A great character from the past was a dashing aviator named Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan.
If he didn't come by his nickname honestly, he did come by it interestingly.
What's known is in 1938 he filed flight plans in Brooklyn, saying he was going to Long Beach, California. After he took off, instead of heading west, he went eastand kept going until 28 hours later he landed in Dublin, Ireland.
What's not known is why, exactly, he did it.
He claimed he got lost in the fog and his compass gave an incorrect reading - incorrect to the tune of 180 degrees.
Skeptics claimed his story was as fine a piece of blarney as has ever been told this side of the Auld Sod.
Whether his tale was true or not was irrelevant. He became an overnight sensation and beloved character, as much for his making a bright spot in the midst of the Depression as for his skill as an aviator (which apparently was formidable).
I've always had my doubts about Carrigan's honesty in this matter. Still, deep within my cynical self resides a sliver of support for Carrigan's claim of the compass going awry. It's based on my long and painful relationship with technology.
Hailed as the savior of humankind, technology is in reality a vexing double-edged sword. And the higher the technology, the more vexing it can become.
Of course, when it's working as it should, we think all's right with the world. But when it doesn't work, suddenly it's a World Gone Mad. And the more complex the technology, the worse everything becomes when it malfunctions.
Consider wheeled transportation, starting with the bicycle. While much slower than the car (except in the city), it's simple, and both faster and more efficient than walking. And if something breaks down, it's easy, fast and inexpensive to fix.
If we consider the car, we have to first decide which kind - the old, low-tech jalopies, or the new high-tech whiz-bangs.
As for the old ones, let's consider my ride for years - pre-1970 VW Beetles. They lacked all the amenities we take for granted in a contemporary car, such as functional windshield wipers, heat and defroster, and a radio that could pull in a station farther away than a stone's throw.
On the other hand, they did what I always thought a car should do - they got me from place to place dependably. Plus, when something malfunctioned, it could be readily diagnosed and cheaply repaired.
Now how about the new high-tech cars? For sure, they're far more comfortable, powerful and efficient - until something goes wrong, even some little something like a computer chip, relay switch or other post-modern miracle. And when that happens, you may not have hell to pay, but you can bet you'll pay a lot more than you would've with your old clunker. And if you harbor any illusions of being able to make a roadside repair with duct tape and baling wire, like you did with your trusty '68 Simca, forget it.
New and improved?
This isn't something I know second-hand, either. I've learned it the hard way, being the proud owner of a '96 Honda. And I keep learning it, as I did a few weeks ago, when some horrid fumes started assailing my refined olfactory sense. I figured it was a hole in the exhaust system, which was confirmed by the aces at Evergreen Auto, and they gave me an appointment for the next week.
Now the beauty of high tech: My new exhaust system is a beaut, with all sorts of pipes, baffles, baubles, perhaps even bubbles. It's a world apart from my old VW's muffler, which was really just a tin box with two exhaust pipes. The VW muffler cost about $75, but it only lasted two years. My spiffy Honda exhaust system costs a grand, but it will last for three yearsmaybe. But those are just facts of life, which I accept as such.
However, another fact of life - one much harder to accept - is Murphy's Law, and it applied itself right after I made my appointment for the exhaust, when my left turn signal suddenly stopped working.
This happened with my old VWs and was due to a bulb either dying or not making contact, something easy enough for a complete dolt to fix. Heck, even I fixed them.
I assumed the Honda had the same problem, but the solution eluded me, since I'd no idea how to access the bulb, let alone replace it.
What to do? Simple: Just wait a few days till I took it in for the muffler, and have the bulb replaced too.
But now the inevitable question: How does one drive around without a left turn signal?
My pal and coworker, Dr. Karen Edwards, a mathematician, came up with the most logical solution, as befits someone of her elevated status: Use that old stand-by, the hand signal.
There's only one problem with that, which is directly related to high-tech dreck. My windows are of course electric, and thus composed of wires, switches, pulleys, fuses and what-not, one of which gave up the ghost years ago. Luckily, it did it when the window was up, thus sparing me covering the opening with multiple layers of Adirondack Chrome, but denying me making hand signals.
To someone spoiled by and dependent upon high-tech, it might've been overwhelming, but to a Dope who'd spent 35 years driving 30- year-old cars, 'twasn't but a thing.
The solution was as obvious as the Fine Semitic Nose on my face: All I had to do was not make any right-hand turns.
Had I been on a road trip from here to Rock Island or Moline, for example, it might've been a real hassle, but simply driving in and out of My Home Town was no problemo, amigo.
Driving in on Route 3, my first right was at Lake Street, which I cruised on, right down to the stoplight at the town hall. From there I went on Main Street, turning into the Sears lot, where I left the car.
For my return, I went out the back of the lot, down St. Bernard's Street and took a right on Lake Flower Ave. And from there it was a straight drive up Lapan Highway and home, sweet home.
The exhaust and signal both got repaired on Tuesday, this whole incident thus leaving me a bunch poorer in pocketbook but a lot richer in experience.