Once again a car alarm is blaring in the middle of the day on Main Street. No crime is being deterred. No property protected. Just a bunch of folks trying to get lunch or talk on their cell phones being annoyed by an option that seemed like a good idea on the drawing board but which fails the reality test of human nature. One more car not saved by an alarm. One more pin in our eardrums for no particular reason. Good ideas that don’t work out, that’s what I’m talking about here.
And blinkers, who uses them any more? Why would you want to let another driver know what you were planning to do? We have evolved past such common technology. We have air bags that are ready to deploy and camera/parking modules that will parallel park for us. GPS units that will read a map better than humans can. We have moved on past the human nature reality test. Why warn you about what’s next when you have what’s next? Nobody seems to want to drive anyway. They’re too busy texting or blathering on a germy phone. And the kids are in the back seat watching a movie for the interminable 11 minute commute to the other side of town. Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio? Some place with no cell service, deep undercover in Amish country, or into a fundamentalist desert cult way out in Arizona.
I miss the old, old cars. Like the ’59 Chrsyler Imperial with huge fins and a big wheel bubble trunk that could hold up to 5 mafia hit victims at once. My dad drove one for a few years when gasoline cost about a quarter a gallon. It had push button automatic transmission. Cool. However, one Sunday morning while he putted alongside me and my brother delivering fat Washington Posts to still sleeping customers, he managed to punch the wrong button and hit park while in motion. His coffee lurched forward out of his cup. The stacked newspapers in the back seat slammed forward, and the entire huge spaceship rocked in place after the tires finished a brief chirp on gravel. That was something unimaginable with today’s smart cars and all their snappy technology that overrides human stupidity. Where’s the fun in all that control? Modern stupidity does not compare.
Control is a response to fear. So we must be full of fear these days. Maybe it was just my neighborhood, but there were a lot of fearless goofballs driving back in the day, like Timmy “the druggie” O’Brian who drove a car into the neighbor’s house one night. Life only got worse for him and the neighbor, whose wife liked teenage boys too much.
I remember a sweet summer night hanging in front of my house on Dorset Drive. There were six of us, my neighbor Richard in a foot cast, and Duane Beatty, me, and three others. Around 11 p.m. we decided it would be a grand idea to go to Ocean City, Maryland, a three and a half hour drive almost due East on Route 50. In five minutes we gathered up what we thought we needed and took off in Duane’s father’s enormous Pontiac something or other. Six teenaged guys in comfort. Off we rode into the night, no seat belts or common sense. As the car cruised across the Eastern Shore of Maryland we jumped a railroad track. The huge thump woke all of us, including Duane who’d fallen asleep. We couldn’t sleep on the beach so we wandered the predawn boardwalk. Richard peeled his cast off in the surf. Not a good idea, but what were you expecting?
There was Bobby Doering’s dad’s Porsche 911T. Bobby would borrow it from his dad while he worked. We’d cruise in style with the Rolling Stones on the stereo… Under My Thumb blasting out of the convertible. We felt rich and reckless. Bobby had a 396 Chevy Chevelle that he put in a ditch, everything except the payment book, that is. What a lot of wreckage! There was Richard’s powder blue 1967 Beetle that we lifted into parking spaces too small to drive into. And his brother Michael’s hippy Rambler wagon, an unlikely pot delivery truck.
How many times did I skip school and drive around in some car all day? Each one was an adventure, maybe none so dramatic as in 8th grade with no licensed driver and Steve Goll pretending to know how to drive. How on earth did that work? We ran into a ditch and a work crew from the local prison pulled us out. No cops. No problem.
Glen Barrett had a red Nova with a hot engine. He fondled every part of that car in worship. He used to like to park on hills and pop the clutch to start it up. One day he did this trick with his door open and caught the fire hydrant which he hadn’t seen. The engine turned over. The door ripped backwards and mocked him. “Fondle me? I don’t think so.” Teenage boys and cars. Never a good mix.
Thinking back to the cars I drove in and the wasted male teenage drivers near the wheels, I’m amazed that I lived to recall it at all. Dune buggies, Jeeps with no doors, hot rods, and hippie vans… all a faint memory of bullets dodged. We could have used some car alarms back then.