Removable stereo? Check! Case full of cassettes? Check! Radar detector? Check!

A Facebook status update from my old college roommate, asking if anyone had a radar detector he could borrow, got me thinking about all of the crap I used to take with me on road trips in my old 1983 maroon Honda Accord, just for the car ride.

Removable car stereo

Removable car stereo

I lived in Manhattan back then and, although my neighborhood was safe, there was a methadone clinic right across the street from my building. I’m not even going to touch the debate over whether methadone clinics are an effective way to treat drug addictions. I will state one indisputable fact: Every time I took one of the dogs I used to take care of for an early morning walk, patients from the clinic, while awaiting its opening, were constantly walking around my neighborhood and peering into cars, and I had to steer the dogs around broken glass from car windows on several occasions. YOU do the math.

So one of my primary accessories for a drive of almost any length was my removable stereo, which was referred to at the time as a Benzi box. While today, the idea of carting a car stereo around with you seems ludicrous, back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was actually quite common. The problem today is that there’s no point having a removable stereo, because any thief worth his salt will just steal your entire car, rendering your removable stereo pretty much useless.

Cassettes ... remember these?

Cassettes ... remember these?

Of course, I had to bring tapes for the stereo. I have always been a firm believer that New York-area radio stations absolutely suck, and I still find that to be true, so bringing my own music was a necessity. Obviously, there was no such thing as an iPod the size of a cigarette lighter that could hold the equivalent of several-hundred albums back then, so I always toted around a case of cassette tapes (CDs were just starting to become mainstream back then, and I didn’t have one of those newfangled CD players in my Accord). Looking back, could this have been any more inefficient?

Finally, let me go back to the device that spurred this entry in the first place. For a trip that involved any length of highway driving, I always brought a radar detector. I was never 100% sold that the contraption really worked, but it did, in all fairness, save me from at least two tickets that I can think of off the top of my head. Of course, you have to know how to use a radar detector, unlike one of my moron friends from college. After being tailed by a trooper for two miles, when he got pulled over, all he did was bitch that “this piece of shit doesn’t work!” Um, it’s a radar detector, not a police car detector. If your dumb ass didn’t see the cop behind you for two miles, no gadget on Earth can help you.

radar detector

radar detector

Let me wrap up with a shameless plug: My college roommate runs a spectacular Web site, Ownersite, which bills itself as “the Internet’s most comprehensive Web-based preventive-maintenance reminder and expense-tracking system.” If you own a car — even a maroon 1983 Honda Accord — you should check it out.

Remember blank tapes?

I listened to a lot of 1980s heavy metal this past week. This is not necessarily unusual for me, but finally seeing The Wrestler last Saturday night probably contributed to it, as the movie’s entire soundtrack is made up of the music that got me through high school and college.

I realized how different things used to be after listening to three straight albums — The Scorpions’ Love at First Sting, Accept’s Metal Heart and AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock — that were all 10 songs or fewer and all around 45 minutes or less.

TDK blank cassette tape

TDK blank cassette tape

I had to laugh because it brought back memories of when I used to buy all my albums on either vinyl or CD (obviously depending on the time period) and transfer them to blank cassette tapes so I could listen to them in the car and on my Walkman.

I remembered worrying about the length of albums. If they were longer than 45 minutes, it really fouled up the entire taping process, because you had to use the B side of a 90-minute tape for the spill-over, and you couldn’t put an entire other album on it. If they were much shorter than 45 minutes, you had way too much empty space at the end of the tape, and fast-forwarding to the end was a pain in the ass.

I remembered the still-unresolved argument over whether there was really a difference between normal cassette tapes and chrome cassette tapes, and if the latter were actually worth the extra 50 cents or so. And don’t even get me started on the really expensive metal cassette tapes.

Is it live ... or is it Memorex?

Is it live ... or is it Memorex?

I remembered arguing that although the Memorex ad with the guy sitting in the chair getting blown away by the sound was an all-time classic, when it came to quality, TDK kicked Memorex’s ass up and down the block, at least in my opinion. So did Maxell. And Sony wasn’t bad, either.

I thought back on times when I left on a road trip, only to realize that the carrying case that held 12 cassettes — about 20 times the size of my current iPod and containing around 1% of the music — was never refilled, meaning that I’d have to listen to the same tapes I had on the previous road trip.

And anyone ever have the miserable experience of trying to clean out all of what was left of a destroyed tape out of your tape deck?

Yeah, I’d say music distribution has come a long way in the past few years. Wouldn’t you?