Cars & Books on Tape, the digital edition

I’ve been listening to a lot of books on tape during my long drives across the continent. Used to be I’d never have done this; I had tried listening to a book on tape many years ago while driving and realized that it distracted me from the task at hand, so I stopped. It is an oft neglected truth that driving is the single most dangerous thing any person is likely to do on any day; it is more likely to kill you than terrorism or cancer, or any other of the boogie-men of modern society. To quote Robert A. Heinlein‘s book Friday (one of my favorites — reread it countless times, and just refinished it a few days ago: “This rule is analogous to the fact that the person most likely to murder you is some member of your own family-and that grim statistic is ignored too; it has to be. Live in fear of your own family? Better to be dead!”) People are the same way about driving, and to their detriment. I’m more than half way through my life (I have no expectation of getting to 100), and I’ve already lost more friends and or loved ones to death by car than from anything else, so I don’t ever forget that fact. When I read books, I tend to get a sort of film playing inside my brain, like a half-awake dream, and I discovered the same thing happens when I listen to a book on tape when driving, and I find myself slipping into looking at that more so than the road … so for years I just wouldn’t do it — but things have changed.

About — come to think of it, it was almost an exact year ago (2015), after having spent about seven full hours at Universal’s Amusement park in Orlando, attending their annual Halloween Horror Nights event (I’ll write a review of it at some point, but let’s just say, “No, don’t go”) … I got into a horrible car accident on the I4 expressway while driving home that totaled my car. The park closed at 1:00 am, and by the time I got to my car and to driving home at about 2:00 am, I was seriously fatigued — enough so that my response time was just a fraction too slow, when the car in front of me slammed to a stop to avoid the car accident that had just happened in front of her. I braked hard enough to keep from killing myself, but was just a second too late to avoid a collision. The car crumpled, taking the majority of the impact, and the air bags and my safety-belt kept me from more than some impressive bruising. (The occupants of the car I hit were apparently fine, other than a good fright — this according to the teenage boy who came by my car to talk to me, and just dumped their rental car and grabbed a cab to the airport — which is where they had been heading).

I, on the other hand, was taken to the hospital (there was a worry that my ribs may have been cracked by the airbag, but were just bruised), and ended up in bed for over two solid weeks, because the impact not only sprained a few joints, but also set off a horrible case of positional vertigo that for days afterwards resulted in any slight movement of my head setting the room to spinning around me. And for those who have not had the pleasure, it’s like being on a roller coaster that spins you around, and not being able to get off. It is something I’ve been struggling with now for about 10 years, a side effect of an allergic reaction to penicillin that damaged my inner ear — according to the doctors; it can be, and was, brought on like gang busters by things like a car accident. It is also why I no longer will ride even the gentlest roller-coasters, or any amusement park rides that involves spinning. Firstly, those things are no longer fun for me, and more importantly, they can actually trigger the sensations so that I’m too dizzy to walk unassisted for at least the next hour or so.

After the accident, once I was healed fully and able to get back on the horse (so to speak), I had to do something that I’ve never before done alone, buy a new car. I suppose it’s a rite of passage, of a sort. Till then pretty much every car I had was a hand-me-down from my parents, or were used ones purchased with my father by my side, making sure his little girl didn’t get fleeced. (Side note: One year my new years resolutions included, ‘I will learn to drive a stick’ which meant us buying me a really old but reputed to be reliable Saab 900 with very little acceleration for $1,000 — with the expectation of my stripping the gears while learning; as luck would have it, it turned out to be so ridiculously reliable that it lasted me about four years, until its said lack of power finally got on my nerves, and I traded it in for a newer used Saab, which turned out to be a hell of lot less reliable.) But, like I said before, my dad had died, and I was now for the first time in my life having to learn to function without that sort of support.

I ended up posting my need to Facebook, and relying on the collective advise of friends — and cross correlating those with the most recent IIHS safety awards. From that, I only allowed myself to consider cars that were also on their TSP+ rated list (with “advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention”). My final considerations were: 1) sufficient power to keep a fully loaded car going up a steep hill at the speed limit, 2) enough trunk capacity for my three suitcases and other crap (a friend convinced me that loading anything that looked ‘potentially desirable’ into anyplace visible to thieves might result in break-ins), 4) a sunroof (highly useful in hot climates when you need to cool down a previously parked car), and finally, what I — as a single woman traveling alone — affectionately refer to as, 5) the “rape button” (a Telematics system, like OnStar, or any of the other equivalent ones, which automatically call for help when the airbag is deployed, or if you hit an emergency button — plus a host of other functions).

Ultimately, I bought a 6-cylinder Subaru Legacy (the brand all my female friends were pointing me towards) with “EyeSight” and all the other safety bells and whistles, which initially I bought because it was more ‘functional’ than sexy. (I only later discovered that it is considered the car of choice for Lesbians — that said, one thing you say for those gals, they’re practical, as is this car.) I however — having sort of been lured towards other sexier cars that were more fun to drive, but always lacked one or other of the full assortment of features I had decided I needed, had compared the Subaru to “a nice, honest, hard working, if slightly plain, girl who is also a very good cook” when describing it to the salesman. That said, I passed over the cheer leaders and got the Subaru, and I have since fallen very much in love with it.

In order to get “all the safety” stuff I wanted, I was also forced to buy the packages that included things like leather seats and all sorts of other things I didn’t necessarily want or need, but obviously didn’t mind (seat warmers, etc). My priority however was SAFETY! After having just had a head-on accident that could have killed me — and also been struck with the thought that, if I had, let’s say, run into a deer at night on a lonely road, “who would have called 911?”, that was first and foremost on my mind.  And, it extended all the way from wanting state of the art, high-tech, crash avoidance systems to the aforementioned “rape button” — which also necessitated buying a yearly subscription to the satellite system the telemetrics system communicates with. I will note however, when I called my insurance provider to tell them the Vin Number on my car, and to hear just how much of a hit to my insurance this new car would cost me, my agent typed in the number and started laughing.
“What?” I asked her, “what’s so funny?”
She answered: “Your old car was a ’97 Nissan Sentra, and you paid ‘$X’ — your brand new car with leather seats and everything else is going to cost you only $0.67 more. I’ve NEVER seen anything like this before… its considered SO MUCH SAFER than your old one that even though it’s brand new, and 20 years newer than your old car, the insurance costs are almost the same.”

So, returning to the topic at hand, books on tape; like I said before, because I found that listening to the books distracted me a little, and made me less of a safe driver… and considering that driving a car is the single most dangerous thing most of us do, I had long ago stopped listening to them when driving. But this car… it is a wonder of modern technology. The thing practically drives itself. It is not yet to the point where you can set the destination into the computer and climb into the back seat, like with the Tesla, but it’s not far from it. You still need to steer the thing, and it can’t see red lights or stop signs, but if you set it to cruise it can see the car in front of you and will slow down to keep a safe following distance between you and it. This is GREAT for long distance highway driving where road fatigue tends to make you a bit less safe, and even better for stop and go highway driving. If the car in front of you comes to a full stop, even if you never touch the break, so will your car. If the car in front of you than starts to move, and you neglect to notice, it tells you. If you have been driving for two hours without a break, the car starts beeping at you to turn off the engine and stretch your legs. Hit a different button, and it can usually see the lanes in the road, and keep you from crossing over them unintentionally. If for some reason the EyeSight system is NOT working (which can happen because of adverse conditions, like heavy rain or fog), the system warns you that you need to take over (or better yet, get the hell off the road). Once I got to the point where I realized I could in fact trust the car, that just as my insurance provider thought that it was hell-of-beans safer than driving a traditional car, a friend convinced me to give books on tape a try during my hours long cross country treks, so I did.

My downsizing of my life had actually begun a few years before my dad had died, when I moved to S. Korea to teach University. Clearly, schlepping my book collection across the ocean made no sense, and apartments in Asian cities are cramped, the way apartments in Manhattan are cramped. So, I had purchased two Kindles from Amazon (one for the home, one for at work — I would listen to books while proctoring exams, etc.), and loaded those up with e-books. In general, I only purchased books where the publishers allowed for text-to-speech, as audio-books at the time were very pricey (and you get used to computer voice the same way you might a friend’s heavy accent — for the most part, it does a decent job).

Then after dad died and I had decided to hit the road, I happened to notice that, and this was well AFTER they had purchased Audible in 2008, Amazon was offering deals; if you already owned the e-book Amazon would allow you to upgrade to the Audible version, sometimes for only a dollar or two more. I started off with one or two books that were cheap upgrades of eBooks I had not yet gotten around to reading, decided that the upgrade was worth the price, and did the same for more… and then once I got my new car, and realized that I could now listen to books while driving, I decided it was worth it to me to join their special club for audible users, which offers discounts on books I didn’t already own, etc. My new car’s entertainment system also came with all sorts of bells and whistles I was slow to discover, such as multiple sound ports, as well as a plethora of USB ports, all of which were hidden discreetly in closed compartments, away from prying eyes. And then after a while I stumbled upon the fact that the USB ports doubled as sound ports for the iPhone. After that I had the brain fart that since my car would also link any sound played from the iPhone into the stereo system, and since I was no longer using text-to-speech, I didn’t really NEED to be using the Kindles anymore while in the car.

At that point, let’s just say I got a bit ‘over excited’ by my audible purchases, and started to run up quite the bill. I happened to mention this on Facebook, and got a round ribbing from friends about, “why aren’t you borrowing them from the library instead of buying them?” And I was like, “I’m driving all around the country, I can’t borrow CD’s and then return them, I need digital.” And then was assured that the libraries now lend those out too… who knew? To be honest, I haven’t used a public library in years, so I was kind of behind the curve. Last time I had checked, maybe ten years ago, they had not yet gotten with the e-book program, and you know… time flies when you aren’t paying attention (that and there are all sorts of free sites for e-books these day, such as the Gutenberg project which has over 53,000 freely available books at this point). So last week, since I’m currently in the area anyway, I went to my local public library, checked into it… sure enough they do now lend audible books via a web site (although the selection is very limited, if its not a bestseller odds are you won’t find it there; even the selection of masterworks is kind of sketchy). Also, I learned that my library card, which had worked without need of any sort of update since I was in the 2nd grade (so over 40 years), was no longer any good. They have a new system now — possibly as a result of 9/11 and the Patriot Act, where its has to be renewed every three years, so I did that.

That said, when I compared what I owned, to what was available to borrow, I was much relieved to find only a small handful of overlap. MOST of my books that I had purchased tend to fall into the category of history books, or the sorts of things you would read for a University class, and only a handful of those were best sellers. In fact, when comparing the two collections I only found three history books (that I owned), and my Game of Thrones series to be duplicated (as in I could have borrowed instead of purchased). Huge sigh of relief. I then sat down and a fairly exhaustive search of the library collection of audible’s to borrow, and only found 93 books I was interested in. … I will take the 5th on how many others I already own. Let’s just say, between the two I’m set for books for a few years to come, and they don’t weigh anything, or cost me anything to shelp around.

 

 

 

 

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