SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
When Your Car is Smarter Than You
I totally loved my last car, so it’s ironic that it got totaled, which I didn’t love.
Normally I’m not one of those who falls madly in love with automobiles. They’re just something to get me from one place to another until they don’t anymore, which with my track record happens sooner, rather than later. My first car exploded; a wheel fell off my second; my third died at a rest stop outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee; my fourth froze solid on a snow swept rural road half a mile from the nearest phone.
And so on.
So when a car comes along that does me good, I appreciate it. So it was with my Ford Focus, which lasted over ten years despite … well, me. Yes, it had its problems, but it was as reliable as the American election cycle, and way more fun. It was easy to drive, had great brakes, accelerated me out of trouble more than once, and the back seat was kind of comfortable to sleep in as long you curled up. (That’s another story.)
Then, like a vampire, it was killed by sunlight.
Well, it was killed by another driver who was blinded by sunlight. To be honest, we grieved: because it was a great car, and because it was paid off. But life goes on, so my wife, who was laid up with a broken foot (see above about the blinded driver killing the car), started researching a replacement.
We wanted a domestic model, which is silly because these days half of American cars are built in other countries, and half of foreign cars are built in America. Still, I never forgot the time the transmission broke in my Renault Alliance (see car #3), and they had to order a new part—from France. I’ve bought American ever since (except for car# 8), which didn’t save me from the Chevy Chevette (see car #4).
We also wanted something that could transport both of us, plus our dog and the grand-twins. A 95 pound dog and two kids in one back seat adds up to someone being crushed.
We wanted something that would get us around a little better in an Indiana winter (see car # … well, all of them), but that would still get decent gas mileage. (Car #5 got awesome gas mileage, because engines don’t burn gas when they never start.) The answer: a mid-size SUV.
We picked out a Ford Escape before discovering that it was built on the same chassis as the … wait for it … Ford Focus. Maybe that’s part of the reason why we fell in love with the car. (Can I call an SUV a car? Too late.) It’s burgundy, although it has one of those non-color names, like pink grapefruit, or tangerine, or something else with vitamin C.
|It's not made of rubies. That's my wife behind the wheel, and she's not made of money.|
Oh, ruby red, that’s it. Where did I get food from? I’ve hated that trend ever since I accidentally ate a macaroni and cheese crayon.
There was one problem. (Well, two, as we had to start making car payments again.) Our old car was over ten years old, which in terms of today’s electronics meant it was about eighty.
Things had, to put it mildly, changed. And not because I’d never owned a sport utility vehicle. I don’t even like sports.
To this day I’m always a little surprised not to find preset buttons on my car radio. You know what I found when we got into a 2014 SUV? A TV screen. That’s sixties-era science fiction movie stuff.
“Look at this!” I said.
“You’ll have to be more specific,” the car replied.
Because you can talk to the car. And it can talk back. You can use it as a phone, or an internet hot spot. Also, you can use the car to get music and news from a satellite orbiting the Earth. In space.
Think about that.
When I was a kid, you could barely hear the radio station during a thunderstorm. We could pull in three AM stations: country, NPR, and WOWO radio 1190, which was the top 40 rock station. Now some guy was downloading all Beatles songs into a computer in London and beaming them to a satellite thirty thousand miles in space, which was then sending them straight to my friggin’ car.
I don’t care if you’re a millennial or not: If you stop to really think about this, how can you not be amazed? (In case you’re wondering, no, we didn’t continue the satellite service after the free trial was over. I wasn’t that amazed.)
You touched the screen to change radio stations. Then you touched it again to turn on the air conditioning. You can set a different temperature for each side of the car. You know what the air conditioning was on my first four cars? Rolling the windows down (with a hand crank) and driving real fast.
If it’s a nice day, we can now push a button and open the roof. Dude.
So we were test driving the Escape, and I put it in reverse, and the “environmental” information on the screen disappeared. Instead, I saw what was behind me. ON A TV SCREEN.
A little voice said, “What are you doing, Mark?”
“Um … I’m backing up.”
“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that. There’s a car three blocks away that will go by when you’re four feet onto the roadway. Please wait until it passes.”
“But … how do you know my name?”
“I knew it as soon as you sat down. Butt cheek recognition software.”
Okay, I might have been making up that last bit. But the seats are all electric, so who knows what they’re feeling?