Archive for Sunday, August 12, 2001

There’s a word for it: mechanophobia

August 12, 2001


With apologies to Yogi Berra, it was deja vu all over again. I stopped at a self-service station to fuel my car and encountered yet another type of interactive computerized gasoline pump. Doesn't anyone set standards for these things?

At my eye level the machine had two tiny lighted windows, one read "credit," the other "cash" (which I intended to use). But I couldn't find a button to push for either option. After minutes of searching for the elusive buttons while telling myself, "This can't be that hard!" I sought help from a biker sporting a colorful bandana-clad head at an adjacent pump. Not only was he nice (he didn't snicker), but the bandana was covering a brilliant brain because he immediately pointed to two small buttons WAY above my head that read "inside" and "outside."

To pay cash, you press "inside." Presumably, if you plan to pay with a credit card you must press "outside" because you can't pay with it inside. Or maybe not.

When I went inside to pay, I joked with the clerk that he owed the motorcycle guy a commission because, without his assistance, using the pump was clearly beyond my capability. "Fortunately," I said as I paid my $20.27 charge with a $20 bill, a quarter, a nickel and two pennies, "I can count out 27 cents."

"Uh-huh," the clerk said, handing me back the nickel, "but you gave me 32."

I once had a brother-in-law whom my dad claimed machines hated. Well, darnit, they seem to hate me, too. By "machines," I mean any mechanical device large or small that can't verbally explain to me why it's not working.

Several years ago, husband Ray bought a small Chevy Blazer. The first day we owned it, I climbed behind the wheel to drive to a night meeting. I shut the door and realized in the pitch-black interior that I didn't know how to turn on the lights. No problem, all I had to do was go back in the house and ask Ray where the light switch was located except I also couldn't find the door handle. Happily, I could locate the horn in the dark and it didn't take Ray long to come to my aid once I started honking it.

My friend Rosemarie encountered a similar situation several years ago on her first night drive in her brand-new Continental. She found the switch to turn on the headlights, but couldn't find the button that dimmed them. "Oncoming cars were honking and flashing their brights at me," she says. "Finally a highway patrolman stopped me and said, 'You're blinding the other drivers!'"

When Rosemarie tearfully explained that she had almost pushed her foot through the floorboard trying to locate the dimming button, the patrolman told her it was probably a lever on the steering wheel. Well sure it was, but how was she supposed to know that?

I have an ongoing problem with my mother's electric can opener. I bought it for her and it wasn't cheap. I figured if I paid a sack of money for a can opener, it would open cans. Silly me!

"You have to tilt the can a little bit," Mom instructed. Yeah, right. If I tilt it at just the right angle, squint my left eye and hold my tongue in the correct position, the opener will open a can about four times out of 10.

One day when I was questioning the can opener about its parentage, Mom informed me that Joyce, her physical therapist, had absolutely no problem opening cans with it. No problem, that is, until the three of us met for lunch at Mom's and I handed Joyce a can of peaches to open. Ah-hah! Seems the can opener doesn't like Joyce any better than it likes me. Too bad I can't say the same for Mom.

One machine I can usually operate without trouble is our drive-through ATM, a machine that will, if you push the right buttons, let you have some of your own money. Problems do occur, however, when the letters become worn off the buttons that say "OK" and "CANCEL." If you can't remember which is which (and I can't), you have a 50-50 chance of canceling your transaction at least once before successfully withdrawing your cash.

A solution to that problem would be for me to learn Braille. Have you noticed that drive-through ATMs offer instructions in Braille? Why is that?

I'd ask the ATM but it's not talking.

Marsha Henry Goff is a free-lance writer in Lawrence.

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