Keep it Simple, Stupid

Last weekend, during a trip north from Washington, D.C., my family and I pulled into one of the rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike. While wife and daughter #1 went inside, 18-month-old daughter #2 and I stretched our legs. An older gentleman approached me somewhat sheepishly and asked if I could help him. "I have this rental car," he explained, "and I cannot for the life of me figure out how to open the trunk!" I assumed he was just not particularly car-savvy, but I quickly learned that he was in no way to blame for this. I contorted myself into the car—little Alice hanging on like a koala—and was able to figure out in fairly short order (mainly because I happen to be an auto writer) that the Buick's trunk release was way down low on the door and was part of a two-mode rocker switch that also popped the gas door. The cryptic, practically microscopic icons were barely discernable to my eyes, and probably much harder to grasp for older drivers. There was no trunk-release button on the key fob, making it utterly impossible for him to get into his trunk from the outside and put luggage in. I was perplexed, but the nice man was delighted that I'd helped him. "One more thing—I'm so embarrassed—but I can't find the odometer, either," he pleaded, throwing his hands in the air. It's a useful device, given that this was a rental car and all, and I felt terrible for him. I found the thing on a multifunction display on the center console, nowhere near the speedometer and buried on some tiny, random LCD screen. Lord knows whether or not he was able to operate the radio or the climate-control system. My ever-optimistic hope is that technology makes people's lives easier, no matter how conversant they are with it, but clearly that wasn't the case here. Why would Buick—favored carmaker of grandpas everywhere—make a vehicle that would befuddle this fellow so thoroughly? —Eric Adams