I am not a distracted driver. In no world would I ever text while driving. The car’s Bluetooth connection to my phone usually isn’t set up. Distracted driving is the furthest thing from my mind. When the MNDOT message board read “Cell Phones Down,” I thought it was a warning that Verizon was having network troubles, not a suggestion to put away my phone.
I was feeling pretty superior, maybe even self-righteous about distracted driving, until the radio in my car broke.
It’s an old car, eligible for collector plates next year, and it’s a convertible so I store it for the winter, waiting for spring before hitting the back roads with the roof down. Of course, that assumes the engine starts after its winter hibernation.
Unlike a year ago, when a gang of rodents spent the winter dragging pink fiberglass insulation up under the hood, this year the car started right up and we were off without a hitch. Until I switched on the radio. It worked, but only at full blast, ear splitting volume. The volume control had no effect whatsoever. I enjoy having tunes while cruising with the top down, but this was painfully loud.
No matter, I thought, I’m pretty handy. Besides, I’ve got experience. When I was a boy I helped my dad find his Phillips screwdriver to pull the radio from under the dash of the Chevy so that he could take the vacuum tubes to the drug store and test them.
It seems things have changed over the years. First of all, the dashboard is one long continuous sealed piece. The assumption must be that nothing could possibly go wrong, so the designers made it nearly impossible to get at or repair anything inside the dash.
With the assistance of couple of YouTube videos, I managed to extract the radio, but only after a trip to the hardware store to buy a “Torx” screw driver because my dad’s trusty old Phillips screwdriver is hopelessly obsolete. Rummaging around in the basement, I found a can of Radio Shack (Google it. I’ll wait.) contact cleaner. The label specifically says, for “volume controls.”
After reassembling everything the next day, confident that I’d done the trick, I switched on the radio only to find it completely dead. The lights were on, but nobody was home.
Apparently no one bothers to repair radios anymore. Oh, there are repair services, but I’m not eager to ship the thing to some address in Wichita Falls with the promise that I’ll get an email with an estimate. The car dealer tells me they’re no longer making replacements for my 20-year-old car. I could get a new satellite enabled “entertainment unit” which “should” fit, but it’s more than I want to spend and I cannot imagine why I need satellite communication for my convertible.
So I decided, who needs a radio in the car? It’s been an interesting transition. I still find myself unconsciously reaching for the now dead radio to turn up the volume. This happens most often when traffic is heavy, almost as if I need to add a little extra confusion – some distraction – to my environment. It’s also given me time to notice just how distracted other drivers can be, like the guy ahead of me who hasn’t noticed that the light turned green and is gesturing like he’s involved in a heated argument even though he’s alone in his car, or the driver behind me who’s giving her horn a real workout. I’ll bet they’ve got their radios turned up, too.
Craig Wruck describes himself as a relentless optimist. He is a retired college administrator who recently relocated to Rochester to spend more time growing up with his grandson. Send comments on columns to Jeff Pieters, email@example.com.