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When it comes to cars, I prefer
one that's plain and simple

I recently had occasion to visit with two cousins I hadn’t seen in awhile. We grew up together in Solvay, New York, and shared countless experiences. Coming from the same era, we also share several opinions about the state of the world.

It was most interesting when our conversation turned toward automobiles. Obviously, as oldtimers, we’re not delighted with change. Many recent automotive gadgets do not impress us, especially those which required us to re-learn what previously had been obvious — such as how to start the car. Or the SUV. Or the minivan. The crossover. The truck. Whatever.

In any event, I prefer to use a key, not my index finger.

One of my cousins beat me to the punch when he said, “All I want is a car that will get me from here to there.” Amen.

He doesn’t even care if his car is equipped with a radio. And come to think of it, I haven’t listened to my car radio since Ronald Reagan was president. That Howard Stern has — or ever had — a radio show is reason enough to boycott the medium.

OH, I APRRECIATE having a CD player, though any further entertainment feature seems unnecessary. Our car has Bluetooth, but I’m not even sure what that is, except it seems to be everywhere . . . just like Facebook, Twitter and the Kardashians. My wife says someday we’ll hook up or activate or actually use our Bluetooth, but she has been saying that for two years. I’m certainly not encouraging her. Seems every time we buy into some new technology we’re told within 24 hours that it is obsolete.

A visit from our daughter, Meridith, prompted my wife to ride in the back seat when we went out to eat or shop. That’s when she discovered she didn’t know how to unlock the car doors. Seems I had unknowingly activated a childproofing (or abduction) device. She solved the problem without much trouble, but still it was annoying that she had to dig out the operator’s manual because our latest is the size of an unabridged dictionary.

That gets me to one thing that hasn’t improved much over the years — the glove compartment. Lots of people call it the “glove box,” which makes no sense. Even “glove compartment” is outdated, since no one uses it for gloves anymore. It’s actually a junk drawer on wheels. We fill it with maps, Kleenex and loose change — but have less room for these than we used to because of the aforementioned operator’s manual, around which everything else is squeezed.

Luckily we now have a storage compartment on the island between the driver and the passenger. It’s here we put things we can’t fit in the glove compartment, especially things we want handy, like those CDs we occasionally play. (My wife and I have drastically different tastes in music. I play mine only when I drive alone; she does likewise. I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times we’ve been together in the car and listened to a CD.)

SOME PEOPLE make a big fuss over the number of cup holders their cars provide. My wife and I generally need only two, and this is a feature we appreciate. However, I recently heard about a vehicle that provides no less than 17 cup holders somewhere in the interior. The story was probably apocryphal, but I choose to believe it . . . because it reminds me of that craze from 50 years ago when teenagers and college students jammed their way into an automobile — usually a Volkswagen — in attempts to set the world’s record for the number of people it could hold. The ultimate clown car, as it were. And 17 people would require 17 cup holders.

We drive a Honda SUV — I usually say SVU, which means I still watch too much television — and I am generally pleased with it, though it sometimes hesitates when I attempt to accelerate from a dead stop or while making turns. At the service department I was told this is a consequence of fuel injection. For as much as I know about cars, they could have told me there’s a small man under the hood who sometimes takes a short break from all the running he has to do to keep my vehicle moving.

We have one of those cameras that is activated when the car is in reverse. After two years I remain uncertain whether this is helpful or distracting. So far I have not run over any lizards, toads or snakes that sometimes use my driveway, nor have I smashed into any dog-walker who allows his pet to take care of business on our sidewalk or in our bushes.

DESPITE this advance — if indeed it is an advance — there are still blindspots for the driver. For example, when I turn to my right and look back through the rear seat window on the passenger side, it’s difficult to tell whether anyone or anything is approaching.

My cousins said the same thing about their cars, which is why, whenever possible, we use the pull-through technique in parking lots. Thus we don’t have to back out of our parking spot when we leave. Unfortunately, I live in an area where many parking lots are designed to eliminate pull-through opportunities. Most have angled parking, which, I guess, is supposed to be safer than backing straight out, but I’m not sure this actually is true.

I don’t have a GPS system, nor do I want one. A few years ago I discovered one wasn’t needed, not if a cellphone is handy. We were driving from Rochester to Rhode Island, but left the New York Thruway for a lunch date with my cousin, Charlie Major, in Skaneateles.

I love Skaneateles, but it is not conveniently located. After exiting the Thruway I drove through Auburn, where a premature left turn landed me off course. However, daughter Meridith — using a Google map, I think — noticed street signs at an intersection and soon provided the directions that put me on the road to Skaneateles.

MY RESISTANCE can be traced back to the original GPS system — known as MOM. My mother couldn’t drive; she flunked the only driver’s test she ever took, regarding this as a sign from God that she wasn’t meant to have a license.

But you don’t need a license to give directions. And when I drove her to the supermarket or on another errand, she’d complain I was going the wrong way. When I said I knew where I was going, she’d answer, “Well, your father never goes this way.”

Incidentally, my mother’s downfall on her driver’s test was parallel parking. Sound familiar? I’m not sure how she’d feel about all the other automotive innovations that have come along in the past 30 years, but she would have loved any car that parallel parked itself.

MY FEELING about the increasing number of electronic gadgets is this increases the number of things that will go wrong. To me, the scariest development is the one that allows cars to stop themselves.

This was created to prevent collisions with obstacles in your path, especially other vehicles. But I foresee a time the vehicle will stop for other reasons — such as misbehaving drivers and passengers.

Texting while driving? The car of the future may come to a dead stop until you’ve got both hands on the wheel — where they belong. (Imagine your car abruptly stopping on an interstate highway when a super-sized truck is bearing down on you.)

Some automobiles have had talking features. I recall hearing this voice alarm from a parked car: “I’m being tampered with! I’m being tampered with!”

The manufacturers of that automobile must have discontinued the alarm because I haven’t heard it in several years. Which isn’t to say there someday won’t be a car that refuses to operate because “Your children are watching something entirely inappropriate! Your children are watching something entirely inappropriate!”

While I might not be in the market for a car that stops itself, I wouldn’t mind having a device that enabled me to stop other cars, especially at intersections. That would really put the pleasure back into driving — until, of course, another driver did it to me.

 
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