Sunday, April 14, 2024

PHALON’S FILES—Not Fine With the Print

Read the fine print. For most of my career, I have covered legal issues, whether they be blockbuster Supreme Court rulings or decisions made by the local sewer board. I’ve translated so much fine print that I am sometimes asked if I practiced law before I became a journalist. And I’ve had to say, “Well, no. I’ve never practiced law because, frankly, I’ve never spent a day in law school.” 

But you don’t need a law degree to know that the whole point of fine print is to evade facts that you’d prefer remain unearthed.

So, why, why, why, is the absolute smallest print I encountered all day, the maximum air pressure on an automobile tire? Yes, I know there are greater problems in the world. I started the car last week, and the dashboard said, “low tire pressure.” My car is equipped to tell me specifically which door is ajar, but apparently I didn’t spend enough money and only qualified for the hint-and-innuendo plan for tire pressure. 

The tires looked fine, but on a sub-zero morning, I thought, why take a chance? After getting gas, I pulled over to the air pump. It cost five quarters to use the pump, though I had made sure to quarter-up before gassing-up, so I was good.

But for that kind of money, I was not going to let the pump start ticking away my three minutes until I was ready. That meant finding the recommended air pressure. I’ve been through this before, but this was a relatively new car, and I didn’t know the pressure off the top of my head, like say the pizza delivery number, so I had to look for it. 

I knew it would be the smallest type on the tire, but the tire was obscured more than normal with white road salt and other chemicals that probably should not make contact with my person. Finally, I found it. But it was still impossible to read. So I did what any sensible person would do and took a photo of the region with the information and then enlarged it on my phone screen.

But that knowledge does you no good if you don’t know how much air you’re pumping into the tires.

You would think for $1.25 there would be a pressure gauge on the air pump, but nope. There was a cheerful note taped to the pump that said, “air gauges available inside, $5.” But I know the fine print, and I already had one. That gauge had indicated all four tires were up to the recommended poundage, though one was a little lower, so I filled that with my numbing fingers. I got back in the car, and was still confronted with the vague “low tire pressure” message projecting in my face like a super-wolf-harvest moon. 

Resetting it didn’t work, and I got a response from what seemed to be from HAL 9000: “I’m sorry, Joe, but I can’t do that.” Perhaps Skynet has taken over while keeping people busy cursing at frozen tires. And after a few miles, the low pressure message went away.

Looks like I’ll have to wait until the weather warms a little, and I’ve already forgotten the recommended pressure. The days of winding the pump to 40 pounds and filling the tire until the bell stops ringing are now a simplistic memory. And your car didn’t give you sass back.

P.S. The same principle applies to hair care. Two nearly identical bottles in the shower caddy, one shampoo, the other conditioner. I have no problem identifying that they are both made by Organic Flowing Essences or some such brand. But the smallest fine print on the label indicates the actual contents: shampoo or conditioner. Good luck with that. 

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.