They don't make cars with keys any more.
At the Thrifty counter, I had requested a PT Cruiser, and Avery (the manager) laughed heartily and exclaimed: "They haven't made those since 2009!"
Well, I said, do you have a used one I can have?
Was anything said about a keyless car?
Directions on how to drive one?
Nope. I guess everyone else knows.
At the McDonald's parking lot, I pushed a bunch of buttons, and a dashboard screen flashed "brake and start button" or something, and I thought, I've braked this car. What does this mean?
I called the service number listed on the rental agreement, and a woman told me to put my foot on the brake and push the button at the same time. Who knew?
You have to read a dissertation to find out these things before you drive them?
Her quick response told me she was a mechanic who had answered this question more than once.
I got the car started and headed back to the interstate where the heavy bass on the radio was giving me a headache, but how to turn it down? You know what it's like driving down the interstate at 75 mph in a rental and trying to find the right buttons to push?
Guess how close that start button is to the radio button?
What would happen if you pushed the start button instead of the radio button barreling down the interstate?
I called Service to see how I could tune down the bass, and Service put me on hold while someone went to read a dissertation. It didn't take long for Service and me to become fast buddies.
A few minutes passed before somebody beside me in the adjacent lane started honking his horn. I knew it had to be a "his" because "hers" don't do this kind of thing. Besides, we'd never notice.
Soon, out of the corner of my eye, I could detect a waving hand.
We were doing about 80.
I guessed I was going to have to move my eyes from the lanes in front of me and look over in the other lane to see what was going on, and there was a black dude waving and pointing to the left front tire.
Now, I thought, this is a new car! What's wrong with the tire? Nothing could be wrong with the tire. Come on!
I drove on and exited at the first place, which, of course, was an office park where U-turns are prohibited, and you have to drive five miles before you can make one.
I turned right, and then right again, and, maybe another right before I found a left turn lane where I pulled into a dirt driveway where a house was for sale, and I got out and inspected the tire, leaving the engine running. No sense in being stranded in rural North Carolina and losing (more) beach time.
Nothing wrong with the tire.
I got back in the car and tried to find the interstate.
Was it a right turn here and a left turn there? Where was the interstate?
I made it back and called my sister who said she would not talk to me since I was driving. We chatted about 20 minutes, and I asked her why a man would play a mean trick on me to get me to leave the interstate.
We talked about man's inhumanity to man. And mean tricks. Like what they do on Capitol Hill. Not women.
I sailed on, happily anticipating the beach, cold beer, and old friends. Ten minutes later there was a collision.
Coming towards me in the right lane in the opposite direction was a huge piece of… floating heavy duty plastic, about the size of a beach towel.
Where are those environmentalists when you need them?
It attached itself to the grill and made a ratatatatat sound which interfered with the loud bass which was still giving me a headache since I had hung up the call with Service which, I guessed, was still reading the manual.
The plastic addition served me right for becoming hysterical upon spying the overturned semi filled with hundreds (thousands?) of filled plastic garbage bags at the Baltimore-Washington Parkway off-ramp that morning on the way to BWI.
I am not getting off the Interstate again for a piece of plastic, I thought. No way. Get real and get over it. I am not stopping again. I was never going to get to the beach, and, at this rate, the waves would be stopped by the time I got there.
I drove on with the plastic flying in the breeze and some of it, I supposed, melded (melted?) on the grill. Who cared? Not me.
A few minutes later while cruising about 80 mph (this is no lie), the driver of the tractor trailer I was passing dozed off (!) and began drifting in my lane.
I rapidly woke him up when I beat on the horn which I could barely hear over the ratatatatat flapping in the wind and the boom-boom-boom of the bass which kept the drums in my head pounding.
He moved back to his lane.
I needed a break. This was tooooo much.
By that time I had reached South Carolina and pulled into another (fast and cheap) McDonald's to get a coffee and hamburger without catsup.
Out in the parking lot, a uniformed, older-than-teenaged employee spied the plastic dragging on the ground and attached to the grill, and looked quizzically at it.
Oh, that, I said, and I pulled off the new decoration. That's the way Nissan is designing cars these days, to make up for a lack of keys.
He asked me about the new car, and I said I wouldn't have it: You can't see out of the rear window and it drives loose. My 1999 Volvo is much better. Besides, it has a key.
Oh, that's because of the price, he said. Those keys are $300, and they're trying to save money.
I got back in the car and hoped that braking and punching the start button would make the danged thing start. At least, if I hit the wrong button the car wouldn't suddenly stop on the interstate since I was still parked.
Just as I was ready to back up (always dangerous) and exit McDonald's, another man walked up to the front of the car and without speaking, smiled, and motioned to the hood.
Oh, that, I motioned back. The car's okay.
He pointed to the hood. It was loose.
He slammed it shut, and off I went.
Ding! Ding! Ding! The back space key in my brain brought up the image of the black dude.
I made it to the beach, all right, where I had to take to my bed for 15 minutes before I could start the party. I felt like I had been tossed around on the shore by Hurricane Karen which was nowhere close. I knew where she'd been though: all over me somewhere in Carolina.
Volvo for Life