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Keys to success … and failure

Half-kidding, I often say I’m a 20th century guy trapped in the 21st century.

As I said, half-kidding. Anyone who’d want to go to a mid-20th century dentist would need his head examined more than his teeth. I recall those dentists — and not all that fondly — a bunch of dour sadists who thought a sense of humor as irrelevant as enough Novacaine. Then again, giving them the benefit of the doubt, they were probably more progressive then their childhood dentists, most of whom were trained in the 19th century.

So, lots of things today are much better than before.

Other things are worse – our education system, for example.

And still other things are a weird mixture of better and worse. A prime example is cars.

Without doubt, no car has the style of, say, a ’56 Caddy, or any old car. Today, they’re all just boxes of one ilk or another — no curves, no chrome, no class.

On the other hand, today’s jalopies are infinitely safer, less-polluting, and more fuel-efficient than their predecessors. They’re also a lot more reliable. Or most exactly, they’re more reliable till something goes wrong. And when that happens, it’s a nightmare in the making. Or in my case, two nightmares.

The first one started with a letter from Honda telling me there was a problem with my passenger airbag: If deployed, there was a chance it’d act less like an airbag than a claymore mine. OK, they didn’t use that wording, but they sure implied it.

I think they called it a “malfunction,” which is a nice way of saying it killed a bunch of people and injured a bunch more.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not pointing fingers or assessing blame, or any of that. It’s just the double-edged sword of technology: A widget is invented to improve our lot, which it does. But then, after millions of them are made and used, we find things that go wrong with the widget. Then the after-the-fact cleanup begins – if we’re lucky.

In the case of television, we haven’t been lucky. I’m old enough to remember when TV first entered the American home, when it was extolled as a great medium for education. We could have television classes in schools, bringing the most recent information and the best scholars to our eager students. Of course, that never happened. Instead of delivering scholars and scholarly material to the masses, it contributed an endless procession of commercials, reality shows, and the moronization of This Great Land of Ours. As far as cleaning that mess up? We’d stand a better chance of cleaning the Augean Stables with a toothbrush and a thimbleful of Lysol.

With the airbag, the cleanup was preventive maintenance — swapping a righteous airbag for a defective one. All I had to do was shlep to the dealer and they’d take care of it free gratis. So I shlepped and they took care of it, just like that. And thus, while inconvenienced a bit, no harm came of it. So Nightmare-in-the-Making Number One was put to rest.

N-i-t-M Number Two was a bit more complicated, frustrating, and of course, expensive. It involved the car’s ignition switch.

The fine art of key jiggling

It started a couple months ago, and it started so slightly I didn’t even know it was happening. I mean, who pays attention to starting their car? You put the key in the slot, turn it, and the car starts. No big deal.

My car started fine every time I turned the key. The problem was getting the key all the way in the slot. It took me a while to realize I couldn’t just slip the key in. Instead, I had to jiggle it a bit so it’d go all the way in. Once I noticed that, I did what every intelligent human does — I figured it wasn’t really a problem and either it’d go away or stay the same.

Of course, it did neither — it kept getting worse.

So my key jiggling became more involved, lengthier, until it registered in the depths of my reptilian brain that I was gonna have a problem down the road. And a real problem at that: Eventually, the key was not going to go in the car wasn’t going to start and I’d be stuck in Hell’s Half Acre, in the middle of the night, in the hailstorm of the century.

What do do?

Simple: I just left the key in the slot. I wouldn’t take it out, and at my leisure I’d go to Evergreen and have them replace it. It was a great plan. And like many great plans, it had no relationship to reality.

Jiggle no more

When I had the airbag replaced, I told the mechanics about my key woes and told them to be good guys and not take out the key, which they did. Or more exactly, which all but one of them did. One guy didn’t get the message and took out the key.

I tried to put it back in…with no success. And not only couldn’t I do it, but it felt unlike it’d ever felt before. It felt to me as if God Almighty Hisself couldn’t get the key in.

As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait for divine intervention: One of the mechanics managed to get the key in.

It was the last chance I was willing to take. When I got back home, I hied over to Evergreen and told Dave Smith my tale of woe. Then he told me and even bigger one: They couldn’t replace the ignition switch; only a dealer could.

Hells Bells! I had to drive to Plattsburgh, to have an ignition switch installed?

It’s all tied up with the new technology of ignition switches. They’re now made so cars are a lot harder on thieves. Unfortunately, they’re also a lot harder on owners.

Frankly, I didn’t understand the specifics, what with my 20th century mind-set. From what I could gather, the keys have to be programed with some sort of computer, and keys and switch all arrive as one unit, which have to be ordered directly from Honda and bladdy-blah-blah.

I thought back to all my VW Beetles — all 35 years of them. Did an ignition switch ever screw up? I couldn’t remember that ever happening. Which means if it did, replacing it was a simple, cheap operation.

As for keys with computer chips, having to programmed by the dealer? As I recall, I got my VW keys made at any hardware store for a buck or so.

Oh yeah, and speaking of keys: My new keys worked on only the new ignition — they couldn’t open the doors. That was a whole different lock, and program, and bladdy-blah-blah. So while my old keys could not fit in the ignition, they could open the doors…which my new keys could not do. Now in order to get into my car and then start it, I needed two keys, instead of the one I’d previously used.

I again thought of my old VWs. It used one key for both the door and the ignition, but using it on the door was a moot issue. Back in them days, Bunkie, there was no bell to remind me the key was still in the ignition, so I’d locked my keys in the car a bunch of times. But that wasn’t a big deal, either. I’d just pry open the wing window, flip its lock, open the wing window, and then unlock the door. And I did it so many times, the lock was so well sprung it took almost no force to open it from outside.

But none of it mattered anyway because I never locked the car, because I never kept anything of value in it. And beyond that, any thief who could hot-wire a car wouldn’t waste his effort stealing my rig. Essentially, it could be easily broken into, but it was theft-proof because it wasn’t worth stealing.

It was the exact opposite of my Honda. Or almost the exact opposite.

My Honda is theft-proof because it’s hard to break into. But, junker that it is, it also isn’t worth stealing.

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