Even though I am one of those freaks that actually reads that entire manual shoved into the glovebox of a new car from cover to cover, I never knew that the little check engine and those other various auto dashboard warning lights, were officially called ‘tell-tale indicators’. I have always known them as ‘idiot lights’. Although I’m not sure when I realized the rest of the world also called them that and it was not just part of my Dad’s unique vernacular like Pennsyltucky, schmucko, white caca and happy horseshit.
I was thinking that you can sort people into three basic personality groups based on how they react to those little annoying dashboard lights. Folks like me tend to heed the warnings immediately like we’re in some imminent danger and a drill sergeant is barking some life or death order that must be quickly followed or else. GET GAS NOW!!!! ADD COOLANT THIS SECOND!!!! DRIVE DIRECTLY TO YOUR MECHANIC OR YOU WILL DIE…DIE…DIE!!!!! In spite of all my loud bravado, I’m actually pretty good at following directions, so it makes sense that even if it’s a mechanical two ton pile of non-living steel giving the commands, I obey them with great seriousness and vigor.
Another group sees those lights as a passive nudge, a little hint or tiny suggestion. Those are the same people who when they buy something that has to be assembled, would not dream of looking at the accompanying instructions unless in absolute dire need. Even though it might kill them, the extreme version of that personality type will purposely refuse to wear a seat belt or motorcycle helmet simply because they do not like being told they have to. Yeah, they acknowledge the little warning lights but actively choose to dismiss the message and delay their response until they are damn well ready to deal with it.
The last category is the oblivious. They could not even tell you that a bright glowing light three inches from the steering wheel had been continuously on for the past month because they never noticed it. But in their defense, it’s hard to see a little glowing light while driving and you are also busy texting, fixing yourself in the mirror, playing with the radio and avoiding all those other drivers who seem to constantly cause all those accident close calls. I don’t worry about insulting them because there is not a chance they would have read this far; no one got murdered, had sex or exploded yet so they would have gotten bored long ago.
I have kept it no secret that I am a bit of a paranoid worry wort, so an illuminated idiot light is just another thing for me to obsess over. Last week a light came on in my Mini Cooper saying that I needed air in my rear driver’s side tire. Of course I filled it that night using the small compressor I have at home. I hate going to the gas stations that charge you $1.50 for air. I understand the expense of having the machine but its air. I’m paying for air. It’s not like I am not always surrounded by tons of it; I just can’t get it into my tire without help and I have that help in that machine at home where I can do it for free.
Buying air for a buck fifty is like paying $1.50 for a bottle of water… oh wait… I do that too. Even though I have a filtered water dispenser in my fridge and a Britta filtered pitcher on my counter, I still find myself buying bottled water.
Think about that for a second. Really think about it. Let it roll around your head because it seems normal to us now because over time we have all been convinced that there is nothing wrong with paying for water and air. My depression era grand-parents would have a conniption knowing that I was paying good money for water and air. Someone is a friggin brilliant marketing genius because they created something out of nothing. It’s like selling a package with a bag of dirt along with a bag of water and calling it Instant Mud.
Nowadays we don’t think twice about paying for water and air. Pretty soon we will be paying for light… oh wait a minute, I get an electric bill. For crying out loud, soft and medium, is there nothing free? The whole damn planet is covered with water surrounded by air and fifty percent of the time is engulfed in light. Why am I paying for this stuff.
The day after I filled that tire, my wife and I drove to a kinda rough neighborhood on the other side of town to go see an old movie at an even older repertory movie theater. Yes, we could have waited to see it at home for free on cable TV or watched on demand anytime with Netflicks or Hulu or Prime or any of the other kinda unnecessary services that offer stuff that used to be free but we now pay for. But since we are so free with our money, spending all willy nilly on air, water and light, why not go crazy and pay full price to see an old movie on a big screen. There is even more irony to it when you realize the movie we saw was Idiocracy.
After the film we got in the car to drive home and the dash board light came back on about the same tire. All my paranoia aside, one time could be a fluke but twice means a real leak. I like my car, my possessions, my wife and my life so I decided stopping to get air at night in the most crime ridden part of town might not be the best way for an unarmed dorky middle aged white guy to retain those things. Remember, I have been robbed at gun point, with a knife pressed against my side and with a hammer waved at my face, maybe my paranoia is well earned. I really try now to avoid those situations if at all possible.
We drove to a somewhat safer neighborhood where I begrudgingly spent $1.50 for air. ‘AIR!!!, I’m buying air!’ I thought to myself ‘it’s like I’m buying a bottle of water at the beach’, it’s understandable but it just feels wrong.
We got home safe, secure and sound with no incident except for a little grumbling I unfortunately caused with the wife. I was all wound up about having to stop in the bad neighborhood and driving on a low tire and paying for the air thing and knowing I now had to make time to get my tire fixed… Then I got even more annoyed because I lost the little cover that goes over the tube where you put air in.
I mentally worked myself up so much I could not remember it was called a ‘valve stem cover’ but then again I use that term about as much as I use ‘tell-tale indicator’. It slipped out of my hands as I was trying to screw it back on and it rolled off into oblivion. After spending more time on the ground looking for it than it took to put air in the tire, I got back in the car and backed up to use the headlights to find it. My confused wife looked at me like I was nuts, which I am, but that is not the point.
After still failing to find it, I got back in the car and told my wife why I was searching the gas station gutter but of course I could not think of the term ‘valve stem cover’ so I got even more exasperated describing my odd behavior. She told me ‘she always puts the cap in her pocket when she first takes it off so she knows where it is’.
It actually was good advice, but not good timing to give it. Instead of being the completely innocent helpful remark she meant it as, I took her innocuous advice as ‘nar nar you stupid idiot can’t you put $1.50 worth of air in a damn tire without screwing up that task you useless monkey-boy’. Taking it the damn wrong way on top of knowing that the damn advice would not of helped a damn anyway because I lost the damn thing while trying to put it back on the damn tire, I snidely responded with something like ‘thank you very much for that advice’ in the very most damn sarcastic tone I could damn well muster.
I immediately apologized and we quickly got over it but I felt like a guilty lug the rest of the night. I deeply respect, admire and love my wife. She does not need or deserve me or anyone talking to her like that. It’s uncalled for and made me feel like I was sinking to the level of the current crass political pundits. Just because our society has suddenly deemed that as acceptable behavior, I don’t have to. (Does that mean I have to change which Idiot Light response group I belong to?) Now I was frustrated with the tire, the air and myself. To make matters worse, on the drive home my low air in tire tell-tale indicator light came back on again. My buck fifty of air was gone and I barely got a chance to use it.