Thursday, October 29, 2015

On the Road

Headlines on the Bloomberg Web site today include the Blockbuster:

Can Detroit Beat Google to the Self-Driving Car?
Inside GM's fight to get to the future first.

Apparently this isn't the world it used to be. It's definitely a world where millions will wait outside in the snow to buy the latest i-Gadget even when last weeks model is in their pocket, but we're keeping cars far, far longer than once we did. You can drive home in a 700+ horsepower car, in a car that does 230 or more miles per hour and gets mileage equal to my old /68 VW.  In fact we're in a golden age of American performance and engineering and we don't know.   No sir, your 200 HP Nissan isn't a race car.

Some people still like to drive. Some people grew up when the number one aspiration was a car and the number two goal was something cool enough to turn heads at the drive in:  the Drive In everything that was, from theaters to restaurants to, believe it or not, liquor stores. We didn't hang out at WiFi hotspots in malls. It was at Henry's Hot Dogs or Big Daddy's Drive in with car hops and looking to impress the girls and an occasional contest of acceleration.  Real girls that is and in person, not on line. Tinder was still something you started a fire with.
The worst thing anyone could show up in was an "economy car."  Sure, I remember buying and pumping gas at 26.9 and the price of fuel didn't matter but guys like me studied cars the way the nerds did homework and the jocks memorized sports statistics. My friends and I built go-karts with lawnmower parts in 8th grade and went on to customize cars, swap and rebuild engines  and the best thing anyone could wish for was to hear someone who knew say "hey, that guy can drive!"

What kind of people want a car that drives itself, controlled by satellites and computers and government regulations in soulless safety and always in constant contact and a play list?  Sorry, you'll take away the steering wheel, the handlebars, the shift lever from my cold dead fingers  but you'll have to catch me first.

Is this a case of industry spending a fortune on something that won't sell?  Or is this a case of a country that's lost it's soul?  Will my grandchildren read "On The Road" and wonder why Kerouac didn't take the bus or dream about a little electric Japanese cliche on wheels that drives itself while you stare at a little screen texting your "friends?"  Indeed why go on the road at all when there's Google Earth?

Sorry, that's not "the future" to me any more than today is the future once envisioned in generations of Science Fiction.  If it's a country of driverless, cubicle dwelling, commuting urban virtual reality, Facebooking hipsters with "devices" it's not my country and that's a warning, not a prediction. Look for it. Listen for it somewhere off that regulated futureroad road packed with little electric safety bubbles shaped like running shoes or backwards hats whispering along, bumper to bumper at 25 MPH. Do you hear that rumble, way out on the highway?  That long, lonesome highway?

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