I do not want a self-driving car.
The dealership gave me a big, maroon loaner car. It’s supposed to be a high-end SUV, but it’s really a beast.
“My mom would like this car,” I think. I turn on the 80’s on satellite radio because I can’t bluetooth to connect and finish the podcast I was listening to for work.
I already miss my little zippy little stick shift with the great speakers and no other frills. This car doesn’t zip. It sails. Not quite like my Dad’s Buicks and Old’s-people-mobiles…More like a cruise ship. I don’t want to sail. I want to zip.
As it happens, this is Rhode Island, the bad driving capital of the world. It’s the only state where the blinker is an optional package and moon roofs come standard so drivers can signal with the center finger, “left, right, straight, f-you” as God and Henry Ford intended.
Someone pulls out in front of me. I hit the breaks. I’m mentally prepared for this. I remember not to downshift since this is an automatic. I don’t want to drop the engine in the middle of the road…
Unless… it’s the right size to fill the pothole?
It’s tough to drive an automatic. I noticed no one under 35 can park my stick shift. Several times I’ve valet parked it myself. I heard someone call manual transmissions “millennial anti-theft devices.” Still, I can’t remember how to drive an automatic when called upon to do so. I have to physically sit on my right hand to avoid shifting when I’m driving so I won’t blow the engine.
Anyway, I see the car pull out in front of me. I slow down. It’s no big deal. It’s Rhode Island. He left a three-centimeter cushion, about enough to avoid the middle-finger salute.
The Maroon Beast disagrees. “Obstacle ahead.” It flashes and jerks and flips off the other car.
Did the car really jerk? Or am I imagining the jerk because a jerk pulled in front of me? I keep sailing.
I see a another pothole. I drift right to avoid it.
Two green lines flash. There’s a picture of a little car. It lights up on the dash where the red flashing lights had been. The Maroon Beast pulls back to the left.
“Can’t be out of alignment.” I look at the dash. The odometer says 1976. It’s brand new. “Loose steering.”
Next pothole, same thing. I realize what’s happening. The Maroon Beast can see. It’s sentient. It knows! It’s a semi-self-driving vehicle taking away my freedom on the American roads. It’s part of a bot network that will unite and overthrow humans. Soon, my coffee pot will tell me when I’ve had enough, my microwave will inform on me, and my internet will turn off because it doesn’t like what I’ve written.
I test the swerve a few more times. Each time I drift right, the Maroon Beast whips me back into the center of the lane, pothole or not. Now, I’m annoyed. “I am in charge here….”
I drift, it swerves. Drift. Swerve. Drift. Swerve. Drift. Swerve. BANG! Pothole.
I want to show it who’s boss, regain control, take this car back from the Soviets. There is only one thing to do.
I wait for a straightaway. I drift left—a lot. I’m now straddling the double-yellow line. I stay there.
I do it again. Nothing.
The Maroon Beast doesn’t flash, buck, pull, swear, or course correct. I drive clear left of the line, out of my lane, into oncoming traffic.
Not the slightest reaction from The Maroon Beast. I must’ve won.
I return to my lane—just in time to see another pothole. I drift right to avoid it. The Beast jerks back in the lane. Clunk.
“So, let me get this straight? You’ll let me drive into oncoming traffic, hit a tractor trailer, and die, but you won’t let me avoid a pothole?”
I hear a chime. Must be one chime for yes, two chimes for no.
“Are you going to let me drive or what?” Two chimes.
Elon Musk says we’re about five years away from autonomous vehicles. He says the technology exists now, but that it’ll take some time until we can get into our cars and not intervene—to have a totally passive driving experience.
I wonder if he’ll test drive one of his autonomous vehicles in Rhode Island.
I don’t want a self-driving car. If I have to have one because zippy little stick shifts go the way of the Model T and American muscle car, then it’d better crack open a beer for the road and say, “Good evening, ma’am, I hope you’ve had an excellent day.”
Or better yet, “I noticed you were low on groceries. I took the liberty of ordering them so you can sit back and relax.” Maybe the back seat will be a self-contained movie theatre or floatation chamber just in case the Maroon Beast decides there’s nowhere worthwhile to go and I don’t have to drive at all.
It’ll show the Lido Deck and some palm trees on the big screen, and then somewhere, somehow, the blockchain will bill me for a vacation I won’t even need to take.
But that’s another five years down the road.
For today, I hope my little zippy car will be ready so I can return The Maroon Beast and use my God-given senses and video game skills to avoid potholes on my own.