For 10 years, my Ford Explorer and I got along splendidly. We drove all over the southern half of the United States together. We spilled Cokes on the carpet together. We left French fries between the seats together. We had an indention in the center console where my arm rested for a decade.
Besides a dead battery once or twice, we never had much reason to fight. If I put the key in the ignition, that 2-toned Eddie Bauer edition rarely failed me.
All good things must come to a trade-in (we’re talking about cars), and my wife convinced me to buy a small school bus that would offer us plenty of room to pack the kids and three-quarters of our house anytime we drove to Grandma’s house an hour away.
This new tank I drive (you’re welcome, Al Gore) comes complete with the functionality of a small army of robots. Obviously, I can talk to the car, because pushing button was just too difficult. If I’d like, I can order wifi service so that anyone in the car can check in on DisgraceBook and tell their band of merry followers that they, indeed, are riding in a car.
My children, of course, have no need to adopt the habits of previous generations that actually learned to entertain themselves. When I was a kid, our favorite game was “Got That Bug,” in which we received points for being the first to identify a Volkswagen Beetle. We got extra points if one of the front lights was burned out.
I can’t snidely comment on all of this car’s new-found functionality. We can all agree that having rearview cameras changed the game. No longer do we have to turn around and try to determine the depth of space we have left before we crash into the car behind us in the grocery store parking lot. Now, we can just watch it happen on a mini TV set installed in our dashboard.
I will admit I’m amazed at my new car’s ability to protect me from imminent destruction. If a car slams on the brakes in front of me, my tank doesn’t even wait for me to see the brake lights ahead. This car stops on its own.
If I begin to veer out of my lane, my new car gently vibrates my seat and then turns the steering wheel to get me back into the center of my lane. In fact, I’m convinced that if I settled in on a long stretch of highway, I could turn on cruise control, fall asleep and never know the difference. I have yet to try that maneuver.
Our cars today are not engine parts working at the behest of our instructions. Rather, they are an extraordinary compilation of computers that need a driver and a dump truck worth of money.
I’ve had my small school bus for three months, and over the weekend, my wife informed me she needed to make a quick trip to the store. Obviously, our cars will not park side-by-side anymore, so I handed her my keys and watched her walk out the door. Then I watched her walk right back in the door to inform me that the car would not start.
I spent an hour pushing buttons. I made a call to tech support (because mechanics now need degrees in computer science), and I was told that I should not push any more buttons. I was asked to confirm the car’s location, because the satellite that automatically tells President Trump where my car resides needed verification.
“A tow truck will be there within 45 minutes,” the nice lady told me.
Besides wondering if a bomb had been planted inside my tank, I felt a bit humiliated that I was asked to please step out of the car.
Long story short, the dealership has informed me that the ECU switch to the motherboard’s flex capacitor has a faulty fuse or wire or microchip. Because of those issues, which may or may not be exactly what the service technician/Ph.D. told me, the Start Button that fires up my new tank won’t actually send power to one of the computers that controls another computer that opens my rear hatch.
I don’t blame my wife and children for investing one of my kidneys to purchase a new car that can couple as a small apartment. When all the buttons work in sync, it’s kind of neat to tell my car to call Mom. Unfortunately, when I demand my car “Call Mom,” I get a very snide response that says, “I’m sorry, I don’t know who your mother is. For that matter, I do not know who you are.”
My old Ford Explorer was a friend. My new car, these days, kind of feels like my adversary. Maybe that’s what it’s like with modern technology and, I assume, in 10 years from now, me and my tanker bus will have formed our own fondness for each other.
At that point, I’ll probably go shopping for a new car that attaches to a drone and skips the highway system all together. I’m certain it will be a self-driving car that eliminates the highway patrol because, constitutionally, they can’t ticket me for speeding if I’m not the one doing the driving. I probably won’t have to pay for wifi because our entire world will be connected via white wing doves that carry small antennas on their beaks.
I know that day is coming. But after the past week of reflection on my old car and this new computer sitting in my driveway, I kind of miss just putting one of those old, metal keys in the ignition and hearing my engine purr.