I slid into the cockpit of my car yesterday, just like I do every morning when I go out for an hour of self-imposed torture at the local pool, but on this particular day — I don’t know, maybe it was the wind howling through the trees that made me more aware than normal — on this particular day, I saw my instrument panel, and my car in general, through brand new eyes, as if for the first time, and thought, “Wow!”
Now if you are some young whippersnapper of 45 or 50, you probably don’t know what I mean. But if you are of my generation, or older — yes, there are still a few people around older than me — just think about the modern car of today and you’ll say, “Wow!” too.
When I was little cars were way different than they are today. Now my daddy used to tell me stories about hand-cranking Model T Fords. I don’t go back that far, but I do remember when just about every car was a straight shift on the steering column. Changing gears might sound like fun, but I learned to drive on a straight shift and trust me, it’s not all it is cracked up to be.
The good thing about those cars was being able to park on a hill if your battery was weak and start the car by rolling down the hill and “popping the clutch.” If some young kid, around 35, has happened upon this column I am certain they are shaking their heads with bewilderment over such terms as “popping the clutch,” but it used to be a thing. Trust me.
Cars also had “boots” and not trunks. You could put a trunk in the boot, however, but not a real big one because the full-sized spare tire took up a lot of the space in the boot. My mama always kept a jug or two of water in our car, too, because you never knew when you might break down on the side of the road.
The cars didn’t have accelerators, either. They had “foot feeds.” My daddy used to fuss at my sister, Myron, when she was learning to drive her old Volkswagen bug because she wanted to keep her left foot on the brake while she pressed down on the “foot feed” with her right foot. Come to think of it, though, my daddy used to fuss about a lot of things. I guess I get it honest.
The dimmer switch was on the floor and you had to have some coordinated feet to handle the brake and foot feed and clutch and dim the lights, all at the same time. Your hands were used for steering and changing gears and, sometimes, flipping the turn signal up or down. Some cars weren’t equipped with turn signals, however, and you would have to roll down the window and stick your arm straight out to signal a left-hand turn or out and up to signal a right-hand turn.
I ain’t making this up, y’all. And when I say you had to roll down the window, I mean you had to turn a hand crank on the inside door panel. Unless it was summer. If it was summer your window was already down because the car was not air-conditioned. It did, however, come equipped with a vent that could be adjusted to blow hot air onto the driver or the person in the passengers seat. The vent could also be dangerous for kids in the back seat because when your parent threw a cigarette out the window the air from the vent could direct it right into the lap of said kid.
See what I mean? Things were different. In wintertime the windows would fog over something terrible and more than once I have been admonished to “quit breathing” because I was steaming up the glass. Most cars came with AM radios, but not all. Ours was always set to WSB — period — end of story. Cars had clocks, too, but I never knew of one to work very long.
Those were the days, my friend.
Now I drive a car that you can crank from in the house and open just by touching the handle, locked or not, as long as you have the key in your pocket. The clock works — as does the thermometer, compass and computer that tells me how much air is in each tire. My car also tells me how many miles I have been on my last tank of gas, what the mileage is and, most importantly, how many miles I go before I run out of gas.
There are defrosters for the outside mirrors, and if I take a notion I can press a button and make the whole roof slide back into itself, and I have no idea on Earth where it goes. In other words, we have come a long way in automotive technology since the days of boots and foot feeds and dimmer switches on the floorboard.
Now if someone would just do something about the price of gasoline so I could afford to drive my magnificent contraption somewhere, I would be all set.