Wednesday, September 28, 2016

I Liked It Better When ... #4

-- By Tom Phillips

West 13th Street
I liked it better when you could sit on people's stoops.  The latest "security" measure in New York is landlords installing chains and gates on the front stairs of apartment houses, to keep off people looking to sit a spell.

Stoop-sitting is not a right -- the landlord owns the stairs -- but it is a tradition in New York.   Anybody's stairs were public space, with a few unwritten rules; you moved aside politely when a resident was entering or leaving -- you didn't make too much noise or leave a mess.  Anyone in the building could ask you to leave, but they usually didn't.

The stoop has been a crucial vantage point -- to observe the life of the block, the street, to see the world go by, to take advantage of chance encounters.  I spotted my future wife going by, as I sat on a stoop in Chelsea.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

I Liked It Better When ... #3

-- By Tom Phillips

I liked it better when shifting gears was the driver's job.

The hardest part of learning to drive on my parents' 1958 Rambler was the co-ordination of clutch, brake, gas pedal and stick.  Hundreds of times over, the car shuddered and stalled in the empty parking lot where my father and I practiced.  Give it a little more gas, let the clutch out easy, he would say, and eventually I learned to feel the gears engaging deep in the transmission, starting to turn the driveshaft, the wheels, picking up speed.  We were on our way!

Driving a stick shift meant your sense of touch was extended out in four directions, to where the rubber met the road.  Meanwhile you scanned the landscape, anticipating the next shift -- power down to rev the engine, speed-shift up to accelerate.  Janet Guthrie, the first woman to race in the Indianapolis 500, said:  "There is very little in civilized life that demands everything you've got intellectually, physically and emotionally.  Driving is living. It's aggressive, rather than passive living."

You didn't have to race in the 500 to appreciate that.  But you did need to shift for yourself.

Today, driving is passive living.  The automatic transmission and power steering made driving easy;   the GPS made it mindless.  Now, we're entering the age of the driverless vehicle.  You can still get a high-performance car, with four or five gears on the floor. They're probably better than ever, and they'll never disappear.  But hardly anyone knows how to drive one.

Friday, September 16, 2016

I Liked It Better When ... #2

By Tom Phillips

To say "I liked it better when .." is NOT to argue that life in general was better long ago.  Many things are better now.  But as the song says, "something's lost, and something gained, in living every day.."  This occasional feature is a catalog of things lost, or on the way out, that used to make life richer or more enjoyable.

Today's contribution is from Linda Given of Somerville, MA.  She writes: 

I liked it better when you didn’t know who would answer the phone, or have to choose one person to call when you wanted to leave a message for a group.  I often wound up chatting with a friend’s father, or sister back in high school days, and later with friend’s children or spouses or roommates - it was a nice, casual and occasional way to develop a relationship.  And a corollary notion: I liked it when my phone rang and I had no idea who was calling.  Saying hello before I heard the caller’s voice. There was anticipation - it could be anyone, someone I hadn’t heard from for years, or - it might be something completely mundane. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

I Liked It Better When ...

 -- By Tom Phillips

1949 Buick Roadmaster
Today the Road to Dotage embarks on a new path, a dead end.  It's entitled "I Liked It Better When..."  

WAIT!  Let me explain...

This is NOT a sentimental series about how life was better in the old days.  Many things are much better now, such as cars that last 10-15 years;  such as free, instant self-publishing, rather than begging some commercial publication for a few inches of space to share your thoughts.  Still, as the song says. "there's something lost, and something gained, in living every day .."  This occasional feature will be a catalog of things lost, or on the way out, that used to make life richer or more enjoyable.  For starters, here's mine: