Thanking my lucky (On)Stars

While driving to work, I noticed an unfamiliar warning light on my dashboard, so I pulled over, grabbed the car’s handbook, and looked it up. Low tire pressure. But which tire? I don’t have a pressure gauge and already was running a little behind schedule. With a car trip to Chicago planned for later in the week, and a husband already traveling for business, I’d have to tend to it myself. Rats!

After a moment’s unease (not panic, but admittedly some anxiety), I remembered that I have OnStar. I hit the non-emergency button; “James” came online almost immediately and asked what assistance I needed. I asked which tire was low. He ran a quick remote analysis and reported back to me that the right rear tire should be between 28 and 32 psi but was at 25 – a serious enough deflation to stop at the nearest gas station for air. Which I did.

OnStar has saved my hide many a time in the years since I first bought a car with it installed, and I have said before, and will say again, that I will never own a car without it. In the past, as some readers of older columns may recall, I was knocked unconscious when an airbag inflated during a car accident. I “came to” in a car filled with what I thought was fog (talcum powder for the airbag), and an angelic female voice saying calmly, “Mrs. Patrick, a police office should be approaching your car door now.”

My first thought was that I was dead and my husband would be miffed one day to discover that I was right – God really IS a woman! But then I wondered … if I was dead, why would She need to send a police officer to lead me out of the fog and into the light?

Like I say, I had taken a pretty hard rap to the head…. But the important thing was that my car was wrecked (totaled), the engine dead, but OnStar knew of the accident, called the police, and continued reassuring me through the “dead” car speakers.

OnStar has also located my car in the middle of nowhere after a breakdown (filter not tightened properly by an oil change technician). I had no idea where I was; I wasn’t senseless that time, but rather driving in another state seeking an abandoned cemetery. Garmin had rerouted me, via cornfield ruts it mistook for roads, for about 50 miles – into a state of oblivion. I didn’t even have cell phone reception when the engine blew and I lost brakes and steering. But OnStar still worked, even after the car did not, and eventually they located me via satellite; the technician called a tow truck, my husband in Madison, and made all the arrangements to have help sent from an hour’s distance away.

The tech also stayed with me on the line to be certain I was safe – it was over 100 degrees outside and I was stranded in an area with no shade and no functioning car windows or fan. He insisted I “stay in the vehicle” and not signal my distress to another driver before a state trooper might arrive. He then stayed on the phone with me to monitor the situation as I sat with my car doors open, fighting off black flies, waiting for a potential robber or murderer to stop in a cornfield and take advantage of my misfortune.

I’ve called OnStar when I accidently locked my keys in the trunk in Chicago (it remotely unlocked the trunk), after I hit a deer on a dark country road outside, ironically, Deerfield (it called the appropriate sheriff’s office and sent a tow truck), and I’ve asked for directions from OnStar after getting lost somewhere in the maze by Blackhawk Country Club after attending a fundraiser.

OnStar emails me a monthly computer analysis of the car advising of things like the remaining oil life (64%) and tire pressure, etc., so I know I’ve lost 5 pounds of pressure in one week’s time, making me suspicious of a leak that should be tended. Good to know. OnStar was my first electronic friend, but since then I’ve embraced Garmin and Siri, too, and can’t imagine my life without them.

While some people are still bitching about having to wear a seat belt (grow up), I am one of those folks who would happily set aside “personal liberty” to have a GPS/body chemistry monitoring chip put in my head that would alert a doctor if I were sick, warn family if I wandered off, and notify the FBI if I was kidnapped (forget it – there’s NO possibility of ransom and I’d make a horrible hostage who you’d eventually pay someone to take off your hands).

However, on second thought, I don’t want the speed at which my body travels through space reported to a state patrol vehicle (I HATE the new camera systems in Chicago, don’t you?), or my lunch whereabouts reported to Weight Watchers, or how much I spent at Hobby Lobby revealed to my husband. So I’d need to be able to set some controls.

All things considered, I don’t know where Mankind is headed most days, let alone my own direction, but with the assistance of technology, I have no doubt people are eventually going to live to be 200. It won’t just be due to medical breakthroughs and replaceable limbs and lungs. Lives will also be extended because of things like technology-aided monitoring and preventive maintenance. It will be because of USA-made cars that can sense and avoid collisions, and that won’t let drunk people drive. It will be because of innovations I can’t yet imagine … but hope to subscribe to in the near future.

In the meantime, who’s my daddy? OnStar.