THE DRIVEWAY – Slowly, slowly backing out from the garage. I’ve done this a thousand times over the years, neatly threading my way backwards between the brick wall of my house and my next-door-neighbors’ air conditioner. But this time my retreat is different. I have a new car, a really beautiful machine — sleek, tech-heavy, painted battleship gray, even the turret and anchors. But this car is smarter than me. It has a rearview mirror which seems to be patterned after NORAD. When I veer off course a buzzer sounds. On each side of the car is another rearview mirror that blinks orange when an 18-wheeler tries to sneak into my blind spots and turn me into road kill. Oh, a warning bell goes off, too. Backing out, I sound like the neighborhood ice cream truck.
But the peace of resistance is this TV screen in the middle of my dashboard. It’s called a Reverse Splat-Prevent Gizmo, and lights up when I put the car in reverse. Little white lines on the screen make it look like down time at the Wimbledon center court. The lines show how close I am to buying my neighbors a new a/c. With all these distractions it’s hard to activate my training wheels.
Here on the dash is the little drawer to hold coins so the valet parkers can steal them. This is my CD player where I can put in six CDs and listen to Willie Nelson all the way to the orphan auction. Odd, but the slot rejects my second CD. It only holds a single disk? Now where is the overhead holder for my glasses? This car doesn’t have one, but I have a prescription front windshield.
Somewhere hiding along here is my ashtray. Guess what. This line of cars no longer has an ashtray or cigarette lighter. The surgeon general has gone too far. Now I’ll have to toss my cigar butts out the window into passing convertibles. And where am I going to put my used chewing gum? I’ll just do as I did my old car. Stick it on the top side of the sun visor. (Speaking of old cars, if you’re looking for a good used car and come across a 1980 Yugo with 250,000 miles on it, once flooded out by Hurricane Ike and runner-up in the Lone Star Demolition Derby, it’s a steal — literally.)
“Turn right in one mile,” says this cozy female voice. I’d love to, cozy female voice, but I’d be late for my according lesson. Wait, who’s talking? “I am your Bipolar Directional Disorientor,” says the voice. “Just punch in the address of your next destination and I’ll tell you how to get there.” How do I do that? “There is a keyboard at the bottom of the screen, knuckle-dragger. Let’s say you want to go to the nearest barber shop. Take a left out of the driveway.” I don’t want to go to the barber. It’s almost time for my accordion lesson. Today it’s polka tangos.
New vehicles are judged by their number of cup holders. An SUV like the Dodge Annihilator or the Ford Intimidator can have as many as 10 or 12. This is only a four-cup car, but it has an icemaker somewhere. Notice that new car smell. It’s a fragrance called Freshly Killed Money. Elsewhere in the car, my trunk is big enough to carry three former members of the Witness Protection Program. Currently it holds my three-volume owner’s manual and a first aid kit in case my warning beepers fail. The trunk lid can be removed to make room for a tail gunner.
“Hi, this is Jason,” says a voice from somewhere. “Your car also comes with BluFang. I am real live person who tells you how to get wherever you wish to go. Let’s say you want to go to jail. Just….” Jason, can’t you see I’m busy? Yes, you probably can. This row of buttons is for the radio. To select a station I use a mouse. I click on an icon. “Welcome to Complicated Satellite Radio, which gives you 3,477 stations. You have chosen Radio Riga – Latvian folksongs.” My 12 speakers suddenly blare out “Death to the Russians March.”
I am telling you all of this because you, too, may need a new car after 250,000 miles or the repo man pays a visit, whichever comes first. But today, rather like my TV cable company bundles up 223 channels of which I only watch a dozen, cars are bundled, too. I have just bought more than I need or can comprehend. The printout on this model runs three pages, single-spaced, listing bells and whistles which are included without a choice, like a steering wheel warmer. Why? I have a glove compartment for gloves. I also get top lights, back lights, and, of course, bells and whistles.
The print-out shows I am spending almost 2K for “state and local taxes.” No wonder Texas don’t have income taxes. They are unnecessary to pay for Rick Perry’s traveling security detail. Above the front window is a panic button. I punch it so the cops or more probably the NSA knows exactly where I am and sends help — or maybe a drone. No where here is a fuzz buster announcing that I am about to get a speeding ticket, but on top of the car in back is a little fin which is an antenna that beeps when a low-hung overhead has just scraped it off. OK, I am now almost out the driveway and into the street in only 15 minutes. “I did it on my own,” I shout. “I overcame all these improvements!”
“I heard that,” says Jason.
“Turn right at the next election,” says the cozy female voice.
There are so many gadgets and buttons on this dash it looks like the control panel of an F-16. This last button says Eject. If I just press it….
Ashby’s hot button is firstname.lastname@example.org