Digital Cars

My grandfather was a “car guy”.  My dad grew up a car guy too, and I grew up working in his garage.  I caught the fever back then.  I remember it.  I remember the skeptical looks of the customers because some little kid was under their hood.  And I still tell stories about building a Buick out of two wrecked Buicks and a Pontiac so I had a car to drive. I knew every rusty bolt in that beast by name.  I even built a custom high mileage fuel system for it that turned out to not get all that much more mileage but added the thrill of catching fire at stop lights.  I was lamenting the loss of my love affair with cars when thinking about how I don’t even work on my own cars anymore, much less other people’s cars.  I wondered if somehow my dad was disappointed. 

In my defense though, cars have become boring.  They start every time you turn the key.  They rarely leave you stranded on the side of the road.  Guys don’t gather anymore to check out each other’s cars.  And nobody’s dad is the ace neighborhood shade tree mechanic.

Cars have become devices.  More like a washing machine than the fickle anthropomorphized girl you coaxed to life each morning with that special technique.   They work or they don’t.  And when they don’t you run the tests and swap out the bad parts.  There’s no tinkering.  There’s no tuning.   There’s no tweaking and customizing.  All the little tricks of the trade passed from father to son have become obsolete.  I still know how to set and tune the fuel mix on a carburetor by ear.  I just haven’t owned a car that actually had a mixture screw since 1983.

Somewhere along the way, cars lost their romance.  And yes, cars used to be romantic, in every sense of the word.  Romance is about uncertainty.  If everything is deterministic, if the procedures are all known, if the mysteries are all revealed, if there are no surprises, no serendipity, then there can be no romance.   

This is why PCs have become the cars of the new millennium. Today’s home computer is every bit as fickle as a 60s vintage automobile.  There are guys out there who’ve over-clocked and water cooled their machines, and built web sites to show them off to others.  Tell me these aren’t the home built muscle cars of days gone by.  Tell me you don’t know a guy or six whose testosterone level is tied to the footprint of his laptop or the dual processor Xeon he uses to check his e-mail.  Me, I tinker.  I’m a high tech junkyard hound scrounging parts from machines better off dead and building Frankenstein PCs.  I have five working PCs in my house plus the parts to build one or two more.  I live alone.  I get an odd thrill when something breaks or isn’t humming just right.  It’s a challenge.  I can fix that.  It’s a hobby, a passion, and an obsession.

What I’ve realized is that the fever of my forefathers is not gone.  I’ve carried on the legacy.  I feel the blood lust.  It’s just that the mechanical girls of my generation have chips instead of wheels.  Now if I can just figure out where to hang the fuzzy dice.

Go Back to the Index | Go Back to The Nichols' Home Page