My New Beetle is now five years old and the original stereo no longer recognizes the CD player that is lodged in the trunk. "No magazine," it tells me. The tape player died a while back, so that leaves me with only the radio. I generally prefer to listen to the radio, because I like to hear people talking about one thing or another when I'm driving. I don't hate music, but I find I rarely want to listen to music. I enjoy a music-free atmosphere. You'd think someone who drives a New Beetle and uses only Macintosh computers would be the sort of person who would have an iPod, but I don't want an iPod, because I don't want to listen to music. I think there is too much music around already. The main reason for an iPod for me would be to play music to screen out other music. When they make an iPod that cancels out music, I'll buy it.
But sometimes the radio is not enough. On a long trip, it can be hard to find anything on the radio. I've driven through places in the West where you hit the scan button and it just goes all the way around the dial over and over. I've driven in other places where the scan button takes you all the way around and back to where you were before (and it was always Cher singing "Believe"--a few years ago). Sometimes, being limited to the radio can draw you into the landscape in a deep and mysterious way. I remember driving through rural Mississippi and hearing the middle of a long gospel song, a sung sermon. The singer was describing how some day she would arrive in Heaven, and she would not want to see her mother, because she wanted to see Jesus, and she would not want to see her father, because she wanted to see Jesus. It went on and on, with different persons the singer did not want to see in Heaven, until my driving took me out of the range of the broadcast.
I could almost convince myself that it is better to be limited to the radio while driving, even when it means driving out of the reach of all broadcasting. That is a stunning and eerie experience, to go with the desert landscape. But sometimes the radio is not enough. If you have a long drive, especially on the boring Interstate, you need something to occupy your mind. I have many spoken word CDs to load into the CD player, and, in any event, I share my car with my sons, and they like to hear music.
But how can you replace the stereo in a New Beetle? It's got a distinctive curve and an oval shape and lighting that matches the beautiful lighting of the entire dashboard. The aesthetic effect would be ruined! The only choice, other than to stay with only the radio, is to go back to the dealer and repair the original stereo, though it's five years old, or buy another one. We had wanted a new stereo with a nice slot to stick in one disc at a time, which we all prefer to loading six CDs into the device in the trunk, but there is no such stereo designed for the Beetle. (What about an iPod that you connect to the stereo? I can't use one of those devices that you insert into the tape player, because the tape player is broken. There's another device that plays through the radio, but I don't trust that to work well enough.) We are forced--by aesthetics--to stay with the trunk CD arrangement, or stick with just the radio. I remember when a radio in a car was an impressive extra, and an AM-FM radio something to brag about. Staying with only the radio is the perfectly cheap, do-nothing solution, which is always a plus. It is my car.
UPDATE: After this paean to radio, the God of Radio smiled upon me and made my CD player start working again. Now, if only I could think of a way to appease the God of Cell Phones and find the one I lost on Thursday.