My Fair Lady Pt 2: Three Knobs And A Cloud Of Dust

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
my fair lady pt 2 three knobs and a cloud of dust


Whooosh. I couldn’t take it any more. “Why, why, WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT? STOP TOUCHING THE SCREEN!”

Having determined that the next step in Vodka McBigbra’s transformation from hairdresser to autojourno would involve learning how to review press loaners, I bribed her into making a four-hundred-mile round trip to Indianapolis in the 2011 Ford Explorer. The purpose of the journey would be to pick up a thirty-two-year-old Electra “X420 Custom Pro” jazz guitar, and during the next six or seven hours I planned to share my top-secret methods of press-car evaluation with her.

I knew this trip would be successful for a couple of reasons. The first reason was that I had just received the two-disc edition of John Mayall’s

“A Hard Road”, featuring some of Peter Green’s finest work. Not only is Vodka a blues fan from way back, I thought it might justify my recent purpose of a Gibson “Melvyn Franks” Peter Green ’59 Reissue and thus ease a little of the tension in the house about that particular transaction.

The second reason was the 2011 Explorer’s dual-zone front climate control. In the course of my thirty-nine years, I’ve learned that women are actually cold-blooded creatures, much like the Komodo Dragon, and they require that the temperature in homes and automobiles be kept at temperature and humidity levels closely resembling what one might find in the Brazilian rainforest. I, on the other hand, grew up in old East Coast homes and am most comfortable when the temperature is set to sixty-four degrees or so. When Vodka and I are in my Porsches, I keep the window down a bit on my side, but the Town Car effortlessly maintains a fifteen-degree temperature variance from the left seat to the right and we never have to touch the Casio-watch-style seven-segment LED HVAC display. I expected that the Explorer would be even more capable in that regard.

As we left the house, I noticed that the external thermometer was indicating seventeen degrees F. Vodka was wearing thongs. I don’t mean she was wearing a thong, although she does happen to be a sworn enemy of the syndrome known as “VPL — Visible Panty Line”; I mean she was wearing flip-flops. I was wearing Allen-Edmonds Fairgate captoes in shell cordovan (horsehide, in other words) over very thick American-made Gold Toes. The stage was set for perhaps the greatest confrontation since the Six-Day War.

I set the dual-zone climate control in myFordTouch for 65 degrees left, 75 right. She’d seen the capitance-touch controls in an Edge a few months ago and promptly poked her side up to 82 degrees. A horrible roar began under the dashboard, drowning out everything but the overmixed harmonica from the Mayall record, as the Explorer struggled to balance the conflicting demands from the Martian and Venusian sides of the cabin.

Immediately, Vodka reached out and started poking the fan button. “It’s way too loud. I’ll fix it.”

“You aren’t fixing it.”

“Yes, I am. See how quiet it is now?”

“Yes, but you aren’t going to get the heat you want.”

“Yes I will,” she said, poking the temperature on her side up to 85 degrees. The illogical nature of this action hammered away at my subconscious like a beating heart in a Poe story.

“YOU. AREN’T. FIXING. IT. The system can’t meet that demand. You’re ASKING for 85 degrees but turning the fan down to almost nothing. How can the system give you the heat?”

“On my Hyundai I turn the heat all the way up and the fan down. It works fine.”

“That’s…” Grrrrrr… “…a simple system. Manual. There are no parameters for the system to attain. This is an advanced climate control setup.”

“If it was really advanced, it would work as well as my Hyundai. That must be the most super-advanced system of all, because it does just what I want it to.”

“If. You. Left. The. Buttons. Alone. It. Would. Get. The. Temperature. Right. Eventually. And. Then. The. Fan. Would. Calm. Down.”

“It’s too loud now, though.”

“OF COURSE IT’S TOO LOUD! You’ve asked for a state change, and it has to apply the maximum delta possible to adjust the temprature as quickly as possible!”

“It should do it without being loud. Then it would be almost as good as the knob things on the Hyundai. Are the knob things an option on this car?”


“The option sucks.” And so we rolled along, until she started poking at the screen again.

“What, pray tell, are you doing now?” We were twenty-seven minutes into a seven-hour trip.

“My feet are cold. I’m making them hot.”

“But… but… the system can’t maintain the temperature differential with only floor heat. You are roasting my feet.” And, indeed, I was starting to feel like a victim of medieval torture.

“Why did you wear those big shoes?”


“No, it’s not. The screen clearly shows that it is seventeen degrees outside. Did you know that it shows that?” Time to give up. I rolled down the window. Except I couldn’t, because the window was frosted on the inside and frozen on the outside. All the heat had been going to the floor. I needed to unfreeze the window. I pressed the “Front Defrost” button. Immediately the dashboard roared and Vodka attacked the screen with two extended index fingers, poking, prodding.

Two and a half extraordinarily awkward hours later, we arrived at the home of my next guitar’s current owner. Vodka elected to stay in the Explorer because “I think he will be creepy, based on the fact that he lives alone in a downtown apartment and owns a lot of guitars like you do.” I completed the transaction and returned to find her sitting in the running Ford with the window down. “What are you doing???” I moaned.

“It was hot.” Aaaaarrrrrrgggggh.

As we pulled away, Vodka punched in for maximum heat and minimum fan. I entered our home address. The navigation system crashed and the screen went dark. It was silent across the wide expanse of the Explorer’s restrained black-and-silver interior. Vodka looked at me thoughtfully.

“I realized something about cars that maybe you don’t know.”

“What’s that?”

“They’re getting worse.”

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3 of 90 comments
  • Golden2husky Golden2husky on Jan 23, 2011

    I hate to ever jump to sexual stereotypes, but women seem to have issues with even manual car climate control. Consider the car ride to lunch with three copworkers in a Honda Accord. Four people in a car in winter makes for foggy windows. "I can't believe that Honda has such a lousy defrosting/heating system"...I look and see recirc on, def on, A/C off. Let me set it for you. So, recirc off, floor/def on, A/C on, " I don't want it cold!!" Relax. I move up the heater mixing valve "why use heat with A/C?" Uh, why not? Rear defroster on. A few minutes later, the windows are clear. "wow, that worked great". Next lunch ride, same thing all over Maybe automatic is better...

    • Scoutdude Scoutdude on Jan 23, 2011

      Or at least the manual systems with AC on American cars. Going back as far as the early 70's US automakers turned on the AC compressor when the system was put in Def mode. But the design of the system prevented the AC engagement in freezing temps. Unfortunately many didn't run the compressor in the Def/Floor mode until much later. In modern Ford manual systems the only position the compressor isn't active is floor only or face only, and of course off. Since recirculating the air in the cabin only really needed in AC mode they also set the system up so that the recirc door was only activated in MAX A/C mode. It was/is automatic with out being "Automatic". Granted with a undersized or partially plugged heater core being able to recirc the air in the cabin is nice in extreme cold temps. Climate control systems are where the Americans have always ruled. There was a reason so many European cars destined for America used Harrison A/C. I do agree though that it is amazing that people do just as in your example. Living in western Wa I see so many people that keep that recirc door closed and won't run the A/C. Of course if people would read their manual.....

  • Rocketrodeo Rocketrodeo on Jan 25, 2011

    With such helpful articles as this -- and such illuminating comments -- it's a total mystery to me as to why so few women frequent this site.

  • Random1 Pretty excited about this update, I didn't see it available in mine this morning, but any day now... I think only Apple maps will be on the center display, and not Waze yet, but I assume that'll come soon enough. As to the unnecessary Tesla comment above : I'll take the build quality, the looks, and generally normal items that all cars should have over the M3 any day of the week.
  • Jonathan H. The ES production is going back to Japan so it's safe to assume its assembly building will be utilized for the new EV. Seems like a good fit for what will probably be fairly low volume compared to the Camry/Rav4 assembly lines.
  • NotMyCircusNotMyMonkeys how many are shorting this 23 cent (really!) stock?
  • Bobbysirhan These prices will make more sense by the end of July.
  • Kcflyer It fits perfectly in the you will have nothing and be happy agenda. Eliminate affordable transportation for the middle class. The ultra rich will have stuff like this.