Late last summer I had to pick up a loaner car at the repair shop. (That’s another long and expensive story.) Everyone complains about the heat on a day like that one. Jeff pulled the car to the door as I completed the paper work, and he left it running with the A/C on to start cooling down the interior. I was in a hurry that afternoon, so I ran out, hopped in the car … and paused. Something smelled funny.

I waited a moment. Not that bad, I thought. Another moment. Wait a minute! That’s left over cigarette stench! No, it couldn’t be. There are “No Smoking” stickers right there on the dash board. I’ve got to get home soon! The smell’s not that bad, right?

It was.

As I drove home in the second loaner car (no smoke smell) I thought about the times as a kid when most adults I knew smoked. Louie and Grace both did. Jim did. Every now and then I’d ride along to a Credit Union League event with Jim. Other League people would be in the car, too. Don C or Jon S or whomever. They’d all be smoking. That’s just what adults did in the sixties.

Cars usually didn’t have A/C until the later seventies, so we would drive with the windows open, which helped keep the smoke out. The winter was a different story. A pleasant breeze when the outside temp is seventy becomes painful when the temperature drops below freezing in December. That’s when vent windows came in handy.

What’s a vent window, you ask?

Vent window with Jim at the wheel

Vent window with Jim at the wheel

They don’t exist any more; disappearing from cars in the sixties. In today’s sedans each door has one window. It goes up and down. Most cars in the fifties had an extra little window at the front of the door that operated separately from the main window. It was only a couple of inches wide and rotated, with a bit sticking out of the car, and some sticking into the car. By opening it just right, adjusting for car speed and prevailing wind conditions, it would suck stale air from inside the car, encouraging fresh air to come in the other side. Cars with vent windows just in the front were called six window sedans. If the back doors had vent windows, too, it was an eight window sedan.

Somehow we survived the smoking years with the help of vent windows. Those little windows didn’t help other gross smokers’ habits of the day. One dangerous habit was throwing spent cigarette butts out the window with a flick of the finger. Smokey the Bear and other campaigns eventually slowed that one down, but I do see that particular ugliness now and then. The other habit that appears to have ended completely is emptying the ash tray in parking lots. Cars used to have ash trays that filled up with butts and ashes. A couple of heavy smokers could fill a tray a day. What to do with the crap? Just open the door in any random parking lot and dump it.

The next person into the parking lot gets to step into a pile of stinky, dirty ash and butts. I haven’t seen a pile like that for decades. Can’t say I miss it.

Backup ash tray

Backup ash tray

Smokers usually had trouble disposing of ashes when they were out of their comfort zone, like in my office. One of the guys I worked with, Jack S, had a smoking problem. He always smoked. Every waking minute. He knew I didn’t like it and did what he could to ease my irritation. He’d stand in my doorway for conversations, holding the cigarette just outside the door, trying to exhale away from my office. Sometimes he had a little box in his pocket to put ashes and butts into. Other times he’d use the strike plate in my office door frame as a place to flick the ashes. Two ugly habits. At least he blew the smoke into the hallway.

Jeff and the others at the repair shop had similar smoking stories, and they were equally disgusted that someone would smoke in a loaner car that had a half-dozen no smoking stickers in it. When I left they were looking into the records to see who to charge for the smoke removal treatment.

I don’t smoke, and none of my friends do. It’s an ugly habit.
Grandpa Guy Havelick

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