America's Most Critical Journal (since 1999)
Post-Election Stress Syndrome: The Radical Cure
By Elaine Kendall
21 November 2016
Even if your town has public consolation spaces where you can be bear-hugged by like-minded total strangers, that really doesn’t help PESS, especially if the hosts include complimentary coffee. The coffee only keeps you awake longer. Here psychologists and life coaches are overbooked; not enough of them for all the new insomniacs. We have a few restaurants with empathetic owners and wait staff, but many of the staff members are fearful of being deported. You end up comforting them. Bars popular with students and faculty also offer advice, but despite the welcome, it may be wise to avoid the bars, at least until February. Of course, this is California, where we never had coal mines or steel mills, though we’re aware that working conditions in those industries are nothing like Silicon Valley campuses. We’ll try to understand the rustbelt plight, if you’ll make the same effort for us. We have the drought, earthquakes and wildfires, sometimes all at once, and there’s nobody on the ballot promising to change that.
The radical cure for PESS is buying, leasing, renting or borrowing a car completely strange to you. Ideally, it would be a totally electric car, but a hybrid will be fine. Virtually any car made within the last six years will distract you, even those with internal combustion engines. All the PESS cure requires is that the car will be totally different in make, size, model and electronics from the one you’ve been driving. Learning everything you need to do and know in order to drive safely will take your mind off the election results. And if you have a brand-new car of your own, try driving your great uncle’s Oldsmobile. Even merely test driving every 2017 model in your city will help. You may need to do the cure again on January 21st, but the cure works backward as well as forward. For a while.
So, if you own a car over 3 years old, chances are that you lack a rear-view camera. Car years are comparable to dog years, and they age 7 times faster than humans do. Now that nearly 50% of new cars have rear view cameras, technologically speaking, you’re driving a 21year-old car. Current rentals are legally bound to include the rear-view camera, according to the national law passed in 2014. That feature is a great asset, and you’ll wonder how you ever survived without it.
You need that rear-view mirror, not just for safety, but because it’s hard to see around the huge side mirrors in new cars. They’ve ballooned because many of the advanced electronics are in them. Long ago, in your pre-2014 car, you couldn’t just talk to people by speaking to the steering wheel. In order to be sure that drivers don’t use hand-held phones, your cell phone has migrated to a side mirror. There will be tiny icons embossed on the wheel to help you with this, but only if you color them with magic markers. Otherwise, when you turn the wheel, you won’t be talking to a loved one, but changing from FM to AM, honking the horn, or doing any number of things you didn’t expect.
The 2014+ car you rented, borrowed, bought or test-drove will have a warning system, which can do a lot more than remind you to fasten your seat belt. Most produce a soprano beeping sound when you approach anything nearby; your garage, the side of a ramp, the car in the next lane or the parked car behind you. Getting accustomed to hearing a crate of baby chickens in the back seat takes longer than learning to love the rear camera. Only a few luxury cars give you the option of having a mini-earthquake in the driver’s seat, if that’s your preference.
For most people, starting the car has always been a deeply ingrained ritual of inserting the key into its special place below the dashboard. They’ve been doing it ever since their learner’s permit. It will take time to stop poking the fob into nowhere to get over this habit. There was a definite feeling of security in having a spare car key in your wallet, just in case the usual one fell under the car. Pressing a button doesn’t give you that particular sense. Now all you have is the fob, which must be on your person at all times. The fobs are the size of a computer mouse but heavier. They make pockets bulge and sag. Even so, clothes without pockets should not be worn by drivers of keyless entry cars. If the fob falls under the car, you must have immediate access to a rag mop to sweep it up.
If the car you choose during the PESS cure is either electric or a hybrid, you’ll have a dubious advantage. Gas will cost much less, but because you’ll only need a service station seldom or never, your windshield will be full of dead bugs and dried up detergent from trying to get rid of them. The service stations you no longer visit had squeegees able to reach back and front, but you shouldn’t take up a space at gas pumps if you’re not filling the tank.
Another item that requires study is the turn signal. Up for a right turn and down for a left are still as you remember, but now that lever is multi-purpose. It’s not only a turn signal, but also controls the headlights, the windshield wipers and washer and other innovations. Not only that, but if you set the lights to automatic, the only way you can change to bright is by moving that lever one sixth of an inch forward. Driving at night on a dark country road makes judging a sixth of an inch chancy. This procedure varies from car to car, but it’s seldom simple. By the time you’ve absorbed all this new knowledge, you’ll have no trouble falling asleep.
Time spent cleaning the windshield of your curative car keeps you away from the news channels, and that’s another good thing. And if you actually borrowed that elderly Oldsmobile, think about all you’re missing. Infotainment! Sirius, with everything from sermons in a mysterious language to Lenny Bruce! Hip-Hop with curses! Heated seats and steering wheel when climate change has raised the summer temperature to 90 F.! A GPS device that you must leave the freeway to read! Colossal side mirrors that hold all of that hi-tech stuff! Beeping chickens! Dead bugs!
A journalist and playwright, Elaine’s books of American cultural history were published by Little, Brown, Putnam and Capra; her plays by Samuel French, Smith & Kraus and Art Age. Musical plays are An American Cantata; The Would-be Diva; Isadora! and COLE and WILL: Together Again! Non-musical dramas are The Chameleon; Two Margarets; The Trial of Mata Hari and The Nominee. The “I” Word; Gun Show Follies and Secrets of the Showroom are short comedies. She has written for many national magazines; The New York Times and the LA Times. Current articles appear monthly in the aptly-named online journal The Satirist.