A Never Before Done Thing: Day Four

Day Four of the never before done challenge proves far more frustrating than the catwalk of Day Three (get it?), at least for me, since I can’t speak for my cat.

Take a look at that dashboard below.

That photo represents only part of the dashboard of the rental car which is mine for the week. There are all sorts of other electronic buttons all over the place in this car, but let’s focus on this particular screen shot. Pressing any one of those little icons at the bottom of the screen will cause a whole new screen to appear, each one full of indecipherable little icons.

Nice rental guy at the airport rental counter: We don’t have any full-size cars left, but we do have a Lincoln Continental for you!

Me (staring at him in fear): Wait, isn’t that like a really fancy car?

NRG (happy smile fading): It’s a luxury car, yes.

Me: Oh no. I don’t like fancy cars.

NRG: You don’t?

Me: Nope.

NRG: Hmm. Most people do. Well, I’m afraid it’s either the Lincoln or a Hyundai Accent.

At that point I picture the elder companions who are about to share this rental car with me for the coming week, during which we will be on a westward road trip. Here they are:

I ask myself this: Would these elder companions ride in a Hyundai Accent for a week without complaint?

Yes. They would.

Then I ask myself this: Would these elder companions like to ride in a luxury car for once in their lives?

Yes. They would.

NRG: Well, what do you think? Hyundai or Lincoln?

Me: Lincoln it is.

And so it happens that for the first time in my life, unless you count my first car, which was a Toyota that my friends and I eventually drilled the ignition out of so that it could be started with the butter knife that I kept on the floor of the driver’s seat, I find myself sitting in a car that I can’t start.

What is the point of a car key that doesn’t go into anything? I’m sure there are many, many cars in the world that now start with buttons, just like this cherry-red Lincoln Continental, but it’s a first for me.

It takes me a solid twenty minutes of sitting in the Lincoln, first jabbing the start button with the car “key,” then waving the “key” in front of the start button as if it has psychic powers that might cause the engine to ignite, then having an Aha moment in which I put the key aside entirely and press the start button with my finger, which lights up all the dashboard buttons and turns on the music and air conditioning but not the engine.

At this point I consider exiting the car and telling NRG that I’ll take the Hyundai after all. Then, in an unplanned and magical synchronicity of events, I happen to step on the brake at the same time as I’m pressing on the start button, and the engine comes to life.

Surely this is a sign from God that the elder companions and I were meant all along to rent this particular car. I pull out into the EXIT AIRPORT lane.

My youthful companion, who has a brand-new license and a lifelong love and appreciation of beautiful cars, something that she did not get from me, has been patiently waiting all this time in our own tiny, simple car, the one that she accompanied me to the airport in.

She follows me home and comes over to the Lincoln. I’m sitting in the driver’s seat, trying to figure out how to turn off the engine.

She stands there, shaking her head sadly.

YC: You’re driving an amazing car. And you don’t even know it, do you?

Me: Nope. I don’t.

What I know is that it took me twenty minutes to figure out how to turn the thing on, which I suppose is pretty amazing right there.

The things you never knew

You and the most youthful of your youthful companions are on a road trip, one that will eventually cover 3615 miles in a couple of weeks. Basic arithmetic will tell you that means a lot of hours in a car, covering a lot of road. A lot of nights at drive-up motels. A lot of meals at roadside diners. A lot of time in which to discuss a lot of things.

Your youthful companion has been with you for all but the first seven months of her life. You think you know her about as well as someone can know another person. Certainly she is not a mystery to you.

Or is she?

These are a few of the things that you can learn, over the course of 3615 miles in two weeks, about someone you thought you knew well:

She hates the word “curdled.”

Due to splaying of limbs, you do not want to attempt to share a bed, even a kingsize bed the size of a toddler’s football field, with her.

She is capable of consuming a frightening amount of sugar in a frighteningly short time, prompting feelings of tremendous guilt and anxiety in her older companion, who harbors the knowledge that her youthful companion’s older brother literally did not know the word “candy” until he was 2.5 years old.

Having seen Food Inc., she will scan all menus in an attempt to determine the provenance of their meat entrees.

Her knowledge of world geography far exceeds yours. Show her a blank map of Africa, and she will name each nation, and she will be right.

Not only does she wear a Hanes V-neck t-shirt each and every day, but she will describe said t-shirt as her “signature look,” a phrase you would not have guessed she knew.

Nothing, not even the promise of enough money within a few weeks to purchase the one-speed retro bike she covets, can convince her that babysitting is a worthwhile job.

“But what if it was just one perfectly behaved child?”


“What if it was just one perfectly behaved child who was already asleep?”


“What if it was just one perfectly behaved child who was already asleep and the house had satellite t.v. and tons of treats and they were paying you like ten dollars an hour?”


You will learn that she is stalwart and unflinching in her convictions.

You will learn that not only does she naturally possess what you have long called her “Death Stare,” but she has worked over the years to refine it, especially when walking the halls of her high school. You will learn that it is not just her who possesses the Death Stare, but her older brother and sister as well.

“When they were in high school they were known for it too. I’m just carrying on the family tradition.”

You will learn that she is a tougher customer than you originally thought, and you originally thought that she was, in fact, tough.

A pitcher is having a bad day, for example. A very bad day, so bad that you feel sorry for him and venture a sad remark on his behalf. The youthful companion’s response?

“He should get off his butt and throw strikes.”

Her hardass-ness is a bit unnerving, in fact. Does she take this hardline approach with, say, you? Does she look at your life and the way you lead it and think something along the lines of, “She should get off her butt and throw strikes”?

In light of the youthful companion’s uncompromising standards, you naturally begin to examine your own behavior. How is your driving, for example? Maybe you shouldn’t be going quite this fast. How is your language? Maybe you should try to rein in your cursing. How is your demeanor? Maybe you are not being pleasant and helpful to the best of your abilities.

You look over to your right at the youthful companion. She is wearing the enormous green sunglasses you bought her at Wall Drug. Behind them, the Death Stare, if it is present, is invisible. She looks calm.

Then again, she usually looks calm.What might she be thinking, right at this very moment? Might she be reviewing your behavior in her mind, calculating your many deficiencies? You imagine being back in high school, slinking down the side of a crowded hall, trying not to attract attention. Down the hall toward you comes a calm-faced girl with dark brown eyes. You pray she does not look in your direction, as she is the girl of the famous Death Stare.

This scene is a little too easy to imagine. You sneak another look over at her. In truth, she’s a little bit scary. You wouldn’t want to mess with her. Thank God she’s with you, and not agin you.

Or is she? Horror movie music starts to hum in your mind.

Another 1000 or so miles to go.