Lovin' Life Graphic

Today, July 25, is my daughter’s 38th birthday, which may not sound particularly earth-shaking, but given that the doctors didn’t expect her to live past 10 it’s miracle-worthy.

The thing is, she developed a Wilms tumor when she was not yet a year old. In less than a week after she was diagnosed, the docs at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital had that tumor out. Then she was on chemo for the next year or so just to make sure cancer hadn’t metastasized. But that’s not all. They follow her condition throughout her lifetime and schedule in-person visits in Memphis every five years. I can’t say enough good things about those nice people at St. Jude hospital.

Speaking of family stuff, we had my wife’s daughter and eight-year-old grandson from Nashville staying over the last week. It was a crazy visit with lots of talking and laughing and showing off the sights of New Mexico and everyone had a high ol’ time.

We rented a car for her when we picked them up at the airport and it being a brand new one, it had all the latest gizmos and gadgets like proximity warnings and a backup camera; things I’m not familiar with. I drove it a couple of times and it got me to wondering if reliance on these new marvels over one’s driving skills makes one a little less attentive. I mean, a lot of us learned to drive by physically looking around and learning to gauge distances in real life and not bump into other cars while parallel parking.

Those innovations are thought to increase a driver’s vigilance, but frankly I don't need to be reminded to slow down if another car cuts me off, thank you.

There is, believe it or not, one old reliable still available on a few brand new cars today that can actually increase a driver’s vigilance; the manual transmission. An article in US News and World Report said there are 40-someodd new cars that you can get with it, and they pointed out that if a car has a straight shift and a clutch pedal the use of all four limbs is required, thus making it difficult to use a cellphone or eat something while driving. Lapses in attention are therefore rare, especially when you might have to shift gears a dozen times to get somewhere. Anyway, the above mentioned article said that one study on the driving performance of teenage boys with ADHD showed that cars with straight shifts resulted in safer, more attentive driving than automatics.

And hey, you haven’t really mastered the art of vigilant driving until you can properly double-clutch (try that with paddle shifters).

Just don’t get me started on the cars that drive themselves. I was wondering what would happen if those driverless cars got a computer glitch and went whacko. They’ll be texting one another and making friends with the car next door. I can see it now, you wake up one morning and your driverless car has taken off with the neighbor’s car for a weekend to visit their dearly departed relatives at the junkyard. Or headed to Charlotte to race each other around a NASCAR track.

In these days of computerized cars that pretty much all look the same, the romance of driving has gone the way of the dodo bird and Kodachrome.

Nowadays, my affinity for stickshifts, curb feelers and old cars, in general, can only be satisfied in classic car shows and old movies. Like the 1937 movie Topper, where Cary Grant plays a fun-loving playboy who, with his equally fun-loving wife, dies in a car wreck and they come back as ghosts who have to do a good deed for someone before they were admitted into Heaven.

But what I remember most was the two-seater Cary Grant drove. It was sleek and art-decoish with a big shark fin in the middle of the trunk lid and outlandish fenders. One of the characters in the movie said it was “…the most vulgar car in town and a painted Jezebel.” It turns out it was a 1937 Buick Roadmaster that had been customized with a new body for the movie and renamed the Topper Sport Custom.

Way before the automobile was invented, I wondered if there were people who wanted to jazz up their horse and buggy. How would one do that? I got an answer to that when I was in Ruidoso one time and went to the Hubbard Museum of the American West, where there's a collection of some the fanciest, gussied up buggies, wagons, stagecoaches, and surreys you'll ever see. Kind of like an old west car show with horse-drawn carriages instead of automobiles.

Back when the last thing you wanted to meet was a driverless wagon.