HONK IF YOU REMEMBER THE RAMBLER

Give me an old car any day. Sure, they crap out at 80,000 miles, and they make a Cadillac Escalade look economical, but you can always locate the headlight knob. You don’t need an electrical engineering degree to operate the radio. If you want air you don’t have to search for the secret button, lever or switch, you just turn the crank below the window. Cars used to be simple – like me.

In the old days, people were so familiar with automobiles, they’d toss their miniscule owners manuals in the glove compartment and give them about as much thought as Aunt Blanch’s china pattern. Now the manuals are novel-length and you have to study them like Willie Nelson’s lawyer studies marijuana statutes.

There was a time when I could locate and rattle off engine parts with the same expertise Mark Foley might recall e-mail addresses of Congressional pages. Now, when I look under the hood, I see a mutant praying mantis fighting Battlestar Detroitica. Where’s the carburetor? Where’s the distributor? Where’s the whatjamacallit? Right next to the floxumspume blinkenspiel, that’s where.

Back in the day, I could change a tire in less time than it took to listen to “Little Deuce Coupe.” Recently, I heard that familiar flap-flap-flap and knew I had a flat. It took 30 minutes to find the jack...or, I think it was a jack. It looked like a miniature model of Edward Scissor Hands mounting the Eiffel Tower. I fiddled with it like it was a Rubik’s Cube with teeth for 20 minutes before calling the Auto Club. Firmly believing that calling the Auto Club for a flat tire is for grandmothers and male ballerinas, I turned in my Man Card that night, put tissues with moisturizer in my truck, and bought a copy of “Steel Magnolias.”

This flat tire story reminds me of a joke when I was a kid growing up in Connecticut. Most of my friends were Italians. I was labeled Irish, even though I also have German, French, English, Navajo and a trace of Clydesdale blood in my veins. “Politically Correct” was as alien as tongue kissing, and we took great pleasure in ribbing each other about our heritage. Every night after dinner we’d reconvene and every night I’d hear the same joke – “What’s a seven-course Irish meal? A potato and a six-pack.” My Italian friends used to tell Italian jokes to one another all the time. One that I remember was, “What sound does a Pirelli tire make when it goes flat? Wop-wop-wop.” Hey, take it from me, to a 10-year-old this was hilarious. The only thing that would’ve made it funnier is if they would have somehow stuck the word “boobie” in there.

The worst automobile innovation was invented by I.M. Nuisance (just a guess) and it’s called the car alarm. Car alarms are to me what North Korea is to the U.N. – a pimple on the buttocks of fantasized tranquility. People have gotten so used to car alarms going off accidentally, that no one pays any attention to them anymore. My neighbor’s goes off every time a big truck rumbles by, or a sparrow passes gas. It’s an older Saturn with more dents than Gary Busey’s head. If you filled the backseat with figs, and the trunk with plutonium, al Qaeda wouldn’t steal it.

I find the chirping noise cars make when you electronically unlock them objectionable. It disturbs my Wa, and I didn’t even know I had a Wa. Was it so hard to open your door with a key? I hate being in a parking lot after a play or a movie gets out. It sounds like an R2-D2 glee club...or a massacre – peep-peep-boop-peep-boop-boop-peeeep...

You don’t even get a cigarette lighter in your car anymore. They’ve replaced it with cell phone jacks. Personally, I think we’d be healthier if more people smoked while driving and fewer people talked on the phone. Just observe any round-about and you’ll see what I mean – drivers on cell phones look as confused as Paris Hilton taking an IQ test. I read recently that 3,925 people injure themselves brushing their teeth every year in the U.S, and another 11,243 hurt themselves while reading. Do we really want these people talking on the phone while driving two-ton projectiles with names like Dodge Ram or Nissan Armada?

Yeah, give me the old days when your spare was a real tire, not a donut, and the only airbag in your car was your mother in-law.