Monday, April 4, 2011

A Mini (Cooper) Adventure

Quote of the blog:

At a party last weekend during a deep discussion to determine which brother from Dukes of Hazard had blond hair:

Dave: Brook, you have a smart phone, just look it up.

Ty: Nope, she has a dumb phone, but I can look it up.

Dave: Brook, you do know it’s 2011?


One night, a few weeks ago, I thought about my pseudo-love of technology and innovation as I sat, stranded, in my rented Mini Cooper at a bulletproof glass clad gas station in the Bronx.

Forty minutes earlier I had walked to the car-rental near my office in midtown. I was visiting some schools for work up in Westchester County, CT and needed wheels. I had left work later than I had planned and had a two-hour drive in front of me. I wanted to get the car and get on the road. I hoped I wouldn’t have to wait very long. This car rental/garage is right by Rockefeller Center and is always busy. There are only three lanes in and three lanes out and very shallow. It’s the kind of garage where they bring cars down in elevators and line them up to be driven out. It’s busy under normal circumstances and that night was no exception.A worker named Brock welcomed me when I walked in. He got excited when I introduced myself and told me that he’s often called Brook! Small world. I smiled and told him to that I am happy to say that I’ve never been called Brock. His coworkers sniggered.

Brock told me that he could upgrade my car to a Mini Cooper for just a couple dollars a day. I experienced a moment of driver’s lust but hesitated - I didn’t really need an upgrade, and while the increase wasn’t much, it was still company money. Then he told me that the weather forecast said it might snow and that they handle really well in bad weather. Well, if it’s for safety…

A few minutes later Brock pulled up in this gorgeous cream/black topped mini. I won’t lie. I was beaming. My two and half hour drive to CT just got so much better. I almost skipped to the car. I’d never driven one and I was excited. I put my purse in the front window (which was rolled down) and put my bags in the back. We checked the car for dings or scratches. There weren’t any. Brock checked the mileage: 453 miles. She was a brand new. I got in and Brock smiled and patted the top of the like one might tap a police car – you’re ready to go – but I wasn’t. I had to do some rearranging in the car.

Sine the garage is so busy and so small one feels pressure to rush: get in the car, get out of the garage. But I needed to set up the gps, get out my phone, and plug in my iPod adapter (all very important!). Cars pulled behind and around me as I set things up. Finally, I finished with evertything but realized my window was still down. I went to roll it up, but there was no switch on the door. I started to look around for the switch but could feel the eyes of the rental guys on me and the presence of cars waiting to pull out behind me. I flipped a few of the switches on the console, turning on inside lights, etc. and finally just pulled into the night, as if I wanted nothing more than to drive with my window down in the frigid wind.

A few streets later I pulled into the bus lane and searched for the switch. I’d only been in a Mini once before and that was on a double date (my date and I pretzled ourselves, if you imagine it, into the back seat for the short drive. I think the backseats are made for babies and the legless). I tried various buttons until I found the window control at the bottom of the console in front of the gearshift. Sheesh! But I wasn’t discouraged. This little car had pick up and great bass. I was going to love this drive.

At least, that’s what I thought as I followed the GPS directions North on the FDR towards Connecticut. Around 180th the GPS directed, “Keep Right.” So I kept right and found myself crossing a bridge to the Bronx. Halfway across the GPS politely repeated, “Recalculating route. Recalculating route.” What! I’ve since learned that “keep right” often means, “keep going straight.” I heard “recalculating route” more times than I’d like to admit on that trip. After crossing the bridge I followed the detour directions and found myself in a sketchy-looking neighborhood. I passed a gas station about the same time I noticed that they gave me the car on a quarter of a tank. I pulled in, hit the “Start/Stop Engine” and pulled out the key. Since the car was started when I got in it, this was my first time looking at the key – which didn’t look like a regular key at all. It was simply a round fob with buttons on it for popping the trunk, locking the doors, and setting the alarm. Awesome. I loved this car.

I filled up the car and went in to get my receipt. The clerk slid it through the two-inch gap under the bulletproof glass and I hurried back to the car. There were a few, well, shady-looking people hanging around the station. I got in the car, put the key in, and hit the “Start Engine” button. Only the lights and radio turned on. I sat for a moment, puzzled. I hit the button again and the lights and radio turned off. I took out the key, put it back in. Hit the button. Lights on. Lights off. Lights on. Lights off. I did this three times – thinking maybe I was doing something wrong. I’m glad the man filling his car in front of me was too busy to pay any attention – otherwise he might have thought I was flashing my lights at him. He had one hand on the gas nozzle, one on the hood of the car, and was watching the gallons and $ signs behind him – all while violently rocking his car. I don’t know what he was doing. Maybe he thought he could fill the car with more gas that way.

I tried searching for other switches. It didn’t make sense to me that there would be another one in addition to “Start Engine” but that button wasn’t working for me. I tried holding the button down for three seconds. Five seconds. Hmmm. Then I sat in my car. What was a girl to do? I didn’t really think it prudent to walk up to someone in the neighborhood and say, “I’m sorry, but I wonder if you can help me? I’m stranded in this brand new rented mini…”

I had to smile. My general curiosity has me sneaking copies of my brother’s Wired magazine and looking up “how cell phones” “cloud computing” and “car engines” work on I like cars and their design and the ingenuity of engines. I think many are beautiful. I’ve been to the International Auto Show in NYC and even got Road and Track for over a year. I subscribed to it - unlike Essence (The Black Woman’s Guide to What’s Hot Now!) that I somehow was subscribed to last year. But, I have to admit I got R&T for the pictures. And I enjoyed a moment of irony as I sat at that gas station thinking that I had no idea how to start this car with the tricky switches, fob key, and “Start/Stop Engine” button.

I was going to have to use a lifeline. I pulled out my dumb phone – yes, it has smart phone envy. I thought, “if I had a smart phone I could at least Google the situation.” I called my sister who also has a car with a key-fob-key. Unfortunately for me, fortunately for her, she can turn her car on from inside the house. She was visiting my parents and passed the phone to my dad. He suggested I try stepping on the clutch while hitting the “Start Engine.”

I told him it didn’t have a clutch and imagined what it might look like if NYC rented standard instead of automatics. I think it would be similar to the tour group on Segues I saw in Paris. The guide glided along the sidewalk over curves and weaved in and around and smoothly twirled his Segue around to face his followers. The tour-group was not as graceful. They gripped the handles and the Segues jerked along the sidewalk and over curbs with halting and swaying movements. The looks on the faces ranged from intense concentration to outright fear. Pedestrians, bikers, and drivers all had to avoid the troupe. But the jerky, halting, stop-and-go, reminded me of learning to drive a stick shift.

I told my dad that I didn’t have a clutch and he suggested trying the brake and the start engine button at the same time. VOILA! It totally worked – and I can tell you right now that I don’t think I would have ever thought to try the brake and the button at the same time. I’m just glad that my dumb phone was smart enough to make the call.