By Robin Garrison Leach
The neon green letters on the flashing sign on the interstate assure me that the air quality outside my car is good. I can ‘breathe easy’.
I am comforted by the fact that the environment is having a good air day, but my windows stay rolled up.
I don’t let the outside world inside my car much anymore. I’ve become one of a majority; those commuters whose vehicle is a self-contained biosphere of artificially cooled air.
All around me, car-cubicles roll along, sealed tight against the hair-tussling, paper-sailing, sun-warmed wind just outside their power windows.
No elbows jut from driver’s windows, knobby pointed evidence of an attached human body. No sunbaked left forearms lounge atop the white-hot strip of metal trim.
Children’s fingers don’t wiggle and wave from outside backseat windows. No smooshed, rippling cheeks send toothy grins to passing cars. Glass panes contain them all, and they sit strapped, placid, and staring forward at nothing.
It wasn’t always this way. Before most cars were equipped with air conditioning, the outside was welcomed inside our vehicles through vigorous cranking from every window seat.
We waited impatiently for Dad to push the gas pedal enough to trigger the rush of hard wind against our faces; it bent our eyelashes and whipped our bangs into poufy, tangly hairballs. We opened our mouths, risking insect ingestion, to suck in hunks of air as thick and textured as homemade ice cream.
Pastures of cattle whooshed past our noses, evoking ‘e-w-w-w-w’s and giggles. Freshly tarred blacktops emitted the acrid ooziness we could almost taste. Dust and weeds mingled to create a smell we would always associate with Sunday afternoon drives on summer days.
And the smoke of Dad’s ever-present cigarette up front wisped a trail of smoke signals toward the sky.
Bugs hopped through our open windows, lighting on laps or in hair. Grasshoppers were the worst. Not content to remain where they’d landed, the reddish-brown hitchhikers would vault clickily and unpredictably from one shrieking child to another.
The commotion prompted growling threats from Dad that ‘he would stop this car if we don’t settle down’.
Wasps sometimes wafted inside. Lazy and lethargic from summer heat, they lolled above our heads with their stick legs dangling precariously close to our faces. We knew not to swat…we wrench our heads this way and that and prayed he would eventually find his tired way across the car’s interior and out the other side.
For the complete column, see this week’s edition of the Centralia Fireside Guard