It took 3 hours to drive 130 miles in the Beetle.
In the Seventies my college roommate was kind enough to lend me his Volkswagen. Driving to Boston, especially in the winter, was an adventure with the car’s thin bias-ply tires and barely working defroster. But the real excitement occurred when the engine began to sputter. That was the signal that I was down to my last gallon of gas—pre-1962 Beetles didn’t have fuel gauges--and I would flip the switch near the pedal and pray that there was a (cheap) gas station within the next twenty miles. I was used to living close to the edge; with ten bucks in my pocket and a full tank of gas life was bliss.
Since then our measurement devices have improved exponentially in precision and speed, so there's no need to wait for the telltale sputter. I know where I stand in many aspects of life. I can read instantaneously my systolic pressure, the value of my stock portfolio, the exact time of day, and the minutes left on my cellphone plan.
In spite of, or perhaps because of their accuracy, I’ve made changes to many of these instruments. The bathroom scale is a couple pounds high, the alarm clock is five minutes fast, and my checkbook balance has a few zeroes omitted (I’ve got a cushion at the bank). But of course my monkey mind is aware of these fudge factors, and it adjusts them back to the real measurements.
In a psych class the professor said that those who keep their watches fast are high need-achievers. Now I think that those who deliberately build imprecision into their devices do so because of unfulfilled dreams---and fears; once I didn’t worry about running out of gas or money or time, and now I do. The unexamined life is not worth living, said the philosopher, but it's easy to forget that he said that the process of examination can be painful. © 2007 Stephen Yuen
San Francisco microcosm: Lotta's Fountain and the venerable Palace Hotel, both of which survived the '06 quake, and the modern "jukebox" Marriott with its (accurate) clock.