Drive By

Tesla drive train.

Four years ago I went to a Tesla dealership. I strolled past the sleek chocolate brown coupe and found myself standing in front of a metal bed on four wheels. Wait. That’s the inside of the car? Where’s the engine? How car go?

The salesperson started talking about the battery and plugs and how smart the car was–that it would charge itself when electricity was cheapest. But I was floored by the lack of an engine. It was just a big, heavy battery. No pistons exploding inside of a big heavy hunk of metal. Almost no moving parts, except for the wheels.

Back to smart, the car was run by software that could be updated. And a few months ago, they started shipping all vehicles with self-driving hardware. The hardware is ready for programming so the car can drive itself. I’m thinking that we should stop calling these things cars. And use another verb for drive.

Cars and car ownership created modern America. We built extensive roads, suburbs, cul-de-sacs and drive-through meals because of cars. We have cement and asphalt covering one-third of the land in Los Angeles for our cars. We have people in jail for driving under the influence. More than three thousand people are killed in car accidents every single day, and 20 million are disabled every year. Seventy percent of all the oil in the U.S. is consumed by transportation.

People express themselves through their cars. Many a new parent resisted their first mini-vans because they never saw themselves as that kind of mom. Then there are growling sports cars, the monster trucks and the SUVs with bike racks and kayaks telling the other drivers who you are.

Us humans have a hard time imagining a post-car world. Frankly, we have a hard time imagining any world different than the one we know. But once cars start driving themselves, when they don’t use gas, it’s a new game. Gas stations, highway motels, auto repair shops, windshield wiper makers, will be superfluous.

Personal vehicles might be more like mini trolleys. They’ll be optimized, set routes. People will call for a ride and won’t need to find a parking space. Cities will lose revenue from speeding and parking tickets. Smart cars won’t need stop signs or traffic signals. They will modulate themselves to the other vehicles around via sensors and satellites.

It was only sixty-six years between the flight at Kitty Hawk and when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Maybe we will have hovercrafts. Maybe they will fly. Maybe. But however this new technology and new transportation plays out over the next decade, we are near the beginning of another upheaval in our world. And this one will be faster than the last. Buckle your seat belts, if we have them, that is.


Bus Sketch II

Little girl looking out the bus window. She's wearing a leopard print coat.

“I gotta pee!”

Eleven heads bobbed up in unison, leaving posts unliked, candies uncrushed and videos advancing unwatched. The heads then turned to the front of the bus. Synchronized.

The toddler had been chirping away unnoticed for blocks and blocks. She was fascinated by everything rushing by, her nose pressed against the big window, her little feet hanging over the bench, her shoulders enclosed by an animal print.

She was full of style from toe to top. Starting from her black punk boots that were laced up half-way and working up to the most amazing glasses with a huge square white frame scattered with scores of little flowers, pink, orange, red, yellow, blue on stems of green. She moved with the comfort of a near two-year old who knew in her heart of hearts that she was amazing and fabulous.

She must have asked her dad for a car, because he said that he wasn’t buying her one. His response was like a scripted response that was a part of their private joke. A little bit like call and response. She babbled some sweet sounds, one of which resembled the word car. Or maybe cow. Or curl. Or cat. Or yard. But her dad knew. He delivered his line.

Nothing she said, however, was as clear as when she presented her pressing need. A cold blast of worry chilled the bus. Passengers wondered to themselves, “Will she make it?”

The mom asked her the unnecessary question that everyone wanted to know, “Do you have to go to the bathroom?”

The little diva nodded vigorously. Her father looked concerned that she might nod the tinkle out. The mom worked the magic of distraction, suggesting the girl sit down and asking a few unrelated questions about school. It seemed to work, or at least the tot stopped talking about needing to go.

The dad pulled the cord for the next stop, and the girl leaned over to pull it, too. The mom was on the far side of the bench and shook her head. “Just let her pull it, okay?” She was working hard to avoid a morning meltdown. The dad leaned forward to make room for the girl to grab the yellow plastic coated wire behind him. The bus lurched and the girl held on tight. Since he had already called for a stop, there wasn’t a beep when she pulled. He adroitly pointed to the Stop Requested light above her head. She was convinced that she had effected that.

Her dad picked up her and his backpacks then took her by the hand. Her mom told her she loved her and would see her soon. The girl parroted back the words–or her interpretation and execution of those words–in her little squeaky sing song.

Kisses were exchanged and there was no peeing on the bus. Ten heads returned to the phones in their hands. One followed the pair off the bus and watched them approach the daycare. That one decided to enjoy the bus like a two year old and left her phone in her bag. She turned her head to the window to watch the cars and look for cows.

Zero to Infinity

Plymouth Satellite Sebring parked on an idyllic suburban street.

My Older Sib cracked up Dad’s car within ten days of getting her driver’s license. Twice. She lost her driving privileges after the second crash. She also lost my driving privileges–eighteen months before I could get my own license. Collateral damage.

Our suburb, like all Detroit suburbs, wasn’t walkable. It was a bedroom community for people who worked for the Big Three. There wasn’t any public transportation to speak of, I think GM blew up the bus system. This meant that for pretty much all of high school, I had to bum rides with friends to go to the mall, games, post-game grub and parties.

When I got my first job, Dad was my taxi–even though there was almost always a car available in the garage. He could have made this easier on himself if he didn’t hold me responsible for the Sins of the Older Sibling. The drop off and pick up ritual became less painful for Dad when my boyfriend began to cover many of the evening shifts. Dad always seemed to like that guy, maybe I just figured out why.

It’s not like I never, ever drove. It just had the same frequency as a blue moon. This made me an inexperienced driver. My friend Jenny drove everyone around. She was a good driver because she drove a lot. She also didn’t drink which was good for the rest of us piled in and draped all over each other in the front and in the back of her mom’s Pontiac LeMans as we went from the liquor store to find an old guy to buy us beer and then to the football game where we drank the beer in the parking lot and then to get some pizza to sober up and cover up the beer stink.

Dad had a true blue 1972 Plymouth Satellite with a big V-8 that spent the winter months stalling and not running well at all and the summer months barely holding back a vicious growl. It was a dud in the winter. It was ready to go in the summer.

On the day of a blue moon, I was gifted the great privilege of driving myself to work. I’m not going to lie. It was awesome. I felt like the most grown up and amazing person. I had the windows down and pushed the tinny speakers past their safety, blasting WRIF–the Home of Rock and Roll–so everyone would know that I loved Bob Seger, too. I pushed in the bulb of the cigarette lighter and waited the amazingly few seconds for it to pop. I almost stared at the red hot coils concealed in the lighter casing. I lifted it to the cigarette in my mouth, barely missing being clumsy enough to burn my cheek.

I used my mirrors and my blinkers. I stopped at the stop sign and waited for the light to turn green before making my right turn. I had Dad’s car parked in the lot behind the restaurant before I finished my smoke. I considered driving around the block, but these suburban blocks were not square. They were filled with squiggly roads that doubled back on themselves or deposited you in a cul de sac without a exit to the main road. I knew how the streets worked in my subdivision, but was ignorant of the worming in this one. I didn’t drive. I didn’t know.

I was closing this night. It must have been a Friday or a Saturday since we didn’t close until midnight. There was a little less than an hour’s worth of closing tasks. There was the teenage manager and the grill guy, me and another girl. I was over the moon to be able to offer a ride to my shift-mate.

It was a congenial crewe, full of the banter and bullshit of a group of teens who just closed the store. We were feeling our oats. There wasn’t anything to do. The only thing open was the 7-11, and we already had all the coke we could drink. It was time to go home.

The grill guy walked up to his dad’s car in the lot. It was a long, long, long red Cadillac with a white vinyl half-top. The street lamp shone off the chrome surrounding the squared off headlamps. The grill guy was feeling pretty powerful, too. He started talking smack about how fast the car was.

“Oh, really? Not faster than this big blue monster in the summer.” I then quickly copped to the fact that it was a winter lemon. The grill guy jerked his head up.

The grill guy was very tall. He was a tall guy with translucent white skin topped with a head full of more red than brown loose curls. He wore his hair unusually short for those days. He was jonesing for a promotion, perhaps even a hamburger slinging career. He tried to hide his height by scrunching his head into his shoulders and scrunching his shoulders as close to his hips as he could. But when I put out the challenge he almost straightened.

“Yeah? Right. That’s not going to beat this Caddy.”

“Let’s go.” I ran to the passenger side of the Satellite to unlock the door for my girlfriend. He ran to the red car, chased by the teenage manager that he was giving a ride home. We were going to head out on 13 Mile.

It wasn’t a real race. We didn’t have a start and we didn’t have a finish. We were just going to see who was faster.

I fumbled with my keys and with the ignition and with the locks. Nobody used seatbelts then. I turned up the radio and rolled down the window. But the Caddy was already leaving the parking lot, heading toward the intersection at a good clip. There was a red light in front of us, and nobody on the road. It was after 1 a.m. I turned left into the corner gas station to skip past the light and take the lead. Oh the cleverness of me!

The light had turned just as I peeled out of the gas station. The red Cadillac was hot on my tail and looking to pass me. I hit the gas. He was gaining on me. My co-pilot was beginning to hyperventilate. Oh hell, there wasn’t time to begin to do anything. She started to scream. “SLOW DOWN! THIS IS TOO FAST”

I looked down at the speedometer needle that was moving past 65, past 75. The grill man still in hot pursuit. I was at 85, 95 and I knew he was, too. The needle continued to 100 and then 110 and up to 118. The Cadillac was lagging. I don’t know if he got over 100 mph, but when I checked my mirror, he was done.

I took my foot off the accelerator and the car slowed. Or at least it stopped going faster. I gently tapped my brakes. I didn’t want to fishtail. I don’t know how I knew that. Maybe I observed this as a passenger. Anyway, it seemed like it took a long time for the car to drop down to a normal speed. That’s when I realized that we were going fast. On a two lane road with a gravel shoulder. I was focusing on the race, not the speed. And the speed was exhilarating. To me.

My companion was no longer speaking to me. She had blown past her red zone. I don’t know when she stopped yelling, but her silence was worse. She was so angry. I had terrified her. I apologized. She never got in a car with me again. I never drove that fast again.

Me and the grill guy were just going to see who was faster. But that’s not what we did. What we saw was who was willing to push the risk. I am not saying we were testing our bravery, because the activity was stupid. It’s not brave to be stupid. We simply pushed each other in ways that people do when they are showing off. We had our hubris on full display. We were having fun and sped off like adolescents do. The grill guy listened to an inner moderator. Me? Not so much.

I didn’t drive Dad’s car into an accident, and it wasn’t the last time that I raced. But it was the last time I pushed a dare too far. But nobody crashed. Nobody was hurt and yet, it was too far. The truth is, you don’t have to drive off a cliff to go too far. Lesson learned.

Selling Fields

Wilma and Fred smoking.

Sunday. Football Sunday. I’m sitting in front of the TV all day watching huge men perform great–and less than great–feats of athleticism while throwing their gigantic bodies at each other. With every game, every time out and during many changes of possession a series of ads play. What do people who watch football buy? What is Madison Avenue selling this fan demographic?

Fast food. A lot of fast food. My arteries narrow in a Pavlovian response. Goopy cheesy pizza, thin crust, deep dish, carryout and delivery. Actually, almost all of the fast food ads are about cheese. Cheese burgers, cheese fries, cheesy tacos. I guess football fans are not lactose-intolerant.

Cars! Cars! Cars! There are two types of car ads during the games. One is about the facts, the quality and safety features of the vehicles and the third party awards and validations. Cars in these ads hardly move. Then there are the emotional ads full of vistas including purple mountains majesties with twisting roads and fruited plains being crossed at high speed. These include old songs that evoke times of freedom for baby boomers who can afford luxury SUVs.

Stupid scary TV shows. The networks use their free airtime to try and get folks to wach their stupid and scary TV shows about serial murders, tortured children and other kinds of murders. Also some ruthless buisiness moguls who surround themselves with people in slinky, shiny golden lame. Do people wear those clothes in the office?  Networks don’t try and sell many funny shows. Just scary shows. Or maybe just fear.

Networks. Lots of ads about coverage and likes and panoramas of new phones encouraging football fans to switch to a new wireless providers–either because it’s better or because it’s the same. I’m not so sure about the reason for switching for more of the same, though.

Containers. There’s a smattering of beer ads. Not as many as I expected. The focus is on the cans. I guess the look of the can is more compelling than the taste of the beers they’re selling.

Financial instruments. There are insurance ads–most of which do not make any sense and are trifling. There’s also retirement investments. Does football make people feel mortal? There’s also meds for boners. I guess football definitely makes people feel mortal.


RIding a bike down Pennsylvania Ave with the Capitol ahead.

So I dumped my bike to avoid a big accident. For those of you with a more mortorized view of dumping a bike, it wasn’t that.

We had a glorious Sunday ride down to do an explore of the new museum. Yes, that one. It was a great late summer day with a breeze, sunshine and better than bearable temperatures. The bike path was full of cyclists and walkers. The route is an easy five miles to the museums with minuscule change in elevation. It’s not a work out, it’s like being a little kid locomoting yourself. And ringing your bicycle bell. I did that alot. The bell ringing. The Spouse got a little tired of it.

I felt like I was flying, like when the kids take off with E.T. Didn’t you always think you could do that? I pretended to race, mostly my shadow. I sang songs from last week’s concert. I went down a hill and said, “Wheeeee!” Outloud. I really did. The Spouse gave me a look for that, too. The Spouse is a much more serious cyclist than me. I slow down his vibe. He’s a good sport that way.

I took in the sights along the bike trail. It’s one of the paths that got built next to railroad tracks. For us it’s tracks that run Amtrack, CSX and the subway. Sometimes you can even race a train. They usually win, though.

There are stunning murals along a section of a retaining wall. It looks like they gave five or six artists sections to paint. As you pedal by you can see a style and color palette that somehow flows into the next section, even though the next artist is very different. I wonder if riding your bike past makes it into a moving picture. I’m thinking Muybridge motion studies.

Also, did I tell you I got a new helmet? And I like it?

We locked our bikes up in a secret garden behind the American history museum. Ours were the only bikes. I felt like a Washington insider. Okay, maybe my standards for insider-status are low. No matter. We walked through the construction site of the new museum, but that’s all I can tell you. It’s a secret. Then we rode back home.

We stopped for libations at the pub at the top of the hill at the top of the trail. I’m not kidding, the chips for the nachos were so fresh. And not just because they were good with the hopped beverage. They were special. It was like everything was special on this adventure.

I walked my bike up to the crosswalk so I could cross to the other side of the street and then over the bridge and then the three remaining blocks home. Nobody was coming on the right. Nobody on the left so I stood on the right pedal and pumped my foot down to scoot across the street. As I did, I saw a car coming over the bridge.

The bridge has a decent arch. There’s a light on the other side, but cars come flying if they get a go-ahead green at the intersection. Drivers can’t see you until after they crest the arch. And then, almost immediately, there’s the crosswalk. I didn’t like the future I saw, so as I was accelerating with my right leg, I used both hands to pull hard on the brake levers. Pulling as if my life depended on it.

The mixed messages of stop and go caused my front tire to rear left, almost like a horse. Except I don’t ride horses, so this simile might be overdone. But my bike did throw me. Fortunately, it tossed me to the sidewalk. Out of range of the car coming over that bridge. The driver sped by without seeing me.

There were cries of concern from the restaurant’s patio. Two women came to the edge of the space to see if I was hurt. I was a little scraped up. One of them thought that I should take a breather. I told her I was fine. Because I was. Better to have a skinned elbow and knee than to be hit by a car, I always say.

I dusted myself off to witness a most obscene exhibition of road rage. A group of five or six students were walking in the cross walk–the one with the metal sign in the middle reminding drivers that they must stop. A driver jumped out of his car and began yelling and cursing at them. He left his car door open and delivered an over-the-top berating, jumped into the path of one guy and body blocked a young woman. I thought she would melt on the spot, or turn to stone. The people on the patio were no longer looking at me. They were wide-eyed at the new spectacle. Busy afternoon.

I was shocked out of my absorption with my own bike dumping experience. Looks like someone was going to get hit with a car. Overall, I’m glad it was the undergrads being pummeled by  angry words. I adjusted the front tire of my bike and gingerly made the three minute trek home to ice my elbow.

Parallel Lines

Blondie LP Cover for Parallel Lines

One of my superpowers has two parts. First, it’s finding street parking in the city. Second, and, this is the really impressive part, is getting my car into the tiniest of spaces.

I am really that good.

I am so good that I people on the sidewalk stop and watch me and applaud. I am so good that truckers pause and shake their heads before they see me adroitly place my car, at which point they nod approvingly as one pro to another. I am so good that when I did a u-turn to fluently slip into a spot across the street, an offended police officer gave a low whistle before he upbraided me for an illegal traffic move. No ticket, either.

I might do a little bit of bumper tapping, and occasionally I have to reset, but, in the end, it’s me next to the curb in a tight spot.

I will never forget when this superpower was granted to me. Ann K., my boss at the arcade, saw me struggling to get my car next to the curb. I was going nose in.

“No, honey.” (She called everyone honey.) “You can’t get in like that. Let me tell you how my uncle told me.” In a few seconds she passed on the power. She never showed me. She simply told me. I don’t know if there was a green spark or subtle neon glow that marked the powerup. Maybe. Regardless, I’ve been parking like a boss ever since.

There are, of course, physical limitations. Like you can’t put your car in a spot smaller than your vehicle. You CAN, however, put your car in a spot that LOOKS smaller. Knowing the difference is part of the superpower.

It’s really all mechanics, you say. And I say, no. It’s the power of trust. It’s believing that when you apply the mechanics your car will fit into the spot. And it does.

I guess that those new automatic car parking features are my kryptonite. I bet that most people who have them either use valet anyway or live in the suburbs and park in lots.

Me? I’ll trust in my own power.

Insanity Switch

Insane button on a TeslaS

The big guy bought one of those Powerball tickets last week. The one with the guaranteed $1.2 billion that someone might win.

Him: When I win I’m going to buy you that Tesla.
Me: That would be GREAT! The one with the Insane button?

He stopped. He looked at me and slowly shook his head side to side.

Him: No. There is nothing about that that is a good idea.
Me: What? I drive good.

Today, during lunch, I stopped by the Tesla dealership. They don’t have the coupe anymore, just the four-door. I hate sedans.

A reporter from Bloomberg walked in and asked me if the falling stock market influenced my decision on buying the car.

I told her, “No.” Then I gave her a fake name for her story.


Enough Already?

When is enough enough?

Like why do the Rolling Stones still tour? They are old. Rock and roll should not be performed by the AARP set. Charlie Watts looks like he has no teeth. Keith Richards looks like he has been embalmed. And no matter how good he looks FOR HIS AGE, we don’t need to see Mick strut around like a tough rooster. I have heard people say that they want to see them before they die.

Like why did Lucas-Spielberg-Ford do another Indiana Jones flick? Yeah, it was great to see the silhouetted Harrison Ford put on that famous hat, but a weak script, mediocre story and caricatures instead of characters couldn’t save this clunker of a movie.

Like what did the final two seasons with the Washington Wizards do for Michael Jordan, the Wizards or basketball? Not a thing. Coming off of his second retirement, His Airness was hurt and his step and shot had lost their zip. He did not take the team to the playoffs or burnish his image.

Like thinking that you should have cheaper gas so you can continue driving your anachronistic SUV–or a Lincoln Mark V? And Detroit, the home of the gas guzzler, wonders why it can’t sell cars. Unnecessarily large inefficient vehicles became a bad idea in the 70’s, why would anyone be surprised that the reprise would be a repeat?

Like listening exclusively to the oldies station and saying that they don’t make decent music anymore. Like complaining that teens on social network sites don’t have real relationships. Like trying to recreate your childhood for your children. Like doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

Me? I still gotta lot to learn. I’m not ready to stand still.

1st Gear

Maybe this is one where you really had to be there. I thought it was hysterical. The 15-year-old was a bit concerned, though.

We were driving back from football practice–me and the 15-year old in the Subaru, about 1/2 mile from home. A very bright yellow car passed us on the left. There was something about the rumble that made me look up and see the Ferrari horse rearing on the back of the car. Like this, only yellow.

I met my foe at the light and quickly assessed the competition. The passenger, some short 30-something guy. Bad hair cut. The driver was much better put together. I could see his cufflinks glint against the steering wheel. MUCH better haircut. A weasel-ly moustache, though.

The light turned and I gunned the Subaru through her paces. That Ferrari ate my 4 cylinder dust. I cackled maniacally. The yellow car met me at the next light.

“So, you think that was funny?”

The 15-year-old raised his eyebrows in warning to me.

“Hey, let’s face it,” said I. “It WAS funny.” The 15-year-old coughed his concern. “I’m from Detroit,” I continued. “We used to race from the lights all the time.” The guy was pissed. I was crying, My laughing was out of control.

The 15-year-old was flashing yellow. I revved the engine. My foe did so, too. About 6 octaves lower than mine. I revved back. The light changed, and I immediately lost my place on the gears. The canary car was long down Michigan Avenue.

Me, still in hysterics, fumbled my way to second (or third?) gear. The smell of burning clutch was everywhere.

But I did beat the Ferrari. At least once.

VaRoom D.C.

Nice weather brings everyone out, and Chinatown was buzzing last night. 7th Street sidewalks were full of coat-free strollers crowding restaurants and bars. [BTW, the MCI Center has been rechristened Verizon Center. You can see that at]

Walking toward the Spy Museum on the way from the movies* the 11-year-old spotted a hot red car.

HIM: Isn’t that a Ferrari?
BRO: I see the horse.
ME: [to valet] Can I park it?
VALET: Ha, Ha!

After our hamburger dinner, we were walking back toward our car.

14-year old: What’s that?
ME: I dunno. The new Chrysler?
HIM: What are those “B”s on the wheels.
ME: Bentley.
VALET: You like?

A block later also on the street.

14-year old: More “B’s”. Whose car is this?
ME: Somebody you don’t know.

All that within 3 blocks. Then we drove away.

* Dave Chappelle’s Block Party fun, fun, fun.