Car lights and cloudy days

A calling

gray carMy wife and I were going to meet a couple of friends on Labor Day for ice cream at a local emporium. But her hybrid vehicle’s car failed to start. Why it didn’t is a bit of a mystery. If she had left the car lights on or failed to turn off the vehicle – much easier to do than with the cars I grew up with – the car would have “told” her.

In any case, our friends came to our house, armed with cups of frozen desserts. We sat and watched the AAA fellow recharge the vehicle. I keep forgetting that they now carry portable chargers rather than having to jump it using another car.

My wife with one of our friends drove off to make sure the car’s charge held. The other friend and I sat on the porch. The situation reminded me of something I used to do in Binghamton, NY growing up in the 1960s.

Binghamton is cloudy and sometimes rainy. So a lot of people would accidentally leave their car lights when they parked. I took it upon myself to open the driver’s side door and turn off the lights. I must have done this over a thousand times in my life. One day coming home from high school, I  turned off at least a dozen lights.

The open-door policy

Obviously, all of these cars were unlocked because that was the norm at the time. The number of cars I could not open because the door was locked was at most one in 20.

I don’t know what possessed me to do this. It was a calling, a mission. I’d cross the street to do it. Maybe my parents left their car lights on. But I have no specific memory of that. I even tried to do this in Jamaica, Queens in 1977, but the guy came back and thought I was trying to steal his car. Only rarely have I tried that since mostly because almost no one keeps their cars unlocked.

BTW, my friend had never done this. Have any of you?

Speaking of car lights, one of the things my wife and I agree upon is visibility. When it’s gray and overcast or raining, cars without their lights are difficult to see. But the ones that are silver/gray are the worst.

Non est scriptor coegi licentia

no car memory

no drivers licenseWhen I posted on Facebook a link to this post about trying to get from Binghamton to Albany, it generated a fair amount of conversation.

One buddy of mine asked: “Not that it’s any of my business, but curiosity is killing me: Why not drive?” I replied, “Because I have no license.” Or according to a translator: “Non est scriptor coegi licentia.”

This is true, as far as it goes. But more accurate, I suppose, is that I’ve NEVER had a driver’s license. Not ever. And while it’s just the way I am, it’d be disingenuous to think it wasn’t peculiar to most Americans. So I suppose it’s time to take a deep dive into that fact.

So I started free-associating and came up with over 1800 words. This means I’ll have to break this up into three chunks.

I don’t “get” cars

My parents both drove. My sisters both drive. It was never that important to me, except for a couple of brief times, which I’ll share with you eventually.

I have no car memory. That is, I didn’t care about cars growing up. I don’t know what model of cars my parents owned except one, I think, was a “woody,” with a faux wood exterior.

And I didn’t keep track of what kind of models each car maker made. I mean Chevrolet had the Chevette and some other “ch” lines. Ford had the Fairlane and the Mustang. But that’s about it. To this day, when I see a car model category on JEOPARDY, I respond exceedingly poorly.

Moreover, I never daydreamed about driving a car. I got around pretty well on foot, going to school and church, even walking three miles each way on Sunday afternoons to go to a second church. I had my bicycle, and occasionally, rode the bus.

In fact, my recurring nightmare was being in the back seat of a car, and the vehicle crashes through the side of the bridge, sinking rapidly into the river. (It was probably the Court Street Bridge into the Chenango River in Binghamton.)

The ex-husband of a friend of mine would ask me, “How do you not drive?” And since I never did, I had no good answer.

Ridin’ thumb

Even before I went to college, I started hitchhiking, from Binghamton to New Paltz, where my girlfriend at the time was attending. I took that stretch of road several times.

Speaking of which, the most serious car accident I was ever in happened when I was getting out of a car after a ride. A woman who had some physical limitation was unable to apply the brakes and plowed into that car while I was halfway out. I swore I’d never be like the driver in a situation like that.

I spent two days in the hospital, a week resting at home, then, when my right shoulder gave out, four weeks of physical therapy.

At some point, I got what was the first of seven driver’s permits, the document one needs to try to learn to drive. I think my first lesson was in the Okie’s Volvo? Saab? In any case, it had a manual transmission, and she screamed at me because I was going to burn out her clutch. And that was the end of that.

Later, she had a red car with push-button automatic transmission. Once I tried to drive it around the parking lot of the Colonial Arms apartments in New Paltz. It was uneventful until I accidentally went in reverse, knocking over a Dumpster! Surprisingly, the car appeared OK.

During this period, my good friend Uthaclena once tried to teach me to drive. I must have been quite terrible since he STILL shudders when he talks about it. I thought I was doing fine.

More soonish.


“Things I hate that you might love”


Hollywood_And_Levine_Podcast_2020_LogoWriter Ken Levine released a recent podcast called “Things I hate that you might love.”

Ken notes hating the Beatles song, Hey Jude, and the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. He is not fond of performances by the actor Maya Rudolph, though he admits to enjoying her impersonation of Kamala Harris. He distinguishes this feeling from noting things lots of people hate (opera, e.g.), or genres he doesn’t enjoy for which he is not the target market (hip hop music).

Here’s my attempt, although HATE is a bit strong, except in the case of foods:

Interest in cars. The last two cars my wife bought I’ve regularly mistaken for other vehicles on the street. To be fair to me, she’s done the same thing once or twice.

The sister of a former girlfriend of mine could tell you the difference between a 1964 Volkwagen beetle and the 1965 model. The lights have a different shape or something. This is not me.

If I saw a robbery where the criminal drove off, I’d be a lousy witness. “It was a big, blue, four-door… something.” If I don’t see the logo, I would have no idea. On the other hand, I’m likely to remember an alphanumeric license plate hours later, if I had a need to.

Food and drink

Coffee. I’ve never acquired a taste for it. And it can be inconvenient because folks are always buying those Dunkin’ carafes of java for the group. Not liking coffee can be socially isolating.

On the other hand, it means I didn’t have to make the coffee in the office. Once, someone insisted that I do so, and I complied. I gather – and I have no way to judge because I don’t drink the stuff – it was quite awful. Guess who was removed from coffee prep?

Beer. This was even more isolating. While I’m in the bar with a group of people, they’re downing pitchers of suds, while I’m ordering a glass of white wine separately. There is plenty of booze I’ll drink – whiskey, vodka, tequila, rum – but beer creates a gag reflex.

Peanut butter. I recall eating JIF as a child. I must have OD’d on it because now, even the smell makes me nauseous.

Melons. Cantaloupe, watermelon. Hate ’em all, including candies that supposedly taste like melons.


Binge-watching TV programs. I have a short attention span for watching show after show. It makes me agitated. I might watch one segment of 60 Minutes followed by a JEOPARDY episode, both on the DVR so I can fast-forward through the commercials, then I turn the TV off.

Reality television. This is also on Ken’s list. There’s a certain sameness of the rhythm of these shows that I find exhausting. Worse, they tend to recycle their casts so that the breakout “star” shows up on a spinoff.

There was a show called Honey Boo Boo, which I saw for a full two minutes before I had to turn it off. Well, now there’s a spinoff, Mama June. heaven help us all.

These people are stars. They must be because they show up on Dancing with the Stars, a television show my wife watches. I wander into the living room and say of a participant, “Who’s THAT?” Maybe it’s someone from a recent season of The Bachelor or a program I’ve never heard of.

So news about these people is not, particularly, of interest. “Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar Speak Out After Oldest Son Josh Is Arrested on Child Porn Charges.” They’re some of the “stars” of 19 Kids and Counting, so the story is hardly noteworthy, except for their overt “Christian” beliefs.

Yet, early on, I could watch reality TV. Three seasons of The Real World, the original Queer Eye, even a few seasons of Survivor and American Idol. But it’s become all too much.

Attestation and other curiosities

it’s a good thing I know our license plate number

attestationAttestation seems like a very fancy term, maybe a serious disease. It is actually “a legal acknowledgment of the authenticity of a document and a verification that proper processes were followed.” When I digitally enter my Census timesheet, I have to attest that I worked those hours. Before my wife goes to school, she has to promise that she’s taken her temperature and is well enough to come in.

We both need to wear masks to work. As noted, my head is bigger than hers, bigger in fact than most people’s. She apparently didn’t notice this at first and randomly assigned the first masks to us and our daughter randomly. But now she can tell, just by looking, which mask belongs to whom; I cannot.

It always reminds me of The Price is Right

We got A NEW CAR! Most of the summer, my wife admittedly obsessed with the price of used RAV4s. This editor’s letter in the August 28 issue of The Week actually mirrored her experience.

“Every dealer I spoke with had sold out of decent and affordable used autos…” This is a function of the pandemic, but also “some of the cash they might have splashed on vacations or restaurant meals is instead going to new wheels.”

That was certainly true of us. We had a vacation budget that went unspent. So the used vehicle is instead a current one. My wife bought it out of town for logistical reasons, so I never saw it until four days after she purchased it.


I only recently discovered that my wife is also a fan of finding helpful hints on YouTube videos. I’ve been watching them for years – here’s one on changing the battery on a CVS bathroom scale, which is similar to one I used.

The recent requirement I had involved not just recording on Zoom, which I figured out. My question was to FIND my #ZOOM RECORDINGS, which I needed to retrieve so I could read to our Sunday school class.


On my cellphone recently, I received a text that read “[Tik Tok] **** is your verification code, valid for five minutes. To keep your account safe, never forward this code.” Since I’ve never been on Tik Tok, I will assuredly abide by this.

Speaking of cellphones, I got some bogus company calling my Census phone to say it was needing to update my system. Spammers are everywhere. I ignored it, correctly.

I’m rich!

Surprise money. I got a check from Wells Fargo for $159.13 for some fiscal malfeasance that they had undoubtedly committed. I’ve gotten these types of checks before, but usually, they are for $7.81, or at the most $24.59.

The good old days

I was looking to find a list of the current members of the Cabinet because, geez, who can keep track? On Google, page one, there’s a pulldown list that lists Barack Obama’s cabinet, fueled from this page. I have a… certain disdain for the current batch, especially Bill Barr. But you knew that, didn’t you?

Doored – bicycle, car door, pain

Ann from New Zealand wondered:

Do you use the word doored? It applies to a driver opening his door without checking for bikes. I once did that, I almost doored someone. The young woman let out a series of expletives. Since then, I almost always check before I open the door.

Note: this did NOT happen to my sister Leslie.

I was not familiar with the term, but the word is in the transportation literature. I well know the experience. Riding my bicycle, I’m always looking for unexpected activities from drivers. When I’m surprised by the action, I generally yell “YO” for some reason, and that has been known to work.

When I was in library school, which would have been 1990-1992, I was riding my bike when one of my fellow grad schools intentionally opened the driver’s side door as I was about to pass. He then closed it. He seemed to think it was terribly funny.

I did not. I swerved and hit the brakes. Somehow, probably from adrenaline, I managed to pull my bike out of alignment.

The guy claimed, “I thought you saw me” in the car. Well, no, I didn’t, and if I had, I would have still thought opening the door was a schmucky thing to do. Getting doored is the thing I most worry about as a recipient of pain.

Conversely, I’m most concerned about me hurting pedestrians who come out from between parked cars in the middle of the block. This is a greater concern than it used to be because vehicles tend to be larger, hiding the jaywalkers
until the last moment.

Unrelated, I get joy out of picking up change that lies on the road, probably falling out of the pockets of drivers. I figure that, in most bike seasons, I find enough nickels, dimes and quarters to pay for the necessary repairs on my vehicle.

I won’t ruin my riding momentum to stop for a penny or two. But if there’s a penny and a nickel, e.g., I’ll snatch up both.

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