Saturday, June 30, 2012

Creature Comforts and How Things Used to Be

No, this is not another of those sentimental "remember when" trips down memory lane, nor is it meant to be a depressing wish to return to those "simpler times" that so many folks subscribe to when they post and re-post those dreary lists of antiquities that they miss.

Instead, as I drove along on the interstates and state highways that would lead me to Milwaukee, I reflected on the automotive changes I've experienced in my driving lifetime.  Part of this was precipitated by the fact that 1) my birthday fell on this particular travel day; and 2) I celebrated 50 years of licensed driving on the same day.

The creature comforts of my current vehicle - a nicely trimmed-out Mazda CX9 Grand Touring edition - really emphasized to me how far automotive technology has come.

The simple things - like fuel injection, independent suspension, radial tires - are pretty obvious.  But then there are those things that aren't so obvious to the younger drivers.  Of course, fuel injection eliminated the need for a manual choke knob on the dash, something that most folks under the age of 40 or so will not be familiar with.  Do I miss it?  A resounding "no" to that.

In my driving "career" I have seen so many changes and improvements that have become standard equipment today and hard to imagine cars without them.  While there are many other innovations in today's cars, many of these are "luxury" or novelty features and accessories, not yet in the mainstream.  Of course, today's "innovations" will become tomorrow's standard equipment.  After all, right side rearview mirror?  Innovative way back when.  Turn signals?  Wow!  Space-age technology at the time!

Here's my list:
  • Addition of a side rearview mirror on the right side of the car.  What, you say?  There wasn't always a sideview mirror in the right side of cars??
  • Addition of turn signals. No more rolling the window down and using an arm to indicate a turn.
  • Corollary to the turn signal invention:  The implementation of self-cancelling turn signals.
  • Power steering.  I didnt' own a car with power steering until well into the 1980's.
  • Air conditioning as standard equipment.  Once a luxury accessory in higher priced cars, now every car comes standard with A/C.
  • Change from the dimmer switch on the floor to the left of the brake pedal, to being on a steering wheel stalk.  I can say that, having lived and driven in the snowy Northeast, this was a major improvement!  There were times when snow and ice encrusted that button, making it impossible to activate.
  • Going from no seat belts to lap belts to motorized shoulder belts to the current three-point belt system.  Yes, I embrace wearing seatbelts, unlike my mother, who refused to wear them for a variety of reasons ("they cut into my neck" or "they wrinkle my dress" or "they press on my bladder")
  • Intermittent windshield wipers.  Yes!  And now rain-sensing wipers. 
  • The reverse in polarity of getting a manual shift as standard equipment and paying extra for automatic, to getting an automatic shift as standard equipment and paying extra for manual transmission.  (!!)
  • The evolution of the in-car sound entertainment system from AM push button, to aux FM unit that we bolted to the dashboard, to built-in AM/FM radio, to 8-track players, to tape players to CD players to aux MP3 players to satellite radios.
  • From a search for a payphone at a gas station to installed cellular phones hard-wired inside the car, to bag phones with built-in battery packs, to hand-held cellphones and the demise of the payphone booth.
  • From two-way adjustable seats (forward/backward and seat-back) to powered infinitely adjustable seats with settings memory for up to three drivers.
I'm sure my readers will think of others.  But these came to my mind as I was driving along, in the luxurious comfort of my air-conditioned cabin, listening to satellite radio with no commercials, my phone connected via bluetooth to the car's phone center.

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