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Talk About Lighting Up A Switchboard!


Talk About Lighting Up A Switchboard!

I’ve been pondering late into the night on this self-driving car thing. How do you tell it to go? Who do you wave to when you meet one on the highway? Is it proper to use your turn signal if you’re hanging a right at the next intersection in front of a car with no driver in it? Who hears the horn if an automatic car is going too slow in front of you? If one of these self-driving cars is working for Domino’s Pizza—who knocks on your door? Who gets the tip?

According to the hype, these self-drivers are going to be much safer than manned vehicles. I’m not too sure about that. If a driverless vehicle passed me I’d run over six cars, two motor scooters and a fire hydrant trying to get away from that thing!

You’d think this is Buck Rogers—Star Trek—Return of the Jedi talk until you read that General Motors will start testing autonomous vehicles in New York City this year. Ford is doing the same in Miami. And Nissan is launching an autonomous taxi service this very week in Yokohama, Japan.

Can you imagine one of these self driving cars sitting at Red Melton’s cab stand in front of the City Café in 1963? I can hear Red now, “Where is the blooming steering wheel? Who pushes on the gas? How does it find 228 Paris Pike when Mrs. Carmichael calls? How does it stay in its lane, know when to speed up or slow down, stop for the train or swerve to miss the bicycle rider? How does it fix a flat tire? Will it need a windshield wiper?”

I can hear Mr. Jack Cantrell mumbling to himself as he leaves his coffee and hurries out front to calm him down, “Red, there is only one reasonable explanation. We’ve moved into the Twilight Zone! Or maybe, we’re on Candid Camera. I bet you Allen Funt is hiding out in the beauty shop across the street.”

I turned sixteen in 1963. You can’t imagine how I anticipated that birthday. And it all revolved around getting my driver’s license! I was about to be set free. I could come and go as I pleased. I could roll the window down and cruise out to Frank’s Dairy Bar like the coolest dude in town…

The last thing on planet earth I wanted was a car that would do the driving for me!

Of course, the cold reality was I might not have been quite as free as my dreams had predicted. Daddy wouldn’t let me have the car at all. Mom would on rare occasions… if I promised not to go far and be home by six-thirty.

I’d pull into a parking spot on the town square and spend the afternoon like I was just getting in, or out, of our big Chevrolet. The important thing was for everyone passing by to realize Kes was behind the wheel…doing the driving!

I’m not saying there weren’t times when I could have used some automated help. The very first date I ever “drove” on, I backed over Billie Jean’s mailbox. Oh mercy, her father ran out there with fire in his eyes! It would have been sooooo cool if I could have pointed at the car and said, “This is one of those new fandangle self-driving vehicles. I was standing over here by the rose bushes when it attacked your mailbox!”

An autonomous car with super antiskid suction cups would have been very helpful when I was sliding wildly down an iced-over Walnut Street. I’m telling you, I pirouetted past the telephone office! It was my first winter driving experience. School had been called off because of the snow. The gang had gathered at Deake Bradley’s house and I had promised to be home before dark. It got late early on me! And I was in a hurry…I don’t know exactly how it happened, but in less than a heartbeat, I was sideways, out of control and skidding down the middle of the street when the night shift going into the telephone office turned to gawk.

I didn’t exactly crash into the ditch beside the railroad tracks. I more or less did a triple Salchow and the open mouthed operators all “testified” later that I stuck the landing!

But that was yesterday…

I reckon my grandchildren will never know how it feels to “take that curve” out on the Shiloh Road on two tires. They’ll never stare in disbelief and trepidation at a crumpled up mailbox under the back fender. Or pull proudly into Frank’s Dairy Bar with “both hands on the wheel and their shoulders rared back.”

What a pity.

Respectfully, Kes

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