It was almost 10 p.m. I was driving along on North Main Street in East Hampton with my wife, looking for a place to park near the IGA when I saw a row of three empty parking spaces right in front of it. There was a white Toyota at the front. This was too easy. I put on my blinker, moved to the right and slid up the row of empty spaces to come to a halt behind the Toyota.
We got out of our car, did some shopping, and then carried the groceries back to the car and got in.
Judging the space I had left between myself and the Toyota, I saw I would need to back up a little bit before I could pull out. But looking in the rearview mirror, I now saw that a big black limousine had pulled in behind me pretty tight. I did see, though, that there was room to back up a little.
I have a Chevy Tahoe with a fishing pole on the roof and a few stickers on the back. But it also has a modern feature that some new cars have—a backup video screen. When you put the car into reverse, you can look down at the dashboard and see exactly how much room you have between yourself and the car behind you. There are cameras on the bumper and sides that do this for you. It looked to me like I had about four feet. I could back up three and a half, if I watched the screen closely.
I’ve gotten pretty good at this. You just have to watch the bumpers as the gap between them closes. I tapped the gas and the distance got down to three feet. I tapped the gas again and it got down to two feet. I looked up out of the front windshield. I would just need one more foot for luck.
My Tahoe has a transmission that seems to work differently than that my wife’s car. You can be rolling backwards in reverse and put the car into drive and it will continue in reverse, slowing, then come to a halt and begin smoothly to go forward. With my wife’s car, and I’ve tried this with her in it (which was a bad idea), you get a clank of the gears if you are still moving in reverse telling you not to do that. So I’ve had to remember when in her car to come to a complete halt before going forward.
And so, in the Tahoe, I shifted into drive and waited while the Tahoe continued in reverse a few more inches. At this point, I noticed activity from the limousine on my video screen. I had not thought the limousine had anybody in it. There are all these frosted windows. But after I shifted into forward gear, the driver’s door of the limousine opened and this huge man in a wife beater shirt jumped out and began to monitor the situation. As soon as those bumpers touched, he was going to beat the crap out of me.
I was terrified. I now looked back and forth on the video screen between him and the bumpers. Meanwhile, he looked back and forth between the real bumpers and me, specifically, between the bumpers and the back of my head. The gap slowly closed. On the screen it was now about nine inches. And then the forward gear began to take hold and the backward movement stopped. The cars never touched. Instead, I was moving forward and out of the parking space and off.
In my rear view mirror now, I could see him go from angry to baffled. I hadn’t hit him, yet I had never once looked back as I was backing up. How had I done that?
“What was that all about?” my wife asked as we headed down the road.
“Magic,” I said. And in my rear view mirror, he was still standing there, getting smaller and smaller.
This was my most recent adventure with the back up video. There have been others, two specifically, that have been disasters.
I had never backed up into somebody before I got this car. But within a day after getting this car with this feature, I backed up disastrously into the front of a car behind me with a big bang.
The thing was, I could clearly see myself backing up into this car. It was right there on this wonderful TV. The grille of this car got bigger and bigger and then BANG.
“You have to learn how to use it properly,” Joe at the dealership said when I told him what had happened.
“Can the feature be turned off?” I asked.
“Just learn how to use it,” he said.
The next day I backed into somebody else.
Again I talked to Joe.
“What’s going on while you’re backing up?” he asked.
“Well, it’s GREAT. You can see everything back there.”
We talked some more. We came to the conclusion that I was so excited with this wonderful feature I had concluded that if it could show you backing up toward things, and then beep if you got closer and closer, it must also be able to automatically stop the car when it got too close.
“They have cars now that can back and forth you into parking spaces automatically. You don’t have to do a thing,” I told him.
“Well you don’t have that,” Joe said.
Silly me. But now I did begin to look at the back up TV in a different and more practical way. It had its job to do. But I had a job to do too, which was, uh, stop the car.
After that I had no further problems. And in a while after that, I got really good at it, which is why I was able to work my magic on the guy waiting to beat the crap out of me last