The Art Collection on My Car Dashboard

5 years ago

Don’t get me wrong: I love pictures. I am, after all, married to a Norwegian Artist.

How does the Norwegian Artist do it? Each painting is even more beautiful than the one before. Shore Leave by Steve Henderson



But as much as I never tire of paintings on the wall, I acknowledge a surfeit of images on the dashboard of my car – a series of green, yellow, and red icons that flash at me while I’m driving and are supposed to be telling me something.

Color’s important, I know that. Whatever the green icons are that shine at me from the time I turn the key, they’re good, including the one that looks like an eyeball. (My mirrors are on, maybe?) One, in green, says “Cruise Control” – this has something to do with the cruise control, being on, or working, but happy, somehow.

I also know what the orange disc is, even though I’ve never seen it from the driver’s seat, because when I’m behind the wheel, the gas tank is never so low that I need to be warned that I have less than a gallon left. This one I’ve seen only peripherally, from the passenger side, far more times than I could wish.

Last week a yellow lyre stared back at me. As I am unconvinced that Honda car manufacturers concern themselves with celestial harps to the point that they installed one in my car, I don’t look for a broken string.

Orange is a gorgeous color, except when it shows up as a symbol on my car dashboard. Bay Sunset by Steve Henderson



But something – that looks disturbingly like an ancient Babylonian religious symbol -- isn’t working – and darned if I know what it is.

“What’s the yellow light?” the Norwegian Artist asked when he started the car. “Not the gas light – that’s orange.” (He should know.) “Isn’t there a chart of these symbols in the car manual?”

There is indeed, buried somewhere within the 350-page tome, not listed in the index under “dashboard symbols” or “warning lights.” We find it, four pages worth, after the third shuffle through.

“There it is,” the Norwegian’s eye is sharp and clear. “Tire pressure’s low.”

Well of course, two curvy parentheses with a dot in the middle clearly points to a tire, a low one at that. Maybe these symbols are Babylonian in origin after all.

One time, a red symbol flashed at me – and in the same way that I knew that running through a flashing red intersection light is not a good thing, I knew that running a car with a flashing red light in front of my face was just as bad. But what did it mean?

It looked like a red soup can with a bat wing coming out the side – was this the oil pan then, the wing representing that something was broken and oil, like red blood, was gushing out? Or possibly that the radiator – smooth and cylindrical – was blowing up?


Red is such a striking color, both in nature and on the dashboard of our car, that we notice it instantly. Descent into Bryce by Steve Henderson



I opened the door, to get the Norwegian, then thought of the manual in the glove compartment, and slammed the door. The light went off.

I opened the door again and the light went on.

Closed it and the light went off.

“Everything okay out here?” the Norwegian Artist peered through the studio door.

“Just fine,” I replied. “One of the red warning lights was on, but I fixed the problem.”

Carolyn Henderson,


Middle Aged Plague

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