A light bulb icon appeared on the dashboard of my Jetta alerting me to a burned out bulb somewhere unspecified. A house guest and I were about to drive across the Jamestown and Newport bridges and along various highways monitored by state and local police for some ecotourism and socializing with other friends. Servicing the car was not part of the plan.
After two more days of traipsing around the state with a burned out light bulb, I took the car to the dealer. An hour later as I settled the bill ($4.51 for a left brake light bulb and a few dollars more for labor to install it), I said to the agreeable, young, white man in the service department — a person who knows me as a regular customer just as I know him as the young man in the service department, as a “person in my neighborhood” according to Mr. Rogers, “Good thing I am not a black man. Instead of settling this transaction with you, I might be dead.”
My comment did not fit the circumstances. The young man chuckled hesitantly. No doubt he was thinking, “What did she say?” But he quickly processed what I meant, switched from any light-hearted tone to seriousness and said, “You’re right.”
Suppose I had still been driving my previous car — a 1993 Nissan named Minima. She was an excellent car but not as communicative as the Jetta. When a turn signal went out, the blinking noise the signal made changed from slow to fast. Aha, you’d say, turn signal is out. But I recall no other warnings of burned out bulbs. It could have taken me a very long time to realize a bulb was not working.
If I were a dark-skinned male driving an uncommunicative car would I have to do an inspection of all the lights every time I drove the car in order to stay alive?
I rattled the VW service department man. But we both will likely survive routine burned out car bulbs. In that moment, we both knew it.