There was a time when finding one’s way along unfamiliar byways meant pulling a colorful, carefully accordion-folded, paper object from the glove box and waiting patiently (or not) while one’s companion did his or her best to locate one’s whereabouts — and then plotting a route (hopefully) putting one back on course. No dismissive, derisive ‘recalculating’. No accurate-to-the-nearest nanosecond estimates of driving times to the closest MacDonald’s. No choices amongst the ‘fastest, shortest, most scenic’ options. Just a map, the most challenging aspect of which was re-folding.
There was a time too when a telephone was, well, a telephone. Generally found on the kitchen counter or in the front foyer — decadently duplicated in the master bedroom on occasion. Connected by wires of limited length to a household wall. And from which no number of clearly articulated commands would elicit a single change in its complacent, implacable status. No camera(s), no endless repository of information, no music — unless one was placed ‘on hold’, no ‘Siri’.
And there was a time when I was smarter than the windshield of my car — or so I’d always assumed. If I wanted to improve the reception on the in-dash radio, I would raise the aerial from its stylish wee cavity atop the right front fender. If I wanted to continue receiving clear signals, I would remember to re-seat this tempting target for vandals in the less salubrious areas of cities I would sometimes frequent, on leaving the car. If I wanted to improve nighttime road illumination, I would depress the button on the floor board of my car; and, when blinded by a less thoughtful driver’s headlights, I would ‘flick him the brights’. If it was raining, I would turn a knob on the dashboard and (usually) the wipers would spring to life. If snow had welded my blades to the windshield, I would chip away until — once again — the blades (or what remained) would etch their way across the glass.
And so I watched, more curious than alarmed, as the pea-sized bit of grit arced its way from the box of the truck ahead of me and made contact with my windshield. Nothing dramatic — just a click and a pinhead of a memory on the glass surface. Hard lessons of late teenage years, however, had taught that one does not neglect the trivial — for it will surely fester and foment. The paper cut that becomes gangrenous, the dripping tap that becomes a deluge, the dying ember that morphs into a conflagration — the stone chip that consumes the windshield with its mosaic of cracks and crazes. Immediate action, no matter how minor the insult, is demanded.
Foresightfully we had bought the ‘platinum package’ for the the sport ute now barely eight months old, assuring us that those little unexpecteds would be addressed, without charge, in the half dozen years to come — windshield ‘work’ included. I placed the call.
“Is it larger than a dime?”, the query from the dealer’s scheduler. I assured her it was not.
“Age?” Mine, I mused — but guessed she was referencing the window injury.
“Any travel over rough terrain?” I was beginning to get a certain ‘drift’ in the line of inquiry — beyond simple diagnosis; and asked as much.
“If we can fill it, it’s free; replacement’s on you.” So platinum is not quite what it used to be. “And you don’t want to replace those babies unless you absolutely have to!” On the surface (as it were), a statement of the obvious. But one that begged a bit of explanation.
“Anything, beyond the cost, an issue here?” One could almost see the ‘Duh’ face paired with her answer.
“Electronics, recalibration. Not just glass anymore — it’s a ‘see through’ computer”. Ouch.
Another ‘used to be’. Used to be that 50 bucks and a helpful trip to Speedy Auto Glass was all it took. All those wonderful little perks that my car now does for me, quietly, efficiently, reliably are courtesy, in large part, to a very, very smart windshield. It toggles between low and high beams at precisely the right moment. It detects a drop (well actually five drops) of rain and turns on the wipers — at just the right sweep frequency. It gently warms these self same wipers. It pulls in AM, FM, satellite and Lord knows how many other sources of signal transmission (SETI arrays have nothing on my windshield) — with no risk of snapped off aerials. And all undone by a stupid stone.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t miss the crumpled maps, the hours spent wandering around the backroads of Virginia in vain search for access to the Interstate, the nervous sweat dampening the armpits, hoping that a filling station would be over the next rise as the gas gauge nudged ‘E”, or leaving ‘days’ early to dodge a feared traffic jam on an airport run. How could I pine for the era of waiting for our neighbor to end the gossip session on our party line (I am that old!), of fruitless dial twiddling to find a station that wasn’t four parts static, of ‘staying in touch’ without being tethered to a ‘landline’, of having to walk who knows how far to the next garage — when Esso failed to win the race to ‘E”.
Smart is good. No, great! But sadly, as it was ever the bully who thumped the geek, the talentless crooner whose three chord rant triumphs over Bach, the smarter than smart windshield that falls victim to a decidedly dumb, agendaless rock. Stupid, it seems will trump smart.