Skip to content

Today's in car entertainment has an edge

I made a trip down to Bismarck, N.D., the other day. It's about four hours to get there, which is enough time behind the wheel to get a little drowsy.

I made a trip down to Bismarck, N.D., the other day. It's about four hours to get there, which is enough time behind the wheel to get a little drowsy.

My usual remedy for this is to load up my iPod with photography, media and technology podcasts and have someone talking to me along the way. Alas, I could not find my iPod, as it was buried in a jacket pocket. Discovering that most of the radio stations were either twang or gospel revival, the many hours on the road seemed much longer than my real journey through the time-space continuum. I rejoiced when I could once again pick up the CBC 540 signal.

Most of my on-road entertainment is either talk radio or the podcast. I got out of the habit of taking a binder of CDs with me wherever I go when I got the iPod. It's about 1/100th the size and weight of the binder.

This last weekend, I had another long trip, so I was not going to have a repeat of the Bismarck entertainment void. I found the missing iPod, but more importantly, I took along some other options.

I rediscovered that my SUV has a tape deck. It's a really odd thing to see in a 2004 Buick, but I guess they were running out of options they could put in there. And since Buicks usually sell to people 20 years my senior, those clients likely still have substantial cassette tape music collections.

While cleaning out my shop the other day, I encountered a black vinyl case collecting dust. In it were the tapes I used to listen to in my high school years, long before I could even dream of a CD player, let alone an iPod. Many of these tapes saw usage in an eight-track to cassette converter in my first car, or in my Walkman paid for by paper route money.

They sounded a lot better in the Buick's Bose stereo system, I'll grant you. While there was a lot of nostalgia for the music, having the occasional right or left channel cut out showed just what a huge step in quality was made in the digital revolution.

One tape in particular stood out. It wasn't actually mine. It was my sister's. I borrowed it one day, and forgot to give it back for, oh, 20 years. I don't think she missed it.

It was one of those mixed tapes. I don't know if she made it, or maybe someone made it for her. It was a collection of late '80s/early '90s rap and dance music. I'm surprised the tape wasn't completely worn out, because I used to listen to it so much.

However, the case of tapes soon revealed why it had been collecting dust. Most of the music in it no longer piqued my interest, and I didn't like re-educating myself on the process of fast forwarding to a new song by timing it just right. The stereo can do that itself, but doesn't work well on mixed tapes.

Mixed tapes are in themselves a lost art. Sure, anyone can slap together a playlist these days with any music player and do it effortlessly with a few clicks of a mouse. You don't need the patience of cuing up and timing the recordings from various tapes to come up with your inspired compilation.

The CD binder saw some use, too. I realized I carried around a lot of dead weight that I never listened to, like blues and classical box sets. I wonder how much gas I expended in carrying around that dead weight over the years? I also didn't have much in the way of CDs worth listening to.

The next trip, I think I will be able to make do with just the iPod. There's a reason everything else has been collecting dust. I'm loath to pitch them, but I'm not going to fill my SUV with big, bulky music collections, either.

Parking in downtown Saskatoon, I realized I had left the tape collection on the front seat of the truck. If someone broke in and stole them ... well, that will never happen. Who would bother stealing a cassette tape? There's a reason they went the way of the dodo bird.

- Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at