By Gus Bouchard
Everything you need to know about the United States of America can be gleaned from the “check engine” light in my car.
Have a look. It’s a picture of an engine outlined in yellow, and it’s been on since early July.
You see, the automobile has evolved into a brilliantly engineered, yet impenetrably complex machine, equipped with electronic sensors and little computers that manage your traction, modify your braking, and sense if you’re about to break wind so that it can release a concealing fragrance into the cabin between you and your passenger.
Even the most rudimentary, low-end cars manufactured these days can probably tell when your spouse is having an affair long before you even suspect anything.
And yet (notice the double conjunctions to emphasize just how dumbfounding the following insight will be), when something is wrong under the hood, the best your car can do is to turn on a little yellow light, which says, in essence, “something is wrong under the hood.”
By “something,” it means anything from “less-than-ideal amount of windshield washer fluid remaining” to “entire engine now resembles the middle layer of your compost bin.”
How hard would it be to install a simple color-coded alert system to let the driver know the severity of the problem? Not very. Yellow means you need an oil change or some other regular maintenance. Orange means some kind of semi-essential fluid is leaking, but you can probably make it another week or so before getting it fixed. Red means you need to bail out of the car immediately like a stunt man.
You get the idea.
But that would defeat the purpose of a “check engine” light, which is for you to drag your sorry, pathetic, loser ass over to the dealership so they can hook up their special machine to determine what the problem is and charge you hundreds of dollars just for using up their valuable time.
Thus, the check engine light illustrates what the U.S.A. is all about. Everything exists for no other reason than to suck money out of your pocket. Every citizen needs to be duped out of a few hundred dollars a year to keep the economy going.
So I treat the check engine light as I would treat a three-year-old’s petulant whine. I ignore it. I’m not some vehicular hypochondriac. When the car has a real problem it knows how to get my attention.
Speaking of real problems: what is it with restaurants that don’t want to tell you when they close?
I wanted to take my wife to dinner at a nice place, so I looked up the hours on their website. “Open 4 p.m. to close,” it said.
That’s a semi-polite way of saying, “we’ll lock the doors whenever we feel like it”
So I called them up and asked if it would be okay to come at 9:30.
What about 10:00?
“That’s probably too late.”
Gee, there, Wolfgang Puck, then why don’t you just tell people you close at ten and make it easy on everyone, hm, jackass?
I asked for a reservation.
“How many people will be in your party?”
“Oh, somewhere between two and . . . enough.”
Turns out we never made it to the restaurant because my car exploded. It would have been nice if there had been some warning about that.