Peterson: Coasting on love-hate relationship with cars

A car is a car is a car. But they keep coming up with new features that make a car more than a car.

My general feeling toward cars is one of disagreeability. I’m always waiting for the other shoe, or wheel in this case, to drop.

And a wheel did drop on a Ford Taurus I once owned briefly. It’s complicated how I ended up with the Taurus just before Christmas one year, but I had to give up my Toyota pickup truck to my then-young-but-growing-older son because he was out of a vehicle for some reason that defies explanation.

I bought the Taurus from a private party outside of Marengo, and the seller said it was used only sparingly by his mother who recently died, and alarms should have gone off at that point. But they didn’t because it was such a sad story, and no, he couldn’t take less than $1,800 cash for the car. Too many memories for it to be cheapened.

Before the first day of spring, the wheel essentially dropped off on the driver’s side. I was pulling out of the gas station on Route 14 near Virginia Road at the height of the evening rush hour. As soon as I pulled into heavy traffic, the wheel could just as well have fallen off. The tie-rod broke, the wheel collapsed, and there was no moving the car. It was junk. Kiss that $1,800 goodbye, Mom.

That’s the thing with cars: They break down, and it is usually expensive to repair them.

But if you watch TV during the news hour, you are bombarded with advertisements for new cars, and this is an especially important time for new car sales as it apparently is time for the end-of-the-year sales before the 2014 cars take their place.

One of the coolest features they have come up with is the rear-mounted video camera that starts working when you put the car in reverse. You all know about blind spots when backing up, and I’m always nervous pulling out of the driveway or parking spot at the grocery store because I do not want to hit anyone. The last thing I want to do is hit the neighbor boy as he walks to the bus stop, and he leaves for school about the same time I leave for work.

I creep backward ever so slowly, looking left and right, and trying to look around the blind spots for people and cars. And I’m never 100 percent sure that I am in the clear, so I inch backward. Blind spots scare me, and blind spots are the one good reason for convertibles with the top down: You can see and hear everything.

If I had one of those rear-mounted cameras, I would be able to see everything behind me by looking at the TV monitor in the dashboard. And, get this, if something is in the way, the car automatically hits the brakes. Talk about wonders that will never cease.

It’s going to be many years before I trade up to a car that has a rear-mounted video camera, so I need to live in the past and marvel at it.

My favorite feature is cruise control.

I know cruise control has been around for nearly forever, but at some point in the not-too-distant past, it became almost a regular feature of cars – at least the used cars we’ve looked at. And it has gotten to the point where I need – not want – cruise control as a standard feature.

First, it helps keep me from speeding. I can set the cruise control for a few miles an hour over the speed limit and not have to worry about accidentally accelerating to well past the posted speed limit because I am thinking about other things. This is especially true when driving through Bull Valley, where police officers are very diligent about apprehending speeders on their tree-lined country roads where the speed limit varies from place to place, so you really had better be paying attention.

But foremost, cruise control on the highway clears my mind. When I turn on coast – I like that concept – on Route 14 on my way to work, only a few miles, my mind relaxes, and I slip into road-trip mode. Nothing but the open highway in front me, coasting hundreds of miles. And there are few things I better like to do than drive, even though I have a disagreeable relationship with cars.

When I push the button for cruise control, I am free to drive as long as I care. Unfortunately, that’s only as far as Kishwaukee Valley Road, and I am throttled back to the present. But for a few minutes every day, I am on a road trip, just me and the open road.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, freelance writer and former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be reached at

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