I bought a new Chevy Corsica in 1994. It had four doors, plush seats, six cylinder engine, and automatic locking doors. Although it was not a large car, it was a bit more substantial than I was used to at the time. After my years of driving a 1978 Fiat and a 1984 Dodge Colt, the Corsica seemed to take on limo proportions. I purchased it in Warsaw, right off the Chevy dealer’s lot. That meant that the sticker was on the car when I made the purchase, and I managed to take possession of that along with the car.
The purchase price seemed pretty substantial at the time, but in terms of today’s car prices it was a pittance.
The Corsica was a solid car. It had plenty of power, especially for someone used to driving little four-bangers around for so long. I was amazed at the acceleration the car was capable of, and I exercised this capability often. I felt safe and in control behind the wheel of my trusty Chevy Corsica.
Then one day the Corsica outsmarted me.
On an overcast, chilly morning, I stopped on the shoulder of Huguenard Road, halfway between Cook Road and Ludwig Road. I was checking some telecommunications structures and I needed to examine a cable splice pedestal. I spent a minute or so inside the car, looking at paperwork to make sure I was in the right location. Satisfied that I was, I opened the car door and got out, then walked around the front of the car and into the grassy area behind the shoulder of the road. I opened the cable pedestal and performed my audit, then closed the pedestal and returned to the car.
I reached for the door handle and pulled. The door would not open. It was locked, even though it was only partially latched. I knew from previous experience that pushing the door shut completely would not serve my purpose because the door would just remain locked. But previous experience was not quite like this one.
The locked door wouldn’t have been a problem if I had had a key on my person. I did not. The key was in the ignition, having been left there by me. Not only was the key in the ignition, the engine was running.
And now, as I stand outside the car and wonder how I’m going to get in, I notice that the gear shift on the floor between the two front seats is set on “D.” How, I am thinking, can I have done such a stupid thing? And how in the world can a car with an automatic transmission be stationary while the engine is running and the shift lever is set to “D”?
As this thought passes through my mind, my Corsica begins to move.
It is moving forward. It is finally doing what it should have done the instant I lifted my foot from the brake pedal while I was still behind the steering wheel. If it had only done that, I wouldn’t be standing here, locked outside, and watching my car start to roll – under power – down the road.
I am panicking. I grab the handle again and try again to open the door. It’s still locked. I try to use the handle to stop the car, but I can’t get a good grip and my hand slips off. I am walking now alongside the car as it makes its way down the side of the road. I look down the road in both directions to see if any vehicles are approaching us. I say “us” because it’s obvious this Corsica has a mind of its own. No, fortunately, I see no vehicles in the road ahead. I hope beyond hope that the car will not veer into the road across the path of another car, driven by an unsuspecting driver. I try to envision where this catastrophe will end up, but can’t even imagine what sort of conclusion lies ahead.
The seconds are passing agonizingly slowly, as if I’m walking along the smooth and lethal edge of a black hole where time has nearly stopped and my future lies somewhere within the darkness below . . .
For some reason that I can’t figure out, the car is not deviating from a straight path. It’s staying on its course – straight ahead and within the road shoulder. I am still walking. I will walk as long as I have to, to see this unfortunate string of events to the end. We are approaching a house up ahead. A car is parked in the driveway.
Instead of walking faster, I’m walking slower. We are very close now to the driveway. Getting closer, closer, closer. The car is moving slower, slower . . .
Within a few feet of the driveway, my Corsica stops. I stop.
I look around. Still, no cars are on the road. The engine of the Corsica is still running. The gear shift is still on “D.” The door is still locked. I stand next to it, alone and helpless. I examine the front tires of the car and see that the right tire is lodged against the edge of a steel corrugated culvert that spans the driveway. I feel relieved and amazed at once, knowing that the culvert’s presence might have saved me from some serious difficulties and innocent passersby from serious injury.
Let me interject here, within the live action, that I was not carrying a cell phone. This was in the time when not everyone carried a cell phone, and those who did, did not always have them on their persons. The only way I could make contact with someone beyond shouting distance was through the use of a landline phone.
A car goes past. Then another. I stand next to the Corsica, wondering what to do next. I look up at the house ahead. I need to call someone but I’m not sure who. I start walking toward the house, apprehensive about leaving the car alone but knowing that I can’t do much if it decides to break loose again. I walk perhaps a hundred feet to the front door of the house. I knock. I wait. I knock again. I wait. I knock again and wait again, then I give up and return to the Corsica. A police car passes. I wave at its driver, trying to flag down some help. The policeman inside the car waves back and drives past. How could he not think I need help?
A few more minutes go by and I gradually give up on hailing a car down. I start walking south, full of worry that my unattended Corsica with the automatic door lock and the engaged transmission and the running engine might just decide to extricate itself and meander about the roadway.
I, myself, meander about the neighborhood, knocking on doors, trying to find someone that will allow me to use their telephone to summon help. Finally, after numerous unsuccessful knocks, a kind gentleman allows me inside. I find a locksmith in his phone book, call, and give directions to the Corsica. I thank the kind gentleman and leave, walking briskly and hoping my car is still behaving itself.
The story eventually ends, of course. I returned to the car. The engine was still running, the doors were still locked, and the transmission was still in “D.” I had no idea how long I might have to wait for the locksmith. I leaned against the car, acting nonchalant and hoping no one would stop to help now because it wouldn’t have done any good and it would have been much too ironic. While waiting, the rain started. It didn’t rain hard, but just enough to soak me to my underwear and make my wait seem so much longer.
The locksmith arrived, performed his magic on the door of the Corsica, and ended one of the most trying segments of my life.
I regained control of the rogue Corsica with four doors, plush seats, six cylinder engine, and automatic locking doors.
That was the first and only time that the Corsica outsmarted me.
You have to understand how someone – or something – thinks in order to keep from being outsmarted. That day, I learned how the Corsica thought.