Escape. It’s what the car provides me, anymore, though not in the way it once did. Rare is the day a car’s 0-60 or its lateral grip, its chassis stiffness or steering feel dictates my enjoyment. Sometimes those same traits—while hewing closely to the official 10 Commandments of Fun as extolled by auto writers and enthusiasts generally—sadly detract from my experience. It’s inside, cosseted in a comfortable cabin and shielded from the cacophony outside that I find my oasis. I understand admitting this puts me under threat of having my membership card to the club revoked, but such is my truth of late. Too stiffly sprung and my coffee will burp out its sippy hole at the first of a thousand potholes. Too loud an exhaust and, when I dive into that hole opening in traffic, I may miss the thrilling conclusion to a five-part Johnny Dollar marathon.
Yes, I’m a devotee of old-time radio. My son prefers the Beatles, despite hailing from a distinctly Rolling Stones-leaning family, so if he’s riding rear seat, then the soundtrack is all Fab Four, all the time. But if I’m solo, give me anything written by Arch Oboler or produced by Norman Macdonnell, or featuring the likes of John Dehner, Agnes Moorhead, Orson Welles (NOT the best Lamont Cranston, by the way—that’d be Bret Morrison—but a great Harry Lime), Mercedes McCambridge, William Conrad, Dick Powell and, best of all, Bob Bailey (either as the aforementioned Dollar or the lesser appreciated but just as skillfully rendered lead role in “Let George Do It”), and I am all in. And while I prefer the dramatic over the comedic, I’ll never turn off Jack Benny and will even endure the wretchedness of “The Great Gildersleeve” if its playing coincides with my being in the car.
Call it the proto-podcast; the old-fashioned radio play is last century’s most multitasking-friendly story-delivery vehicle, an art form that arguably reached its peak in the mid-1950s and has never been successfully replicated despite several modern-day attempts to revisit the medium. And it helps me endure time spent in the car, sad as that sounds. Invariably stuck in the slow accordioning of traffic, the transmission oscillating between its lower gears, is not what anyone who finds enjoyment in the act of driving would consider qualifying material.
“There’s a feeling you get at the start of a road trip, when you’re just about ready to set out, the gas tank full,” wrote Graham Kozak in a recent column (Aug. 12). “It’s a sense of almost infinite potential and possibility: I could drive anywhere.” To which I say, “Amen.” But because 99 percent of my driving time (and likely yours) involves commuting, fighting suburban congestion, my experience in the car matters more than my experience of the car. The creature comforts—seat heat, an easily navigable infotainment system, less intrusive safety nannies, a quiet cabin and compliant (not wafting) ride and satellite radio—make for a more enjoyable ride.
Of course, given that other 1 percent of the time, I’ll gladly take a stiff suspension, quick steering and all the engine noise, leaving the radio off, the coffee cup at home and cashing in my ticket to ride.
Beep-beep, beep-beep, yeah!
Never having seen “Gunsmoke” on TV, NATALIE NEFF will tell you the radio version is better. She can be reached at email@example.com
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