Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How to feel really old in six giggles or less.

Today was the last day Eldest Son was with us for the post-holiday season.  Seeing as how he's got to get back to college, I couldn't keep him home any longer and drove him to the nearest Amtrak station so he could return to his land of academia.  He doesn't have a driver's license, so he has to travel by train.  I actually envy that about him.  I'd love to be able to sit back on a train and watch the world go by all the while just relaxing until I got to my destination.  Oh, I've had my time on trains -- but that's another post for another day.

So, after the train left I decided that Youngest Son and I should get some lunch and then begin the search for something I didn't realize until last night I desperately needed.  I needed a cassette player.

What?  Don't sit there and pretend like you've never heard of one.  Don't look at me like, "Just how old of a geezer are you that you want one of THOSE?"  Don't try to deny all of the mix tapes you personally created with bits of recordings from the radio when you couldn't afford to buy all the albums needed to express your juvenile desires.  And certainly stop laughing if you've got an older-model vehicle with a cassette player in the radio, ESPECIALLY if it still works!

Sure, there are some of you who have no idea what I'm talking about.  That's just because you're too young to understand what it was like to have mobile music for the first time.  Wait....let me clarify that -- what it was like to have DECENT mobile music for the first time.  I'm not going to get into 8-Track players in this post.  They had a whole history to themselves.  No, I'm talking about being able to take YOUR music -- not just whatever was spilling out of your FM radio (if you were lucky to have one of those and not be tormented with constant AM 24/7).  Little miniature reel-to-reel tapes in their own plastic containers that would allow you to play prerecorded music or, even better, allow you to record whatever you liked and listen to it over and over and over again.  This was when the Walkman cost $100+ and Apple Computers were still running BASIC DOS with 5-inch disks that had to be inserted BEFORE the computer would even turn on!

Oh....the freedom we had with cassette tapes!  All of your music didn't have to be carefully handled like those big 33-1/3 LP records or the smaller 45s that you were terrified would get scratched if you danced a little to hard and made the needle jump.  True, with cassettes as with LPs, you did have to be careful about leaving them in the car or near a heated area for fear your tunes would be permanently melted.  And cassettes also had a bad habit of getting all twisted inside the gears and play heads, causing the little tape to become all wrinkled and creased.  Sure, you could still play them, but it always made the artist sound as if they'd suddenly had a stroke until you got past the "bad part."  We all even heralded the day when cassette players became "intelligent" and you could press the "Skip/Scan" button and it would find the next song all by itself!  No more having to sit and halfway press Rewind or Fast Forward while the Play button was still engaged to figure out where the song you really wanted to hear was on the tape.  You could play and play and play them, up until they finally gave up with all of the rewinding and fast-forwarding and snapped with no way to be repaired.

Then, compact discs came along.  Not only with their smug change of the spelling of "disk" to "disc," but also with a LOT more space for even more music and no need to stop, take it out and turn it over to hear the rest of what you'd recorded (and had usually lost a part of something in that space when you had to stop, take it out and turn it over while recording something).  Compact discs were the future.  They would forever doom the little cassette tape to the dusty corners of the shelving unit that still had your 8-Track tapes and floppy disks from days gone by.  Even the Walkman was refitted for the CD craze.  CD players began appearing in vehicles WITH the cassette player -- just taunting you to go out and repurchase your whole music collection on those little silver things that were going to be the be-all-and-end-all of music recording/playback.

Well, some of us never had enough money to repurchase every album or cassette we ever owned.  Some of us also have cassettes and albums that you could NOT get on CD.  And now, even with the advent of MP3 files and players, there are still items that you can't find that were only on cassettes.  One of those, an audio recording of "The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul" written and read by Douglas Adams, I have been searching and searching for ever since the last set of cassettes for it snapped under the strain of repeated playing.  Nowhere could I find it on CD or MP3 without having to feel like I needed to take a second mortgage to pay for a copy.

But this past holiday season, a set of the unabridged cassette recording appeared under my Charlie Brown tree.

How am I going to listen to it?  How am I going to enjoy it when I'm on the road and my car only has a CD player and a jack for an external MP3 player?  I need....a conversion kit!!  No problem!  I'll just bop over to Best Buy or Staples or any other Big Box Mart that carries those types of things and pick one up!  But, unfortunately, it only has the software and external jacks....no cassette player included.

The hunt began.  It was not pleasant.  I went to many Big Box Mart places and was "assisted" by many underpaid worker-drones, some at least as old as myself, who laughed hysterically when I said I needed a cassette player.  They giggled and snorted while trying to hide their amusement as they informed me that nothing like that existed within their business (or even their own plane of existence for all they knew).  They looked at me as if I were one of those sad, slow persons who either doesn't have a grip on reality or once did but has regressed back to childhood and isn't giving that up again without a fight.

Youngest Son made sure to stand far enough away so that he could have complete deniability of knowing who this techno-idiot standing in the store was.  Not that I blame him....

However, fearing that I'd not be able to listen to my cassettes and once again be able to nearly recite the entire book along with its now-deceased author (the reason why there are no more recordings by him and why the value of any have risen to outrageous heights), I finally trudged to the last place I could think of.  The last place I want to shop.  The last place where I'd want to be laughed at by teenagers who didn't even know the word "cassette" existed in the English language.  I went to Walmart.

And lo, did the crowds part and the aisles glisten as I ambled my way through the Section of Electronics.  Past the MP3 players; past the accessories for them; past the CDs and DVDs and all things uber-technical.  There -- amongst the digital Walkman radios and GPS systems -- did sit a small, obscure blue-and-white box.  Emblazoned upon its surface were the words, "Cassette Recorder."  It was a thing of beauty!  So simple; so easy to operate.  It even came, at no extra cost, with a separate microphone so that should you wish to dictate your life's memories with its recording capabilities, you would be able.  At last, my quest was at an end!

Now, I shall begin to convert my cassettes to digital files so I can listen to them again and again.  And no, I will not upload them where others can pirate them and I might go to jail.  But I shall convert them because I don't want to have that heart-wrenching feeling when you hear the tape go "snap" in the machine in mid-sentence again.

Looking back, though, there is a feeling of unease in the air.  I found the cassette recorder -- the holy grail for today.  And yet, no where did I see cassettes that could be recorded upon to be used with it....  Why does technology constantly taunt us so?

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