A Yankee Notebook: Reckoning with the pace of change

Willem Lange. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Willem Lange. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.


For the Valley News

Published: 02-14-2024 2:27 PM

Change, we have been told, is the only constant. In recent years, we’ve come to believe, change is accelerating at a dizzy pace. And how many times have we heard the phrase “the good old days”?

The good old days, I always muse, before antibiotics and novocaine and car heaters and the Civil Rights Act. Nah, I don’t think so. Back in the good old days, during which I crept from puberty into adulthood, my elderly Plymouth had a self-starter, a major improvement over the hand crank that preceded it. But winter nights in those days routinely dipped down to 20 or 30 below, and the Plymouth boasted only a 6-volt battery. In the glove compartment, I kept a wrench of the right size to detach the battery connections and carried the battery inside on very cold evenings to enjoy the warmth of the house. Sometimes in the morning before leaving for work, a pan of hot coals or the Coleman stove under the crankcase loosened it up enough to turn over when I stepped on the starter. By spring, the legs of my jeans were rotted from contact with battery acid. It’s hard to miss those good old days.

When I consider, however, the changes my ancestors went through, it’s hard not to feel lucky. They were urbanites, most of them, so they were less dependent on the family horse. They walked or took the trolley car. They traveled by steam train and steamboat (as we did as kids) and saw the first noisy, stuttering automobiles. My father was born the year Wilbur Wright flew around Manhattan Island and lived to see (on television, which came along while I was starting high school) the footage of the first humans walking on the moon.

I often sort of pontificate that in the face of constant and apparently accelerating change, our reaction to it determines the quality of our lives; further, I rather smugly claim to embrace, rather than resist, it. A negative comment that begins with “Kids these days …” will never pass my lips.

Then last week, as Kiki and I cooled our heels in the waiting room of my local Toyota dealer while Hagar, my hybrid RAV ride, was in for state inspection, I carelessly hailed a passing salesman and asked about a trade-in. I wanted a few bells and whistles on a new one that Hagar didn’t have. Also, red paint. I figure that if you’re going out, you ought to do it with a bit of flash.

Within minutes I had an offer that I couldn’t refuse, and four days later, when he arrived from (I presume) a different dealership, I drove home in Erik the Red.

It took a couple of days to load him with all the little things that I need on the road — ball-point pen, power cord for my phone, handicapped placard, a new bed that my daughter Martha got to help Kiki stay in the back seat, tow strap. Just after lunch on Friday I added an overnight bag, Kiki’s food and a bottle of wine, and off we went toward the coast of Massachusetts.

I managed to get the GPS working all right, though Siri kept alternating from a loud, forceful voice to a whisper to an intimate suggestion in my hearing aids. Then I realized I couldn’t find the odometer, that the speedometer was analog instead of the digital I preferred and the music player claimed to be offline.

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It was important, in the midst of the confusion, to focus on the positive: that Erik was running like a top, that the heater and windshield wipers worked and the “dynamic cruise control” was right where it had been in Hagar. I’d crack “Owner’s Manual,” a huge volume, when I got back home. Meanwhile, I’d just keep pushing buttons to see what happened. I’ll tell you: Cars these days …