The Gate        JON CARROLL -- The Techno Twins Take a Trip
Tuesday, December 31, 1996
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle

BECAUSE THE TOYOTA had developed an odd case of speedometer cable shudder, and because new speedometer cables would not be available west of the Rockies until 1997, we decided to rent a fine Pontiac Bonneville for our trip down to Santa Barbara.

I have not been in a Bonneville since . . . who knows? Who even knew Pontiac was still a car? But damn it was big and the dashboard looked like a photograph of the Ginza at night, and except for the tiny problem of not being able to see the transmission display because it was blocked by the air-bag bulge -- ``Honey, just peer over here and tell me whether I'm in reverse'' -- it was big fun.

We drove back home after the gift-giving ritual, and we decided to while away the hours reading the instructional pamphlet that came with the cellular phone that I had given my wife for Xmas.

(I have in the past made hearty sport of people who own cellular phones, and I'd like to advise the children out there never to take a job in which your opinions are printed in large quantities, stored almost forever in popular databases, and can rise like gibbering ghosts intoning, ``Dear Sir: In August of 1991, you stood for A. Now you are a B, and a drone at that. Faithfully, etc. . . .'')

The thing about a cellular phone is that it has so many features that it's often hard to tell whether ``making a telephone call'' is among them.

I learned that my cellular phone can accidentally detonate blasting caps, may create sparks that will ignite gas fumes, can cause pacemakers or hearing aids to behave inappropriately, and should not be used in grain storage areas.

Also: ``Variables such as temperature, battery age, and charging conditions may affect battery voltage. To help remember which key to use, note that G for `gas gauge' appears on the (4) key.''

SO I AM DRIVING my fine Pontiac and hearing this and saying, ``Is our cellular phone powered by gas, then?''

``No, it's just a mnemonic device. It says 6 . . .''

``I thought it said G.''

``Well, it looks like a 6, but OK, it's a G. Anyway, it means that you should analogize the phone to a car, and the battery to the fuel of a car, and thus in order to find out how much fuel you have you press 4, which means 6, I mean G.''

At this moment, and I swear I am not making this up, a light on the dashboard suddenly appeared. It said: ``CHECK GAGES.''

Much later, I found out that a gage is ``something, as a glove, thrown down by a medieval knight in token of challenge to combat.'' That's what I was supposed to check, perhaps in the medieval glove compartment. At that point, however, I thought the Pontiac people had misspelled the word ``gauge'' in every Bonneville in America.

I pointed the sign out to my wife. ``I think they really mean CHECK SIXES,'' she said. ``How's your six life?''

And then things got ribald indeed, and before we knew it we had blown up a grain elevator.

IN OTHER NEWS: That annual New Year's Eve extravaganza known as the Xmas Quiz Corrections Gala is under way already. I was wrong wrong wrong to forget George Wallace, who won electoral votes a full 20 years after Strom Thurmond while running on essentially the same platform.

Also, a peek at reveals that there are really 26 time zones, not 24, because of bewildering hanky-panky around the international date line, and thus the excruciatingly correct answer to that question is 49. Thanks to F.G. Charlton III and Ozro W. Childs.

I would like to Blame Others, but all things printed in this column, including needless calumny directed at owners of cellular telephones, are my responsibility. Further corrections as they happen. Please try to eat sensibly tonight.

The quiz is still available at

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