There’s been another shooting downtown and I’m on the prowl. I’m using the wife’s car for some reason, but it should be all right. Getting there is half the battle.

The easy half, as it turns out.

All I wanted to do was quietly park, surreptitiously surveil the area and unobtrusively roam the scene of the crime. I’ve been doing it for two decades, yo. How hard could it be?

Getting out of the car was the first problem. Because I’d left the engine running, the auto-lock feature remained in play. Duh, right?

I reached for the knob to unlock the door, but because this wasn’t 1992, no such knob existed. To unlock the door, I’d have to manipulate a tiny button that exists in a row of other tiny buttons, some for the windows, some for the mirrors, possibly a button for the ejection seat.

I don’t know what all the buttons do, is what I’m saying, and in my haste, I could not find the one for the lock. Got the rear windows rolled down, though, so that was good.

To get out of the car, I’d have to shut the engine off, which I did by reaching for the key. Of course, there is no key — still not 1992 over here — there is instead a fat, round button that looks like it belongs on a washing machine instead of a car.

So, I pushed the button and the engine quit as expected, which is a freakin’ marvel since I hadn’t read the manual all the way through. I must be one of those Nissan savants or something.

The doors obediently unlocked and I manually turned off the dome light — I was being stealthy, remember. You hate to startle a gunman by lighting up the whole block when he’s trying to reload.

I nudged open the door and stepped out with the stealth and care of a jungle cat stalking its prey. But before my stalking foot so much as touched the ground, the Nissan began to inform the world of my presence by sounding one of its many, many, many alarms.

In the weird stillness of the Lewiston night it sounded like this: “DINK DINK DINK! DINK DINK DINK! DINK DINK DINK!”

The problem, I would later learn, is that I didn’t remove my foot from the brake pedal in a timely fashion when I’d turned the car off. Or maybe I removed it too quickly, or possibly I forgot to recite the Nissan Pledge of Allegiance while I was pushing that big washing machine button. It’s hard to remember. By the time I got around to fuming about it, I was on my way back to the office and the Nissan was nagging me about other things.

DING: “Your fuel range has just dropped below 30 miles!”

DING: “The temperature outside is close to freezing! It’s not quite there yet, but it could happen and we thought you should be aware!”

DING: “Traction control initiated! See above!”

DING: “Are you wearing clean underpants? What if you were to get into an accident?”

In its attempt to make the world newborn-baby-safe, the government has forced the automakers to install safety features that would have seemed like practical jokes just 20 years ago.

Passenger sensors, emergency braking assists, air bags that pop out of every orifice (The car’s orifices, not the driver’s. I think.), automatic stereo volume, backup buzzers, blind-spot detection alarms.

All this talk of distracted drivers and they’ve turned our cars into video arcades with bells and buzzers with more nags than an overprotective mother.

DING: “Your tire pressure has dropped by 1 PSI! Nissan will notify your next of kin.”

I don’t care how great the technology is today — I still don’t think some auto designer in Japan knows better than I do when my doors should be locked, when I should begin braking, when my lights should be on and whether or not I am wearing clean underpants.

The sad fact is, we no longer have a choice of whether our cars have these nanny features. The government has mandated them, to the point where they paid people to get rid of their older cars, with all those dangerous crank windows and deadly door-lock knobs, in the Cash for Clunkers program.

The car-makers are required to add so many new bells and whistles — and so much weight and cost — that buyers are now taking out five-, six- or seven-year loans to pay for cars with features they had no idea they needed.

Me, I’d pay extra dough just to have a car without the alarm feature, which has never been a friend to me.

Why, just the other night I was at a shooting scene in downtown Lewston when, flustered by all the binging and bonging from the Nissan, I dropped my notebook into the street. Bending to pick it up, I must have compressed a button on the key fob in my pocket because the car began to wail like a fallout alarm signaling the end of days.

WOMP WOMP WOMP! WOMP WOMP WOMP!

Scared the gunman, scared the cops, scared me.

Oh, well. So much for the clean underpants.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. To find out whether he prefers (clean) boxers or briefs, email him at [email protected] 


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