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Picking Up on a Shift in Car-Culture Priorities

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

You won't find commentator Ed Cullen driving a car with the latest high-tech devices. He's owner of a nearly obsolete Ford, and he's proud of it.

ED CULLEN:

I am made to feel out of date by junior colleagues who gape when I shift the gears on the steering column of my pickup truck. Driving to lunch one day, a young reporter leaned over to see what I was doing with my left foot. I was depressing the clutch, of course, to move through first, second and third gears. It turns out, or so I'm told by people in their 20s, that car and truck makers stopped putting manual shift levers on the steering column years ago. Now pickup trucks with manual transmissions have their shifters between driver and passenger, a stupid place to put a shifter if you ask me. That space is reserved for power tools and large dogs. Gone from new trucks are the cigar lighter and ashtray. I like a fire option, as well as an electrical outlet. I keep change, also screws and nuts and bolts, in the ashtray, a spacious drop-down compartment the size of a horse's jaw.

Holding on to cars and pickup trucks for 20 years as I do, my rides tend to be a little out of date. `What's this?' a luncheon companion asked as he unlocked and pushed open one of the triangular vent windows of my antique truck. `It directs air across the inside of the cab,' I said while depressing the clutch to go from first to third. My passenger didn't notice the first to third trick we on the column manual shifters like to do to break the monotony of driving. `Cool,' my 20-something colleague said. He'd just found the large tabs for presetting stations on the truck's non-digital radio. `My grandfather's car had a radio like this.'

My truck and passengers are about the same age. I've tried halfheartedly to sell the truck. But no one who's looked at it wants a truck that shifts on the column; shifts, period, for that matter. A cop told me manual shift cars and trucks are stolen less frequently than ones with automatic transmission. A lot of car thieves are the same ages as my kid colleagues. This morning, I was filling my fountain pen when a woman in her 20s walked by my desk. `What is that?' she asked. `Manual transmission ball point,' I said as I dipped the fountain pen's nib into the little bottle of--oh, never mind.

BLOCK: Ed Cullen is a columnist for the Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ed Cullen
Ed Cullen's first commentary, "Porch Steps Baseball," aired on All Things Considered in July 2001. Since then he's written humorous sketches about life in southern Louisiana including commentaries on Mardi Gras, science fairs, and the way denizens of Guatemala North attempt to stay cool.