Progress Or Not

When they first came out with electric windows I worried about what would happen if I drove off a bridge and into the ocean and I couldn’t open the window while I watched in panic as the car sank slowly into oblivion, ending my short but marginally important life.

I didn’t mind crank windows because they could be easily opened and there were no concerns over my fate if my car crashed a guard rail and into the ocean because I could just crawl out of the window and swim to safety with my life spared for another day of marginal importance.

And the crank windows worked with the worst thing being if the handle came off in which case it could be easily re-attached even by someone as ham handed and incompetent as myself and wouldn’t have to be taken to the car shop where it could cost a whole lot of money just to repair the computer which controlled the unnecessary electric window.

And before seat belts, I wouldn’t have worry about somehow undoing the seat belt so I could crawl out of the sinking car and my life would be saved. That’s because there were no seat belts. How do you think Teddy Kennedy avoided drowning while Mary Jo Kopechne was sinking to the bottom of Poucha Pond after Kennedy crashed his car off Chappaquiddick Island near Martha’s Vineyard on July 18, 1969, which was coincidentally two days before Apollo 11 blasted off and four days later, Neil Armstrong became the first human on the moon.

If Kennedy was wearing a seat belt, he may not have been able to unlock the belt and very likely would have suffered the same fate as Kopechne, who was then a 29-year-old secretary and a campaign worker for Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign and was a member of a group known as the “Boiler Room Girls.”

And there would have been no Teddy Kennedy to continue Camelot and be a liberal champion of universal health care, which is still a dream 11 years after the death of the last significant cog in the Kennedy dynasty.

Now, seat belts and air bags are in all cars and they do save your life if you crash into a garbage truck. More often than not, they get twisted and can’t be adjusted right and I have heard that people can get hurt really badly by an inflated air bag. Just saying.

I understand the logic that if you don’t use a seat belt that you’re endangering not only your life but also the lives of countless other innocent or not so innocent potential victims. I just think they went too far with that annoying ding-ding-ding-ding that won’t stop until you lock your seat belt. I think I can be trusted to attach the belt without the ding-ding-ding, thank you, even if I am sure that many supporters of Trump wouldn’t lock their seat belts were it not for the annoying ding-ding-ding.

Another piece of progress was the electric door locks which also didn’t do much for me because I didn’t really mind pushing down the little doodad to lock the door. And what happens if the electric lock doesn’t work and you have to leave the vehicle unlocked in your driveway over night of if you can’t unlock it and have to crawl through the passenger side and impale yourself on the transmission shift before calmly settling in and driving to work for a day that has started with such incredible stress and angst.

I do think the electric door locks have probably not cut down on car thefts.

In the old days, if you were a thief or not a thief and you locked your keys in the car, you manipulated a straightened-out, metal clothes hangar (which wouldn’t happen today because all the hangars are made of plastic or wood and don’t bend) and with great care and skill, slipped it through the space between the window and the rubber and hooked the top of the doodad, pulled and voila, the door was unlocked. Of course malevolent people with unlawful intent also could easily open the door but that’s why we have police.

Now the doodad doesn’t have a top and it’s recessed so coat hangers, even if you can find metal ones, won’t work but instead thieves Google car theft and find how to use a remote to open the door and drive away in the car that you can’t believe is actually gone in the morning.

Progress is relative and sometimes it’s not really progress at all but just a con job to jack up prices and make more money for the car companies or some other company that makes the unnecessary improvements that can cost a small or large fortune to repair when they inevitably falter.

One area that I do support involves the radio and music. It went from a few decent AM stations that played the same rock and roll songs to the advent of FM stations which literally offered dozens of choices, segregated for the first time to suit the listener’s tastes, from rock to country to soul (they called it soul music then) to pop (that would be the homogenized songs that wouldn’t annoy anyone) and even to classical and jazz, which only about five people in the whole state listened to. So I am glad there are many musical choices even if I have never figured out how to program the radio to select only my choices and instead have to forage through a jungle of bad music to find my preferences.

Then came the eight-track tape player which was not reliant on the radio and could be attached under the front window. My first eight-track was Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” and I loved driving along in my red, three-speed on the floor, 1965 Chevy Malibu with “I Threw It All Away” blasting until the eight-track player mangled the tape as it inevitably did to all eight-tracks and you tried to re-thread it but never could. But even a few plays of Dylan was cool with me.

I guess they next went to those mini-tapes and micro-tapes that at least weren’t eaten by the machine, followed by the next huge breakthrough of digital music and devices such as the famous Walkman which now seems like something out of the 13th century. Now I just fit on the earbuds and turn on Sirius and I can hear any music ever recorded, even if I don’t like most of the music ever recorded.

It’s a similar story for televisions, even the word seems so quaint, it’s like something out of a Buck Rogers show or how the movies would boast they were filmed in revolutionary “bold new Technicolor” or in “Cinemascope and Panavision” or with life-like “Sensurround.”

Back to TVs, first it was black and white and the only way to get a somewhat, clear picture was by fastening a ball of tin foil or is it aluminum foil to the antennae or rabbit ears as they were aptly called. It was a two-person job, one to manipulate the rabbit ears and another to say when the picture was sharp, which usually lasted a few minutes and the whole process had to be repeated, until it finally worked and the show was over. And then you had to finagle with the vertical tuning to stop it from going up and down repeatedly making it impossible to focus.

Color television was unveiled and the dominant color of the NBC peacock was usually purple or you could work the dial to get the colors better, which meant not as much purple but still nothing like real life. But it was a thrill to see the peacock unveil its feathers and hear the famous voice-over, “And now in living color.”

You know where this is going. The remote was introduced and quickly became weaponized by whoever was holding it or it fell behind cushions on the couch or the Barcalounger which was covered in faux brown leather and nobody could find it and you actually had to get off the couch or the Barcalounger to change the channels while your father was yelling at the top of his lungs, “Where is the god-damn remote?”

The television got bigger, so big they look like picture windows, as if you’re watching another world through your living room window. The images became incredibly sharp, even sharper than reality so that people face a growing danger of being unable to discern reality from a two-dimensional, digital image. And the number of stations have gone from the big three, NBC, CBS, ABC, and maybe also WOR, WNEW and WNET to hundreds of stations including many that are watched only by people living in a remote area of Wisconsin or are in languages that even the best linguist could not understand, let alone speak.

I’m done.


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Phil Garber

Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer