Month: October 2022

Those windshield wipers slappin’ out a tempo…

Those windshield wipers slappin’ out a tempo 
Keepin’ perfect rhythm with the song on the radio

Drivin’ My Life Away by Eddie Rabbitt 

Lucas Pezeta, via

Lying in the back seat of our Volkswagen Squareback, fading in and out of sleep, I listened to the “wee-wee-wee” of the windshield wiper motor, working to clear the rain. The motor sound was loud in that tinny car. Most were back in the day, before motors perhaps were made quieter and cars got better sound insulation.  

I’ve always liked rainy, stormy weather, and listening to the wiper motor was calming. It seems that whenever we returned from a visit to my grandparents, 90 minutes away, it rained as we headed home late at night. 

Less calming was the staticky noise coming from the AM radio (it would be years before we got a car with FM). Every time we drove under an overpass, the radio would cut out as the signal was interrupted. 

Our Volkswagen Squareback had a distinctive, and loud, wiper motor.

One late night in particular we were once again heading home from my grandparent’s and it was storming. Something was not right with the car and dad had switched off the radio to listen better. I woke and sat up, knowing something was not right. I was too young to know what was going on, but I could sense the concern from my parents and my apprehension grew. 

Finally, the car quit, and we coasted to the shoulder, rain pelting the car, the click, click, click of the hazard flashers going and my parents wondering what to do on that dark, remote stretch of U.S. 131. 

Not long after moving to the shoulder, the sky was lit by the rotating red beacon of a Michigan State Trooper, pulling up behind us. The Trooper came up and talked with dad for a few seconds and then had us all move into his car while he used his radio to get us help. 

Sitting in the back of his patrol car I was met with all kinds of new sounds: the whirring of the spinning red light on top of his car, his own wipers fighting off the rain and the cackling of his two-way radio while he made arrangements for a tow truck and a cab to come from Kalamazoo. 

I also remember being cold in the back seat and the Trooper cranking the fan to get more heat. 

I fell asleep again in the big Checker cab that drove us home that night – a cavernous beast compared to that tiny VW! 

I’ve always been interested in switches and knobs and similar controls. Today we have very complicated stalks on our steering columns that control very sophisticated wiper systems. We have multiple speeds, intermittent swipes, rain-sensing activation – all at the tip of our fingers. I think it’s a good system, but I also miss the dash-mounted controls of earlier autos that required a long reach into the dark abyss to work them. 

The windshield wiper and washer control on late-70s era Chevrolet trucks.

The first vehicle I can call “mine” was a 1977 Chevrolet Blazer. It had a novel windshield wiper control that I just loved to fiddle with. It was comprised of a single vertical bar: push in for washer fluid, slide left for slow swipes, right for fast ones. As an early driver I often would apply the squirts just so I could run the wipers.  

I’ve always been easily amused. 

My first solo drive was from our home on the outskirts of the tiny village of Gobles, Michigan to the new McDonalds in neighboring Paw Paw. A friend of mine, Susan, had just gotten a job there, and I needed her to hook me up with a Quarter Pounder With Cheese to celebrate my new driver’s license! 

I remember two things about my first solo drive. One, when I got to the four-way-stop at Armstrong Corners, with nobody around, I floored it – the first time I was able to burn a little rubber and feel super cool.  

That was quickly followed by a sense of terror in the pit of my stomach as I realized I left a small puff of smoke in the air and was a little scared to be going so fast! 

The second thing, after my burnout, was playing with the wipers! Not the radio (which had FM!), not the other knobs, not weaving side-to-side, not going fast. No, the wipers. I squirted fluid on the windshield and ran the wipers. There was no rain. The glass was perfectly clean. But I wanted to feel that switch in my fingers and hear the comforting sound of MY wipers wee-wee-weeing across the glass. 

These days windshield wipers are far less entertaining. They are almost silent. The noise we hear is from the rubber scraping, sliding, skidding across glass. It’s certainly not the calming rhythm that can lull a small boy to sleep in the back seat, with a belly full of grandma’s cooking.