In 1969 I bought my first car. I was sixteen years old and anticipated being able to drive in a few months. I was fortunate to purchase a 1948 Pontiac from the original owner. I drove the car for a couple years and then parked it. I never sold that car and forty years later I had restored it so I could drive it.
It is now 2012 and my son is seventeen years old and has just got his license. He has purchased a 2009 Pontiac G8.
What a difference 61 years make.
My son and I have decided to go for a drive, he in his car and I in mine. I insert the key into the driver side door to unlock my '48 Streamliner. When I open the door one dim dome light comes on and I slide into the driver's seat. My son pushes a button on his key and I hear two little beeps. All his doors are unlocked and several interior lights turn on. He slides in the driver's seat.
I insert my key into the switch and turn it to the right. Nothing happens until I press the starter button located on the floor with my foot. The gear shift lever, which I had left in gear previously, automatically moves up into "neutral" before the engine starts (it is the only real safety feature on my car while my son's car has a plethora of safety features). The six volt starter turns the 249 cid (4.0L) 107 hp straight eight motor over rather slowly several times. It is cold outside so I pull the choke button out so the carburetor will get more gas in it (the car originally had an automatic choke on it but that stopped working back in 1970 so I had to rig up a manual choke). The engine finally fires off and I wait several minutes for the engine to warm up so I can push the choke knob back in. My son, remembering what he recently learned in driver's education class, buckles his seat belt, inserts his key in the switch and turns it. Immediately his 6.2L (378cid) 415hp V8 engine roars to life and he is ready to roll.
He pulls up next to me, pushes a button and his driver side window rolls down. He has something to ask me. Since he has pulled up on the passenger side of my car I need to lean all the way across the bench seat and roll down the passenger side window with the crank handle. "Where we goin'?" he asks. "Just follow me" I tell him. I like traveling back roads and especially roads I've never driven on before. Before I put the hydramatic transmission into "D" for drive I lean back across the seat and wind the window back up. He also "winds up" his window with a push of the button, puts his car in drive and all his doors automatically lock. I drive down the driveway and he follows.
Since it is a cool morning I decide I need some heat. I turn the heater control knob to "heat". A blast of cold air comes from the under-seat heater. It will be several miles before the water in the heater core is warm enough to give some heat. Thankfully there is not any frost on my windshield. The defroster would only clear a spot on the windshield about the size of a dollar bill and I would need to drive with my head peering out the tiny clear spot just above the steering wheel. My son doesn't need to touch any controls to get heat, they are all preset to his comfort level.
The purr of the straight eight engine is nice but I want to listen to some music. I turn on the radio and nothing happens. It will be a few minutes until the tubes warm up and I get some sound out of it. When the single speaker in the dash does finally come to life my choices are limited. The radio only has AM frequency so I can get a bunch of "talk" stations or a couple Spanish language stations. I go under an interstate overpass and the radio cuts out for a few seconds. When it comes to life again I turn the knob until I get a polka music station. Not my first choice in music but it will do for now. I glance in my rear view mirror to check on my son. His head bobs up and down to a beat. Maybe he has plugged in his ipod to the sound system in his car. His ipod holds thousands of his favorite songs that he downloaded off his lap top. I'm sure the music is blaring out of the eleven Blaupunkt speakers that are specially tuned to his car. Or maybe he is listening to a CD playing on one of the six discs that are in his dash mounted player. Or he could be listening to a station on his AM or FM or Sirrus radio. As for me, I'm listening to Eddie Blazonczyk and The Versatones play a previously recorded song at an Oktoberfest through my single speaker mounted in the radio.
I spy a convenience store and a cup of coffee would taste good about now. I pull in, find a parking spot and let the car idle a few minutes before I shut it down. My son pulls in next to me and does the same. As we enter the store he asks, "Aren't you going to drive over 45 miles per hour on this trip?". I shoot him the evil eye and ask him, "What's your hurry?"
A large cup of java is just the pick me up I need. He grabs a Red Bull but before I can lecture him about how bad that stuff is for him he offers to pay for my coffee. I guess the lecture can wait until another time.
Back at the car I get behind the wheel. I spill some coffee on my shirt while trying to juggle it and start the car at the same time. My son sets his beverage in one of the many cup holders that his car has and is ready to continue our journey. He touches a button and his driver side window glides down. I can see he wants to tell me something. I can also see he has parked on the passenger side of my car...again. I lean across the seat to wind down the passenger side window. As I do I spill more coffee. "What do you want?" I ask in a rather sharp tone. "How about you let me lead for awhile?" he suggests. "OK, but don't go too..." Before I can finish he is out of the parking lot and rolling down the highway. I lean back across the seat and wind up the window. I try my best to catch him but it's too late. He is gone. I wonder if he knows his way home but then I remember he has a navigation system built in to his car to guide him anywhere he wants to go.
After cruising on the asphalt for a time I decide to turn off the highway onto a dirt road. The dust soon finds its way through the heater duct and into the interior of the car. I don't mind, I'll need to give the old girl a good cleaning when I get home to get the coffee stain out of the carpet anyway. The day has warmed up quite a bit now and I decide to get some air in the car. I crank open the driver side window and vent window. I would like to open the passenger side window but realize I'll have to pull over and stop to do that. There is no way to hold onto the coffee, steer the car and reach over to crank down the window all at the same time. I then remember the cowl vent. One push of the under dash lever and I've got plenty of air blowing on my feet and legs. I smile as I think that my son can't do that.
The dirt road ends and I'm back on the blacktop. I see that I need gas so I pull into a gas station. They used to be called "service" stations but the service part is long gone. I get out and pump my own gas, wash my own windshield and check my own oil. There was a time when all that would be done for me by a service station attendant wearing a bow tie, snazzy hat and jacket with the establishments brand of gas on the back and the attendant's name embroidered on the front. I decide to try to call my son to find out where he is. Since I left my cell phone home I'll need to use the pay phone at the gas station. The kid behind the counter looks at me like I am from Mars. "A what?" he asks. "A pay phone" I shoot back. "I don't think we have one of them, but if you need to make a call you can use my cell" he says. I sheepishly thank him and dial my son's number.
My son answers his phone in his car without ever taking his hands off the steering wheel thanks to his Bluetooth.
"Hey, Dad. Where are you?"
"I'm at the gas station out on Route 10. Where are you?"
"I'm cruisin' around Clarkton. What happened? That gas hog of yours run out of gas?"
I shoot him the evil eye but I don't think he can see it unless I have mistakenly turned on the camera of the cashiers cell phone.
"No. Not completely. Why didn't you wait for me when we left the store?"
"Hey, I never went over the speed limit."
"Alright, never mind. I just wanted to let you know I think I'm heading home. It looks like it might rain."
"What's the matter? Worried that old car of yours might melt? It's not made out of sugar ya know. Besides, I'm in the sweet ride."
"Yeah, well, that's one boy's opinion. See you at home"
"OK. See ya, bye."
I started to climb into the Pontiac when I noticed the right rear of the car was sitting lower than the other four corners. A tire with one flat side explained why. If this had happened in 1948 the service station would have been able to pull the car into a service bay, put it on the lift and have the tube in the tire repaired before you could say, "Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans." I don't even see a lift at this place and the service bay is full of mums that I can buy at three for $12.00. I pass on that. I gingerly move the car to the side of the station, unlock the trunk and set about changing the tire. I wonder if my son even knows how to change a tire. I wished he was here right now so he could learn.
This must be my lucky day. Just as I am finishing up changing the tire it begins to rain. I quickly throw the flat tire and tools in the trunk and head back out on the highway. I turn off the radio since I will need to concentrate fully on driving. The bias ply tires do not grip the road like radials so I will need to feel what the car is doing through the plastic steering wheel. This is what driving a car is all about, I am in control of the machine. I'm not just going along for a ride. I turn the wiper knob on the dashboard to get the windshield cleared of rain. The wipers do a fine job until I push on the gas pedal going up a hill. The vacuum operated wiper motor doesn't get full vacuum without a lot of RPM and the wipers slowly crawl back and forth across the windshield. I can barely see the road.
When I finally pull into my driveway I see that my son has already made it home. He'll probably say he had a good time on his ride. That's the difference between what he just did and what I just did. A subtle difference maybe but a difference none-the-less. He went for a ride while I went for a drive, and I'm sure he didn't have as much fun as I did.