Over the Hill

A smart car and a silly mistake

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

There’s no way I can tell this story without revealing my ignorance. So, I will just plunge in and hope your memory is as short as mine and that you’ll soon forget the whole thing.

Last Friday afternoon shortly before 3:00 p.m., I left home to pick up my wife, Mamie, from the Adult Day Center. I’d only gone a couple of blocks when I noticed a little red light glowing on the car’s instrument panel.

It was alerting me that the rear door was ajar. By rear door I mean what I usually call the trunk door, although this car is a station wagon and doesn’t have a trunk.

I pulled over and stopped. I left the motor running, but I shifted into “park” and set the parking brake. As I got out I also closed my door behind me, so no passing vehicle could crash into it. Then I went around back. I reclosed the rear door and instantly heard all of the doors on the car lock themselves.

Suddenly the vacant car was tightly locked with its motor running and its key in the ignition. Dangling from that key were all my other keys. I’d been vaguely aware that this car had some kind of automatic door-locking feature, but I’d never used it or even read about it in the owner’s manual.

Being automatically locked out of our car reminded of the 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.” It featured an H.A.L. 9000 computer, which ran a spaceship carrying two astronauts to Jupiter. The computer had a humanlike personality and chatted with the astronauts, who called it “Hal.”

But Hal became too human. He was jealously suspicious of the astronauts. He tricked them into going outside the spaceship and then locked them out. One died. The other managed to get back in and dismantle Hal.

But unlike those astronauts, I had an easy solution — my AAA card. And I would have immediately called AAA for help if I didn’t have another problem. I’d forgotten my cell phone. It was back in my locked house.

So I rang the doorbell of a nearby house. A young couple with a charming toddler invited me in. They let me use one of their smarter-than-me phones. The AAA operator didn’t laugh when I explained my problem. She promised to send help quickly.

I then sat on the edge of a planter next to the sidewalk, listening to my car’s engine idle. Before long, the AAA man arrived. It took me more time to sign the AAA form than he spent opening one of my car doors.

I will never again get out any car without my keys in my hand or my pocket, and I will henceforth call our car “Hal.”