In a Rut? Look to the Land of the Rising Sun for Refreshment

August 21, 2021

Before moving to Colorado, we bought a new Subaru Legacy. It has a stellar reputation. Out here in the Rockies, you see the nameplate all over the place. Even the bighorn sheep up in the national park drive them, although they have to get the special edition with extra legroom that accommodates 350-pound girths and antlers.

And why not? Colorado is the place where77 mountain peaks stretch higher than 12,000 feet.

The Legacy, like the rest of the Subaru family, including the Crosstrek and Outback are built for forbiddingly high and rugged terrain – the last stop before heaven itself.

Yes, those Subaru engineers are on the ball. They leave no semiconductor unturned when it comes to giving buyers bang for their buck.

Recently, while running errands, I noted the orange indicator light on the instrument panel warned of low windshield washer fluid. That’s not new technology, really, but it’s still a nice touch.

That night, over dinner, my wife mentioned that I was low on fluid. How odd was that? She hadn’t driven the new car in weeks, desperately clinging to her charming 2003 Corolla.

She replied, “it came on my smartphone.” Her tone was casual, like we were not talking about a world turned upside down by artificial intelligence.

I considered her report. “Wait, what?” I blurted. “How does Subaru, whose headquarters are in Shibuya, Japan, know about my lackadaisical attitude about washer fluid?”

“Don’t kid yourself,” she shot back. “They know everything about you. They know what you bought and returned to Target. They know the days of finding a Sunday afternoon Greek program on local radio is a thing of the past. They know the first car you took me out in was a ’73 Duster with no air conditioning. The car in which you spilled a king-size Coke all over my new blouse. The car in which…”

“Okay, I get the message,” I retorted. “So I was a klutz. I’m good now. But not really.”

The mere thought that the low fluid level may as well have been posted on social media, I told her, imbued me with a chilling effect. Maybe George Orwell was right in his prophetic

1984, and its exploration into the ravages of totalitarian government.

Alas, my fears didn’t fade. Not long after I again had a spotless windshield, my wife, phone in hand, raced into the bedroom. I knew instinctively the old Duster and the sullied blouse weren’t on her mind this time.

“What’s up?” I asked. “Am I getting dinged for buying fluid from Dollar Tree?”

“Worse!” she exclaimed, now at close talking range. “I was told I’ve been holding the phone too long in the car. And they’re shaving points off my record, which could result in higher premiums.”

“How does the insurance company know that?” I asked.

She explained that she downloaded an app that would track our driving habits. If we did well, we would get a discount on our car insurance. Nice offer.

“But I don’t understand. Why are they singling me out? I’m a safe driver. You are, too, but not as safe as me.”

“That’s not true. I don’t have any points on my record.”

“Actually, according to the app, you need to work on your braking. It feels like an airplane hitting the runway without landing gear. You also need to work on your turns. They’re a bit rough, especially at intersections you’re unfamiliar with, being newbies and all. Which means, um, all of them.”

I reminded her that we all get sloppy. For instance, when you sign up for an app that tracks the quality of your driving skills. That’s dystopian, far worse than not having enough washer fluid.

She wasn’t finished with me. Flashing a self-satisfied look as long and as wide as a fully grown moose in rut, she announced “wait until you see our final scores. I got a 94. You only had an 88.”

“What about your little habit of holding the phone while the car is moving?”

“The only reason I do that is because you’re too lazy to map out the directions yourself. So I’m left holding the bag. I’m the copilot, and I still only finish six points ahead of you. I should have aced it.”

I asked her what the next step is. Knowing her, she’s already spent sleepless nights plotting her next move.

“I decided to buy one of those little phone mounts. You know, the kind Uber drivers use.  

And bighorn sheep in line at Dollar Tree.


Elmer ‘Lucky’ McGinty’s crystal clear memories of a life well lived flow with a thickness, a richness, that borders on the hypnotic.

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