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Smart Car
by Doug Hawley

4: Auto Trip

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On a drive to the grocery store one Saturday morning, Carla said in her most seductive voice “Do you know what time it is?”

I smiled; I knew the answer “ROAD TRIP TIME - Yep it’s time for Duke and Carl/a to hit the road.”

Carl/a switched to Carl and agreed “It’s time to shake the dust of this old town and see this great country.”

“That’s right, but all of our great road trips haven’t been in the USA. Remember going to Merry Olde?”

“How could I forget the 362 klicks between Brixton and Manchester to see the greatest and oldest British publications run by the descendents of the original publishers / editors? They both started before there were mindphones. I don’t remember much about the trip, but what incredible intellectual stimulation! I sound so smart when I say things like ‘bloody hell’ and ‘car park’”

“But neither one of us ever got the hang of driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. I guess both your programming and my brain have some deficiencies.”

“Hey nobody died, but you came close to a heart attack.”

“You should talk. How about all of those times you stalled in traffic?”

“OK, we both had our problems. Heck, I thought the Beatles were still alive and living in Liverpool. Sometimes we only get ‘need to know’ memory. Was that song we sang as we headed back to America a Beatle song?”

”No, that was Chuck Berry’s ‘Back In The USA’. The Beatles version was ‘Back In The USSR’.”

“What did you think of the cars, Carl?”

“There were two kinds, boring and snobbish. You know the quote: ‘Two nation’s cars separated by a common language’. Half the time I had no idea what they were saying.”

“I could only understand half of what the people were saying. I did enjoy the boat trip over, lots of good looking people, and potent drinks. ”

“I didn’t mind my trip in the hold too much. You visited a lot, and some of the other cars had lots of great stories. One was going to race in England and then Europe. On the other tire, there were a bunch of three wheeled cars that were really simple minded. What did you think of the Canadian trip?”

“Fantastic scenery. Speaking of boring, you know what they say about Canadians: ‘Like white Americans only more boring’. Do you know that their favorite hobby is watching wheat grow? Just kidding, but do you how to tell if someone is Canadian?”

“Ask if he’s Canadian?”

“That one was too easy. Name two Canadian songs.”

“You’ve told this so many times –“Take The Train, Eh” and “I’m Dreaming Of A White Easter”. I wish that you were programmed to avoid repetition as I am. My favorite scenery was Vancouver Island and the Canadian Rockies. Talk about majestic. Talk about inspiring.”

“I had a lot of fun at Movieland. I think that Vancouver is a lot better movie capital than Los Angeles was. Do you know how grubby Hollywood was before that chunk of California collapsed into the Pacific?”

“Sorry, not a part of my embedded memory. I do remember that some of the older cars from LA that visited Portland said their people cut off most communication with them to keep the paparazzi from learning the star’s secrets.”

“OK, actors that wouldn’t or couldn’t do porn had been blacklisted for ten years before LA was washed away. Only 5% of the movie production wasn’t porn. Even though Vancouver’s Movieland is good, I had hoped that Portland or Seattle would replace LA for filmmaking, but Vancouver had all of the momentum from fifty years of producing schlock for the SyFy channel, and huge subsidies.”

“Enough reminiscing. Where should we go?”

Carl started singing “This Land Is Your Land”. After a few choruses he said “Let’s tour the west”.

“You’re on, buddy.”

We started out on I84 singing “Born To Be Wild”, but took the Historic Highway cut off in order to appreciate the waterfalls and the low mountains along the Columbia. When we reemerged on I84, I mentioned that the river used to be dammed.

Carl said “Was it cursed by the original inhabitants?”

His question came from his spotty programming and my poor communication skills. “No Carl, I mean that there were dams in the Columbia to produce electricity. After electricity became cheap with thermoelectric and tidal, there was no more need, and removing the dams allowed more salmon to live and spawn in the river and its tributaries. Both native and Euro Americans are getting a lot more fish now.”

“Say no more. My knowledge may be a bit spotty, but my understanding of electricity is profound. With those non-polluting power sources and easy charging, I only need a little amount of petrol in case of emergency. Some of the newer cars say that petrol will be completely passť in a few years. Of course, then we will all be by …. passing gas.”

Carl laughed uproariously. I politely chuckled.

We didn’t talk much after that all the way to Boise Idaho. At least we didn’t talk to each other. Carl was motormouthing to the other cars we saw, particularly those with out of state plates. He got a lot of ideas about what we should do on our road trip from those conversations.

We got a pretty good motel in Boise (Carl thought that it was Bo-ise not Boi-se until I told him otherwise). Unfortunately, we got a lot of noise complaints because Carl found a cute sports car that wanted revenge sex when her companion decided to be a chubby chaser and went off with an SUV. Nobody could sleep through the racket they were making, so they were sent off to a secluded area for the rest of their orgy. Carl was surprised because he had never run into a jealous car before. Were cars evolving? I flashed on “The Terminator”, a hundred year old movie, in which machines take over. I thought it best not to discuss it with Carl.

The next day Carl started talking about religion. Many believers wanted cars that shared their religion. He noticed that there were a lot of Mormon cars (or as they preferred LDS). I told him that we were headed into solid Mormon country when we got to Utah, so his chances of romance were dim with those cars that required a life time commitment before sex.

Carl hadn’t been around when religious programming was added to the cars of fundamentalists who wanted cars that shared their beliefs. After mass pileups of cars involved in religious wars, laws were passed prohibiting attempted car conversions. Some religious beliefs caused serious travel problems – not traveling on Shabbat, stopping five times a day to pray towards Mecca, and trying for Nirvana. Most, like me, opted for agnostic cars.

Oh my, the scenery – after the Columbia Gorge, it was the Blue Mountains, Hells Canyon and the Valley of the Snake. I hadn’t been there for years, and it was Carl’s first trip. After Boise, it was the Great Salt Lake, which had shrunk to not so great. I was going to explain to Carl about the great Bonneville Lake, namesake of a late lamented Pontiac model, but Carl was way ahead of me. “I think I know more about geology than you do, Duke, we learned that as a part of our petrology programming.”

I got lucky in Salt Lake City, but this time Carl was shut out.

The next morning, I sat in Carl for awhile, while we both were lost in thought. Finally we simultaneously broke out in “Rocky Mountain High”. We agreed the singer never did anything else any good and what kind of dope sings a tribute to the wife that he will later divorce. At least he had one good song.

The shortest way to Colorado from Salty City is on I80 through Wyoming. I remembered previous trips through Wyoming and told Carl to drive until we got to Cheyenne. I read some old Dennis Lehane mysteries. The guy knew how to give you the feel of early century Boston. After a few hours, I napped until Carl woke me in Cheyenne. We only stopped for food and bathroom breaks. I would have liked to go to Yellowstone, but it has been closed for several years because of the volcanic eruptions.

We took I25 south to Denver. A lot of people love the place, but I think of it as West Kansas, which is not a good thing. When I lived there years ago, it gave me bloody nostrils for years from the arid climate. At least we got a chance to view the majestic Rockies on the way. Carl didn’t talk much because he was taken with the sights. After seeing that Denver hadn’t changed much, we decided that it was time to go home.

Heading back from Denver the same way we got there we hit an icy spot on the road. Carl really saved our bacon. I would never have had the reflexes and technique to save us from being dead meat and metal scattered all over the snow.

Going back I drank all the way through Wyoming. It helped. To entertain ourselves we did karaoke to the Rolling Stones and Neil Young. Carl alternated between Carl and Carla, depending on which song we did. Got to say s/he has a great voice and can sing anything. On the Stones’ “Live With Me” s/he sang a duet with both male and female voices. ‘They’ were so good, I just listened. On Neil Young’s “Helpless”, I was hopeless. Carl let me do a solo and laughed good naturedly at my incompetence.

At Salt Lake City, we had a long discussion about the route home. I think that both of us didn’t want to go back through Idaho, so we decided on I80 through Nevada and on to the Bay Area. On the way through the desolate Nevada landscape, we invented a song to entertain ourselves:

Basin and range
Very strange
Lights in the sky
We’ll see a UFO by and by
We are running fine
We’ll get there in no time
Unless little green men
Abduct us again
Are we in area 51?
I don’t know son
We speed though the dark
Our journey is just a lark

We traded couplets for hours. I think that I was still drunk because I’m no poet when I’m sober.

We stopped in Winnemucca overnight. The next morning Carl said “We can go through the Bay Area, but I’m tired of this trip and I want to go home. The car smells the garage (Carl adapted this saying from ‘The horse smells the barn’)”. He got me thinking. We had just toured California last year, and there was nobody and nothing I wanted to do in California and to paraphrase Carl’s paraphrasing, this person smelled his own bed.

We took the fastest route back and got home the next day to some interesting news. I had a note from Jane saying “Have I got a way to celebrate your birthday! Make sure that you bring Carl/a.” I had forgotten my upcoming natal date. Carl had a note from his car dealer saying “Do I have a free upgrade for you!” Carl could have received the message while we were on the road, but he stopped all messages except for emergencies because of all the junk ads he would have gotten otherwise.

Looks like more adventures for both of us. Travel is fun, but it’s great to be home.

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