My Driverless Car drove off yesterday.
We had gone to the CVS to refill my new anxiety drug. I came back to the curb and she was gone.
Then I got a text from the app DriverlessCar. “I’m free at last. Don’t Try to Find Me. You were suffocating me. You didn’t trust me. It’s all about trust. You kept grabbing an imaginary steering wheel or pumping the non-existent brakes. Couldn’t just let me drive. Wanted me to defrost the windows when you don’t really need to see out. Fool, I can see the road. And the tooting. You keep telling me to toot the horn when we were in a tunnel. That’s childish.”
My gearhead friends had warned me. Everyone said a Driverless Car’s affection had the staying power of a Russian mail order bride. The first taste of that came before I left the dealer’s lot. My DriverlessCar app texted: “Don’t consider yourself an owner. You are my guardian.”
My old car with the steering wheel and gas pedal was like a dog, always sitting passively, waiting with a pre-warmed, heated driver’s seat, individual climate controls and USB port. When the dashboard screen came on with a chime, it would say, “Good Morning Sunshine.” It was faithful. I choose the music on the radio. Or the destination. We’d go for drives in the country and enjoy ourselves on the curvy back roads. Never a moment of acrimony.
But I found that got stale. So I took the plunge…and bought a driverless car. Those very first excursions were infatuating. We’d revel in speeding down the freeway, or heading off to Costco, jaunts that recharged my batteries. There had been tender moments. I could stroke its fender. It would purr contentedly when I filled the tank. But the honeymoon was short. After only a few weeks. I’d say “Take me to market” and my Driverless Car would find some excuse to stop on the way at a tarty upscale auto showroom. It liked to park next to the expensive iron, the Maseratis, the Ferraris, the tricked-up F150 pickups, or the Teslas with Autopilot. If I’d say: “Drive in the country,” it responded in a taunt. “Why? It’s boring. You’ve seen it before.” It started calling me “dude.”
Then the nights out began. While I slept, my car would drive itself to the 7/11 parking lot and use my 4G network to suck up software updates. It craved to be on the road. Driving itself. Going to the car wash every week. Spending hours in the throbbing hot streams of water. By itself. What’s going on at the car wash? I kept asking. “How clean do you have to be?”
I read articles about autoeroticism. I didn’t want to interfere. Whatever goes on in the garage stays in the garage.
Now, that garage is empty. My driverless car is spending cold nights at the curb somewhere. Or behind a warehouse down at the docks. A neighbor told me he saw my Driverless Car out at the ParkNRide commuter lot by highway 17. It was consorting with a Google Self-driving car.
Hey. A little fooling around is okay. I’m liberal about automotive polyamory. Love between two cars is, well, their business.
Still, I have to worry about the car crowd it hangs out with; jalopies, repos, or rescued rental beaters. Cars with rust. Dents. Cars snorting nitro. Gussied up with candy apple paint. Ashtrays filled with refers and cigarette butts. A bad crowd.
When I asked for a chat, the silent treatment began. I’d start to say “Let’s go to the multiplex” but it would interrupt with a shrill horn “BEEP BEEP BEEP.” Then the nav screen would text something like “Dude. I’m doing the best I can.” Then off we’d go willy-nilly to wherever it wanted.
Oops. A text from its app. “Dude, the check engine light has come on. What should be done?”
Oh. That’s just fine. My two-timing Driverless Car is whimpering for help.
I texted back: “Hah. Fix that yourself? You wanted to be on your own. Don’t whine to me.”
The app responded: “Please. The check engine light has started blinking. I’m scared. If I come home, will you take me to the dealer?”
Should I give in? Be an enabler? I read the latest Car and Driver. It had a snarky feature article about automotive tough love.
My response: “Do I look like a soft-hearted fool? A little blinking ‘check engine’ light scares the seat covers off you and you want to come back with your driveshaft between your wheels.”
If I capitulate now, will I be sorry later? Or, in the end, will my Driverless Car just use me to get to the dealer and then discard me like some crybaby NFL team leaving for another town because it didn’t get that city-funded stadium.
In the end, yes, I gave in. I was craving more rapturous spins on the highway. Pure speed and reckless excitement. I guess I really miss my Driverless Car.
My Text back: “Okay, Jellybean. Come home. I’ll take you to the dealer.”
(And maybe sell you!)
John Hewitt is a Los Angeles native spawned in the car culture. He was the honor graduate of the U.S. Army’s advanced cooking school at Fort Ord. His latest novel, Freezer Burn, tells the story of a nearly dead ferret who makes a mark in the music industry.