I had a few days in Los Angeles recently, and there was a lot of driving around to do. It was at the end of a trip to Mexico and I traveled with my friend, Martin, from Australia. Martin, an engineer, loves LA, especially when he can drive around, which was great for me, as I had no desire to tackle LA traffic. Funnily enough, I’m the American, and I learned how to drive many years ago on LA freeways.
We rented a car. It was a bit of a drama, as Martin wanted a GPS (who could blame him) and by the time the rental of the GPS was added in, the salesman convinced us that it was almost as cheap to take a special deal on a BMW that came already equipped with one. A few hundred additional dollars later, we had the keys to the luxury car we actually didn’t want or need. The nice man behind the counter, our extra money secured, pointed us towards the car and gave us a key thingy.
On the quarter mile hike to parking space H35, we chatted about the lovely weather and so on, and on, and on. If we’d worn new suits and had briefcases, we surely would have been taken to the car, or even had it brought to us. In our tee shirts, we were on our own.
We found the car after a fashion. While fiddling with the key thingy, we noticed a uniformed attendant inventorying the vehicles with a hand-held device. He was right there, a few feet from us, as we went from fiddling to struggling with the trunk, or boot, depending on your English. The attendant very aggressively didn’t see us. We decided we probably needed to get into the car to access the boot. Ten more minutes with the little clicky key thingy and we breeched the machine.
Let’s get back to the fact that Martin is an engineer. This sort of sets my frame of mind. Not that he was a guy – I tend not to be lazy or dependent in general, and usually push past everyone else to solve a problem. But he not only is an engineer, he is a biomedical engineer who knows equipment and computers as well as anyone I know.
Martin drives a 13 year old un-smart car. Coincidentally, I’ve been living for 13 years in Asia, the last two in Bangladesh, where my mode of transport was a bicycle rickshaw. We were on almost equally ignorant ground when it came to this overly computerized piece of technology called a BMW car.
Okay, we’re in. Martin in the driver’s seat, on the left, of course. The simple task now was to get the car started. Yeah. On the inside right of the steering wheel was a little key icon. No keyhole, or even little button. Just an icon that did nothing. Asa! I found the starter button on the dash above it. Martin pushed it and something happened. Now we had to set the expensive GPS to the address of our hotel. There it was, the big glass screen in the middle of the dashboard, ready to talk us to wherever we wished to go. Martin was the GPS genius. I’ve just mastered sending text messages on my dumb phone.
Anyway, it took about 10 minutes to get a screen, but it took much longer to figure out there was a joy stick. I have never used a joy stick, let alone one that interfaced with a screen in the middle of the dash board. We sorted it.
Okay! The address was entered, the car started, now we just had to get it out of park. There were two button on the gear shift as well as one on the center panel that said “Park”. There must be some combination of the buttons and the shift stick that would take us to drive. Another 10 minutes. Nothing. Check the brake. Check. Check for a parking brake. Check. No.
“Wait”, Martin says. “I don’t think the engine is running.” He pushed to button again, everything was on, but it was a damned silent engine. Now we looked for the manual. Yes, it had been at least 30 minutes in the car, giggling at our own idiocy. There was no manual. The attendant had long since fled the scene. After a fashion, I suggested maybe pushing the button longer and harder. Yeah, “Push. Longer, harder.” It worked. we could hear the ever so gentle hum of the engine.
We still hadn’t figured out the correct combination of buttons for the gears, but trial and error got us to drive. We drove like a couple of drunken Australian Clampetts. Martin cleaved towards the right and wavered over the lane lines. The Australian cops are death on speeding, so he drove at the speed limit. In LA. Turning left and right were real challenges to this driver used to driving on the other side of the street. At every intersection the car stalled out. Martin pushed to start button hard and long as the light changed. It turns out the car is designed to cut out and would restart itself with a touch of the gas.
On our last day in LA, we drove our BMW out Mulholland Drive, through Beverly Hills and down into the San Fernando Valley, through Hollywood Hills, and back down the Hollywood Blvd.