This Christmas, my sister sent my kids $25 Amazon gift cards. Given the absolute bounty my children received, I promptly set these cards aside and, I am ashamed to admit, forgot about them until late last week when I finally thought to mention them. The results were entirely predictable. My son, who has a surprising amount of money in his piggy bank, calculated the amount as a part of his overall tally and, after considering his options, decided that the satisfaction of having so much cash outweighed the pleasure of anything that he might actually purchase. My middle child, meanwhile, demanded that I immediately log into Amazon so that she could spend every last cent as quickly as possible while my youngest, still unclear on the concept of money, was just happy to sit beside her sister and examine the various toys that popped up. In the end, however, no money was spent as I decided to use the opportunity for what I like to call, “a teachable moment.”
It’s a lesson that I am more than prepared to teach as, not that long ago, I too was a voracious consumer. Virtually every cent I earned slipped through my fingers without a second thought and, looking back on it, the amount of money I wasted is simply staggering. Just how much I must have spent over the years was hammered home during a recent visit to my neighborhood “recycle shop” where I found, piled unceremoniously upon the row after row of steel warehouse-style shelving, decades’ worth of cast-off electronics now on sale for a mere fraction of the prices they once commanded. Looking them over, I recognized specific models and thought about the people who, just like me, had so proudly owned them. I knew the research that had gone into each of those purchases, the smells that had wafted from the newly opened boxes and the excitement that these people had felt as they positioned their new purchases in places of honor inside their homes. I thought, too, about how lightly the decision to replace these items had likely been undertaken and about how little consideration had been given to the still perfectly serviceable old as the new was lusted after, pursued and then finally brought home.
I have been there so many times. My first computer was a used 8 bit Atari that I bought about the time Ronald Reagan was running for reelection. It was followed by, in order of their purchase, a Commodore 64, a Commodore Amiga 500, a 386-33DX2 for which I paid entirely too much money, and then over the years by a series of different Pentium desk and now laptops. My foray into home video began with a basic VHS player and then expanded to include a Betamax, a Laser Disc player, a DVD player, a TV with a built in DVD/DVR and DivX player, a region-free HDD/DVD player and finally, just in the past few months, a Blue Ray Disc player that also serves as an access point for several different streaming video services. My first portable audio device was an AM radio, then an AM/FM radio, then an off-brand “Walkman” that was followed by a couple of different dual tape deck boomboxes – because you have to have that sort of technology to make mix tapes. Next came an actual Sony Discman, and finally a generic MP3 Player so small that it tends to get lost for months at a time. I still have it around here somewhere…
To my shame, my car audio experience is even uglier. My first car had an 8 track. When I was about 18 years old, I upgraded to a second-hand cassette deck and then, later, I burned through an entire series of different Kraco cassette players that I purchased with my employee discount while working at Schuck’s Auto Supply. In February 1988, when I traded my Nova for my Dodge Shadow, I opted for the top-end double din unit and kept that in the car the entire time I owned it. Still, in 1990, I supplemented that stereo with a Kenwood CD shuttle that put a 10 disc CD player in my trunk, an amplifier under my seat and a remote control head unit in my car’s unused ash tray. It was a royal pain in the ass to install – yes, I did all my own work – but when I was done I was able to switch between the two units without a hitch and the results were wonderful. I later transferred the CD player to my GMC Jimmy but ended up junking it several months later after a power surge or something shorted it out.
After I moved to Japan in 1999, I dumped the cassette deck in my 86 Supra in favor of a CD player and then, after returning to the States in 2001, did the same with the cassette deck in the beat down 200SX I bought. In 2004, after taking my VW Golf to Japan, I decided it would be a good idea to swap out the stock US stereo for a Japanese aftermarket unit I found at Autobacs and, while the installation turned out fine, the CD player itself started having tracking issues less than a year later. I ended up tossing it in the trash and going back to the stock radio. Ultimately, that’s where I drew the line and I have not messed with a stock radio since.
But now I have the Nissan Hardbody, and the photos show that it still mounts its original cassette player. Of course, wouldn’t you know it, I seem to have lost all my Judas Priest tapes which means that, if I want more than AM/FM, I’m going to need another solution. That solution, I have determined, is not an expensive new head unit. It is, instead, a wireless MP3 player that plays via a signal to the truck’s FM radio. The one I’ve found is powered through the truck’s cigarette lighter, can hold more than 1500 songs on a 32GB Micro SD Card, and also serves as a Bluetooth connection that enables a hands free connection for my cellular telephone. Total cost to me, with the SD card, was less than $35!
I’ve already had it delivered and, after loading it with songs from my I-tunes account, have tested it in my wife’s car with reasonable success. I simply plugged it in, tuned the radio to the frequency indicated on the unit’s LCD screen and, just like that, The Talking Heads magically came out through the speakers. And there, as they say, is the rub. The device itself seems to work entirely as designed but the quality of the speakers in my wife’s little Honda are somewhat lacking. The result was static free but quite tinny. Hopefully, the speakers in my Nissan are better because, now that I have disavowed my once rampant consumerism, I’m going to have to live with the solution for a good, long time. Wild, Wild, Life, indeed.