When I took my driver’s test, on my 16th birthday, I had to roll down the window and prove that I knew the hand signals for right and left turns. Back then, cars did not come with directional signals, meaning that on that February day I had no choice but to brave the cold temperature. When the weather got warmer that year, I had another reason to turn the window handle, which was to “air condition” the car, since there was no AC either.
You could get in and just drive away without having to buckle up, because there was nothing to buckle. Cars had radios, but AM only, with a telescoping antenna. I’m not sure whether they had outside mirrors, but if they did you had to adjust them by hand, another reason to open the window.
Today’s cars are different. On the low-tech side, they have cup-holders. I’m sure we drank while driving (I don’t mean that the way it sounds), but I have no idea where we used to put the cup. Another innovation is that there is a place to keep change for tolls. I don’t recall that there were any toll roads, but I do remember that every time you drove from West Claremont into Vermont, you had to pay either a dime or a quarter before you could use the bridge. Another low-tech improvement is that the visor now swings to the left so that driving north in the afternoon, you can deal with the sun. The visor also has a little slot where you can put your parking garage ticket, although you’d better check first to see if you need to pay before returning to your car.
On the high-tech side, cars have all sorts of devices and gimmicks, more than most of us need. My car doesn’t use a key; you just push a button. I’m not sure just what is the point of that particular improvement. One that I do like is that the headlights go on and off by themselves. The automatic “off” part avoids a lot of dead batteries.
Not all cars have that feature, however. The Pianist recently went to start her car on a cold Jaffrey morning and the battery was dead. With help from a neighbor, she brought the battery back to life, but no radio, no clock, no CD player. The readout screen said, “Insert Code,” but it didn’t provide the code or tell you where to find it. For that you need to see the dealer.
A few weeks ago I was driving my super-equipped, foreign-made car from the Village Improvement Society dinner in Troy to Boston, when a loud screech appeared out of nowhere. I slowed down below 40 mph and the noise went away; I accelerated to 40 and it returned, a blood-curdling sound. I knew something was terribly wrong, but the dashboard indicators offered no clues. So I pulled off the road and did a careful walk-around. I couldn’t find anything, so I considered my options. Turn back? Call AAA?
I decided to keep going, but at a reduced speed. Even then, the screech came and went, but at least I could hear my talking book (the latest David Baldacci thriller), and I was in no danger of getting stopped for speeding.
Early the next day I called the dealer. The service representative said to come in right away, which is what I did. I waited for about 20 minutes, wondering how serious it was and how much it would cost. The service person came to tell me they had located the problem and everything was fixed.
“What was wrong?” I asked.
“Your rear window was slightly open,” he replied.
What do you say when you’re caught doing something that stupid? It took me a minute, but then I knew. “How much do I owe you?” I asked.
Joseph D. Steinfield is a partner in the Boston law firm, Prince Lobel Tye LLP. He lives in Boston and Jaffrey. His collection of essays, “Claremont Boy: My New Hampshire Roots and the Gift of Memory,” was recently published by Bauhan Publishing. He can be reached at email@example.com.