Looking Back
May 27, 2015

Cars and Conveniences

The conveniences and safety factors in today’s cars were not in effect when I was growing up back in the 1950s.

A friend and I were reminiscing about car trips when we were kids. There were no seat belts and the cars I rode in did not have air conditioning. When you wanted air flow you rolled down the windows. There were no electronic buttons for doing that. Each window had to be rolled up and down from its exact location in the car. Kids found entertainment by rolling the windows up and down while the parents had only verbal control from the front seat.

I wish I could still roll up my car windows by turning a handle when I am outdoors and a sudden storm hits. Instead I have to run inside and get my car key so I can turn on the ignition. That is what I get for being “stuck in the 50s” and not having a car remote which would save me from going back out in the rain. I asked a car salesman if I could get manual roll-up windows. He told me they are considered a “custom feature” and are expensive. Guess my quick trips into the house won’t be over any time soon!

I remember my parents were thrilled when directional lights (a.k.a. “blinkers”) were added to cars. What a treat! Gone were the days of sticking your left arm out the window. Straight out meant a left turn and raising your forearm upward meant a right turn. On a cold winter day nobody wanted to open the window!

Like most people “back in the day” we had a standard shift car. When I took driving lessons they were given on a car with automatic transmission. Although the instructor made sure I could drive the family car, I hated it. I remember driving all over town to avoid stoplights on steep hills. When I started working in the 60s, I bought my own car and you can be assured it was an automatic.

Nobody pumped their own gas in the 50s. The station attendant not only pumped gas, he also cleaned your windshield and checked your tires…all for free! Now those are conveniences I miss.

You looked forward to having your windshield cleaned at a gas station after traveling on a muddy or salt-covered road. Cars did not have a button that conveniently squirted a solution onto your windshield.

When it came to entertaining young people on a road trip parents couldn’t rely on a DVD player in the car or smartphones and tablets with a plethora of apps. In my day we counted out-of-state license plates or tried to find one from a particular state. The object was for kids to be kept busy doing something other than asking, “Are we there yet?”

I was apparently a “chatter box” on a car trip because my parents would say, “Let’s play a game and see who can keep quiet the longest.” They could have stayed quiet forever but I always lost that game in less than a minute!

I remember that there was no radio in our car. This was considered an “extra” and my parents thought that having one would be a distraction. Eventually, radios were a standard feature on all cars and they enjoyed it. There was no FM station on our first radio and no “search” feature to find a station. Of course, car CD players and Sirius radio were unheard of. I wonder what my parents, who thought a radio would be a distraction, would think about talking on the phone as you drive? Even when you talk “hands-free” I am sure they would consider it a distraction.

And how did you get from Point A to Point B when you were going on a trip and needed directions? You went to a gas station and got a folded paper map. My mother used to hold it in her lap and watch for places to turn. She was the voice of “Siri” in our car back in the 1950s (and for many decades after, too.)

I wonder how many more conveniences a car can have as we move into the future? It’s hard to imagine that the features we presently have will be archaic to today’s younger generation.

But that’s the fun of “looking back.” We then realize how far we have come!

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