Bonding With The Volvo - 05.24.99

A couple months ago, the radio in my car gave its final dying breath and stopped working once and for all. It happened as I was driving down the road, and I punched the on/off button several times and started twiddling knobs to and fro to see if I could make any difference. Even with a round of swearing and a couple good strikes from a fist, though, I still couldn't get anything to come out of my speakers. The little LED readout was dark and all I could here were the noises that my car made.

The first week without the radio was probably about the worst part of it all. Almost every morning out of habit I would flick knobs, hoping that something would light up and go, but it never did. I'd sing familiar songs while driving, simply because I needed some noise. Even though the tape player had given out several months before that, I didn't realize how much I relied on the radio (even though I only really liked one station) to provide me with that background layer of noise that I would sometimes pay attention to.

Fairly soon after it had quit, an occassion arose that I thought would be simply unbearable. I was going to go on a 5-hour driving trip (both directions) to visit a great friend of mine and I knew that I wouldn't have any time to get a new stereo installed before I went. Instead, I took along my mini-cassette recorder and dictated whatever I could think of on the way, both to keep me awake while driving into the night, and to get on record any possible interesting things that I'd say over the course of the trip.

As it turned out, I didn't even use the recorder much over the course of the trip. Once I got on the road, my mind went into thinking mode, but it wasn't a lot of things that I necesarily wanted to remember. Instead, I just found myself thinking about relationships I had with people and going through a process of isolating sounds until I broke them down into their simplest component. At first, all I could hear was my car driving down the road through the wind, but it didn't take too long to focus in on certain senses and figure things out a bit more. I could hear wind whistling by the fairing on my bike rack, I could hear it coming slightly in the back left window that didn't quite seal correctly, and I could even hear it moving the windshield wipers just a bit. Then I started breaking down the different sounds that my individual car was making; I could hear a click in my right back wheel (it turns out I had a small rock stuck in the tread of the tire), and I could make out a couple different sounds from varying parts of my engine, and I could hear the different sounds my tires made as they passed over different surfaces of the road. I could hear the subtle changes everytime I accelerated and decelerated, and how it affected all the other noises with my car.

While none of the sounds were particularly interested (although one particular stretch of road would have made an excellent sample with it's changing texture), it was one of the first times I had driven my car with no other input other than what the car was making. I'd always had a radio or tape deck in my car, and although I've never had a particularly boomin' system, I really didn't notice changes in the noises that my car was making unless they were kind of obvious.

After a couple months of this (yes, I went a couple months without a radio), I got so even very subtle changes in the way that my engine sounded would kind of throw me off guard. I wondered if there was a problem with the engine, or whether something was getting ready to rear it's ugly head for me to get repared. Luckily, though, none of these things happened, and now my car is actually probably running the best that it has since I got it almost 7 years ago (yay for the 1980 Volvo).

Finally, today I went out and purchased a new stereo for the car. I went ahead and splurged a little bit and got a nice, removable-face CD player. I have to admit that the my main influence for finally making the buy is that I'm heading out on a 10-hour (each way) trip this week and although I know that I can handle 5-hour stretches, I didn't want to push my luck and go insane because I had no visual or aural input (the drive I'm going to be making is through a fairly boring part of the nation).

One thing that I did promise myself, though, is that even once I got the new stereo up-and-bumping in my car, I'd still turn it off every once in awhile and simply listen for anything that may be different about my car. I'm sure I won't be as in tune to it as I have been over the course of the past 4 radio-free months, but it can't hurt.