I am happy to admit that driving is one of my favorite activities. This is not an embarrassing fact. It’s fine if people know it. What isn’t fine is to admit that I can’t sit comfortably in the passenger seat, because then I would have to take it to the next level, the level that lets people know that others driving makes me crazy.
I’ve tried therapy to improve the likelihood of allowing someone else to drive a car while I’m in it.
I’ve undergone Lifestyle Therapy. That’s called marriage, whereby you have no choice but to allow your partner to take the wheel once in a while, because it would make your spouse think you were Mother Gothel if you didn’t. I was coerced into trying Control Freak Therapy — twice. That was when I sat in a white-knuckled, cold sweat for two full years in the seat next to one or the other of my children and let them learn how to drive a car. It’s true, I may have let them operate over 3,000 pounds of machinery with 330 newton metres of torque for personal reasons. Don’t bother asking what newton metres are because there isn’t time to go over all that now, and anyway, I don’t care all that much since we’ve sold that much-dented car.
Control Freak Therapy counseled me to become a lazier, slightly less stressed person. It meant I didn’t have to get up earlier than the kids did every morning before school to coax them from their beds, prepare an eyeopening breakfast (anything which might appeal to a surly teenager before noon), prepare a healthy lunch which they most likely traded with a friend for something less healthy but eminently more interesting than a sandwich — and manage to drive them to school on time without looking like an escaped lunatic. Once I let them drive, I still did the feeding part (real time and virtual); it was the driving which had been removed from my roster of duties. I still looked like a lunatic, (and I’ve always secretly admired those perfectly coifed mothers who drop off their babies at 7:20 in the morning because I know I.can’t.do.it) but, with therapy, I didn’t have to venture out of the house and expose myself to the entire world. They learned to drive, and I lost an element of control. There was one less neuron in my brain that needed to concentrate on that topic.
So when Dr. K marveled recently about the wonders of the still-undergoing-testing Google Car, I balked. Was driving under an inanimate object’s control heralding the future?
“Listen to this,” he said. Whenever he starts off a conversation with, listen to this, I immediately shift into worry mode, because I know he has plans to make me change — something. It might be that he wants to try a new update on my computer, or he may have read an article about the environmental benefits of composting and has drafted plans to implement an entire composting system in our backyard, replete with tagged sorting bins. It could be innocuously innocent, something uplifting about the history of the collie in Scotland, but usually it isn’t. Usually he is planning change, in some new and painful way.
The most recent listen to this, all about the Google Car, a four-wheeled, white Pomeranian on steroids without the dander, was his insidious bid to get me to buy an electric car that would be environmentally friendly. The lure of an electric car has been an ongoing, household discussion. The way his mind works is suggest something really awful so she’ll cave in to the lesser evil.
“Wouldn’t it be great,” he proposed, “if you could sit in a driverless car like Google’s, because it even has driver’s seats that swivel so you can turn around and have a conversation with people in the back seat. Isn’t that a great idea?”
His question was timely, given that the Edge question for 2015 asked its contributors to ponder “What Do You Think About Machines That Think?”
Thinking machines, as in robots or AI (artificial intelligence), any manmade assemblage of wiring, plastic, and innovation, must pass the Turing Test: it must be able to answer any question posed as if it were a human being. While machines that do jobs for us make life easier, those machines can make us use our own brains a whole lot less. It’s great to rely on computers and calculators, to a point, but there also are times when a human’s common sense, emotions, and Weltanschauung needs to step in.
The biggest problem with Dr. K’s proposal, other than the fact that the Google Car has top speeds of 25 mph and has difficulty driving in rain or snow, was that we had just gotten off a very delayed flight home from San Francisco.
There were very valid reasons for the delays:
1) United Airlines had not filled out its dance card for a plane — flight bumped 15 minutes;
2) United Airlines finally spotted an available plane on radar and nabbed it for our flight with pushpin on bulletin board, this despite that the route was scheduled, ticketed, and paid for — flight bumped 20 minutes;
3) Available plane lumbered into gate, and delayed passengers on that flight dribbled off the jetway, except for the ones who were sprinting in panic for their next flight, scheduled to depart in ten minutes — flight bumped 10 minutes;
4) United Gate Attendant announced it was a good time to clean their airplane. It hadn’t been subjected to a thorough scrubbing since 2007 — flight bumped 2 minutes;
5) United Tech Support discovered an idiot light on instrument panel warning of a burned out lightbulb.
(a) Burned out lightbulb was not in passenger area (this detected from lengthy cleaning) but thought to be on exterior of plane (somewhere), making it a good plan to change it so to avoid the Rocky Mountains in the dark.
(b) United Pilot with Deep-and-Reliable Voice advised seated-and-buckled passengers (with carryon luggage safely stowed) that the hatch had been re-opened. United Pilot with Deep-and-Reliable Voice recommended passengers who were worried about when their connecting flight was scheduled should exit the plane and take advantage of a several mile run around the concourse to chill out.
6) Flight departed from San Francisco one hour and forty minutes late, minus several passengers who had not completed their workout.
All through this, we sat in our seats staring at the seat directly ahead of us. It’s unavoidable; there is little else to look at. In the process, I’m certain another part of my brain withered away — out of sheer boredom, and the fact that I couldn’t change the lightbulb myself.
What if, instead of inviting we passengers to deplane and go for an irritated stroll around San Francisco International Airport, they suggested we form committees to search for the burned out bulb? Divide into teams! First team that finds it gets free champagne for the ride home to Denver!
It’s just a thought. While stretching our legs (and minds) we might have even discovered that there weren’t any burned out bulbs, that it was only a burned out idiot light on the instrument panel. My car does that all the time. I suppose it could be a matter of trust, but it could be that it’s healthier for we humans to continue to think on our own, or at least alongside those machines that we design to think for us.
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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @. Life inspired. Vodka tempered.