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Assignment: Das Handbuch

April 15, 2008
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I thought it would be practical to read the 300-page owner’s manual that came with my Audi. The first 50 pages explained the safety virtues of my car’s six airbags, as well as their hazardous propensities. Side airbags can be particularly injurious to children.  As I read, I was writing a screenplay in my mind, Six Airbags Over Bavaria. It was the story of a woman who took some neighborhood kids out to get ice cream, and they were all killed by her car’s airbags that deployed when a coyote loped out onto S. 19th Street in Tacoma. A good time was had by all, etc.

According to the manual, if the child falls asleep with his head slumped to the side–and I have never seen a child fall asleep in a car any other way–he could sustain a serious injury upon deployment of the side airbag. He must sit bolt upright, like a little orthogonal Teutonic mannequin.

Next, I attempted to master the basic climate controls, but the buttons are still hard to navigate in traffic. The information the car has, processes, and relays, is astonishing to a novice who has driven relatively low-tech cars. The Audi is a superbrain car, operating from a central or maybe several ancillary computers. My terror is that the car’s computer will have some minor transitory braindeath episode and lock me in. I am very claustrophobic. I contemplate keeping an ice axe under the seat, but I think I could climb into the hatch and get the jack in the spare tire well. . . .

Orientation will take some time before everything is familiar, but the car is absolutely awesome. Its engineering wherewithal, the effortless tight steering, the smoothness of the ride, my constant sense of “wow, they thought of everything,” work together to make me feel competent and secure. I’m driving with less tension than I have before, and that, combined with the seats that are like the best furniture sold in Relax The Back stores, have resulted in reduced back pain. My right leg normally goes numb after about 20 minutes of driving, or on a freeway where I’m neither in a stop-and-go setting nor able to engage cruise control. I’m almost ready to try a longer ride and see whether that, too, might subside.

In the meantime, short runs are a blast, and reading the manual all the way through is a priority. I study all the diagrams with their numbers linking to identifying names and functions. I tend to remember numbers better than names. Maybe if something comes up, I can explain to the service man that, “I think it’s coming from the 17.”


  1. Jane permalink
    April 17, 2008 8:00 am

    Ha! Very fun article…I chuckled throughout. Can relate, too….took me awhile to learn to get the windows down and up again in our “new” Camry—I’ve been rolling it with the handle all my life! Enjoy the new toy…..

  2. April 17, 2008 8:06 am

    Her name is Grunhilde. I have mastered windows, locks, and sun/moon roof. I have not yet depressed the panic button on the key remote. Our intelligences are bonded and yet distinct.

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