March 14, 2050
Drivers give up way too easily on their cars, or rather, they used to…back in the day when they still drove them. I recall talk of a car being “totaled” when the cost of its repairs exceeded its resale value. In that case, it was considered best to just buy a new car rather than attempt to breathe new life into an old one. A car would be totaled in an instant by an accident, i.e. a collision with another car, or over the course of a long period of time, i.e. the cumulative effect of years of wear and tear on a vehicle without the implementation of a thorough maintenance plan.
Now there’s the rub. You see, back in the old days, people never understood the fact that with routine upkeep, a solidly built car could be expected to run into perpetuity. Instead, the old drivers of the past would just run their cars all day long, zooming all over creation, ignoring the check engine light, forgetting (or not caring) to replace the oil, filter, brake pads or what have you. It was sad really. Few drivers were as attentive to their rides as I was.
Hell, the first time I got behind the wheel of that cherry red, 1969 American Made Sidewinder, it was love at first sight. Veronica was her nickname and to me, she was much more than just a means of conveyance, a mode of transportation from the proverbial point A to point B. That girl was a close, personal friend. She, and yes, “she” because as anyone born during the previous century will tell you, all of the best muscle cars are girls, got me out of many a jam, so I felt I owed it to her to keep her body young and beautiful, in tip-top showroom condition for as long as possible.
My father had taken a bunch of suckers in a high stakes poker game years back and used the proceeds to buy that special gal. All these years later, I was keeping my promise to dear old Dad. I took care of Veronica. She’d taken care of me in my youth. Even when she just sat there in the garage, she was taking care of me in a way, giving me something to smile about. Just the sight of her made me happy.
Some brief notes: Gambling, or engaging in a game of chance involving the betting of paper money, was once allowed in some areas and illegal in others but if done discretely and everyone involved kept quiet about it, no one got into any trouble, though sometimes people would get mad when they didn’t get their way, get violent and so on. I don’t have time to explain the rules but suffice to say, there were cards and some cards were considered better than others to have and if you had them then you stood a better chance of winning paper money. Paper money featuring the likenesses of American presidents was once used instead of digital credit. Presidents used to be elected by the people (supposedly) to run America. America was once a country. Countries were…no. See, this is the problem with getting old. The older I get, the less people understand what the hell I’m talking about. Explaining one thing just requires me to explain another, so fuck it. Whenever I say something you young people don’t understand, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own. I can’t stop every five minutes to explain things to you.
Where was I? Right. I was in the garage attached to the tiny shit box of a home the government had assigned to me. I was taking care of Veronica for as long as I could. As I squirted a dollop of white wax all over my girl’s hood, a quick palpitation rippled through my heart, leaving me to wonder whether “for as long as I could” was going to be much longer. My doctor told me these feelings were normal for a man my age, prescribed some blood pressure medication and urged me to quit drinking beer and watch my diet. Me? Cut out fatty foods and booze? Please. Fuck that noise. Like there was much of a reward left at that point for turning my body into a temple at that point.
I rubbed the wax into Veronica’s primo paintjob and envied her. Every last part on a car, from the door handles to the cigarette lighter (Veronica was built during a time when sucking tobacco smoke into your lungs wasn’t considered a vile, treasonous crime against the state) is replaceable. Sure, the older a car is, the harder it is to find a replacement part but this is why cars are better than humans.
Let’s face it. You can eat broccoli all day long, do sit-ups until you puke and run marathons once a week but someday, somehow, you’re still going to croak. Your parts will wear out and they won’t be replaceable forever. A skilled doctor might be able to buy you sometime with a transplant but eventually, one of your vital parts will be deemed beyond repair and you’ll be totaled. The effort to fix you will be too great and the small amount of of life that will be left in you just won’t be worth it.
That wasn’t the case for Veronica. Over the years, I’d sought out the assistance of vintage car collectors and personally sifted through the rotten debris scattered across many a junkyard, all in an effort to keep my girl running. If only human replacements were as easy to find.
I knelt down to polish Veronica’s chrome rims and caught a glimpse of my own reflection. Yeesh. I looked ready for the junk pile. My hair’s dye job was nowhere near as good as Veronica’s paint job. I felt like I was constantly rubbing that black dye into my hair only to have gray roots pop out a few days later. No amount of wax would rid me of the bags under my eyes and the wrinkles? Sadly, there was no way I could remove my face and bang out the dents with a hammer. Maybe someone will perfect a way to do that and make a killing someday.
Whirrr. The garage door rolled up and a skinny thirteen-year old with unkempt brown hair and a crooked smile waltzed in. She wore a standard school uniform – a pair of white pants and a white polo shirt that read “OWO Academy – Region A – Education District 19.” My little Hannah Banana.
“What’s the skinny, Gramps?”
My back creaked as I stood up. “Ow…the skinny?”
“I head someone say it in an old movie,” Hannah said.
My face contorted in every conceivable direction. “Old movie?”
Hannah opened up her backpack and pulled it out – an early model “X-Tab” tablet computer. By the looks of it, it must have dated back to the early 2010s. Whatever content was on it was definitely not approved of by the One World Order.
“Jesus!” I cried. I ran to the back of the garage and punched a button, causing the garage door to roll down. “Are you kidding me, waving that thing around like that?”
“What?” Hannah asked.
I grabbed the tablet. “Do you have any idea how many years you’ll get in the re-education center if you’re caught with this thing?”
Hannah shrugged her shoulders. “I didn’t think about that.”
“Of course not,” I said. “Young people never think.”
Ugh. I know. I’d become an adult. I wish I could say I sounded like my father but he never did a whole hell of a lot of parenting, so I have no idea where my nurturing side came from.
“Where did you get this?” I asked.
“Billy Allen’s grandpa died,” Hannah explained. “His family went to clean out the house and Billy found it under the floorboards. He said his Grandpa always kept all his best stuff there.”
“You mean illegal stuff,” I said. Suddenly, I found myself relating to Billy Allen’s grandpa. I had my own stash off stuff from my youth that I was trying to keep out of the Order’s grubby little paws.
I proceeded with the interrogation. “Why did Billy give this to you?”
“I traded him my birthday credits,” Hannah said.
I pinched the bridge of my nose, breathed deeply, then exhaled. It was an old stress relief technique my ex-wife had taught me, but it never worked. “You’re supposed to be saving those credits.”
“I know,” Hannah said. “But this has the best movies I have ever seen!”
I smirked. “Does it know?”
Hannah pushed a few buttons and brought up an old black and white gangster flick from the 1930s. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my glasses and put them on. I pushed the specs up the bridge of my nose as I squinted at the screen. My peepers just weren’t what they used to be.
On screen, a flabby faced goon wearing a pinstripe suit and a fedora was spraying bullets from a tommy gun at the police. “What’s the skinny, youse mugs? Youse flatfooted coppers will never take me alive, see?”
“Wow,” I said.
“Can I ask a dumb question?” Hannah asked.
“The only dumb question is a request to ask a question,” I replied. “If you don’t ask a question, you’ll never know the answer.”
“Was the whole world in black and white when you were a kid?”
I grimaced. “Excuse me?”
“This movie doesn’t have any color, see?” Hannah said. “Why didn’t the world have any color when you were a kid?”
I sighed. “You think this movie was made when I was a kid?”
“It wasn’t?” Hannah asked.
“Sweetheart,” I said. “This movie was made when my grandfather was a kid.”
“Oh,” Hannah said. “Well, I don’t know. Everything from long ago all seems the same to me.”
“That’s because your school doesn’t teach you any history,” I said.
“I take history,” Hannah said.
“Oh yeah?” I asked. “What did your teacher tell you about the Twentieth Century?”
Hannah appeared puzzled. “The what?”
“The 1900s,” I replied. “The century before this one.”
Hannah was baffled. “Gah?”
“When does your teacher say history begins?” I asked.
Hannah had an instant answer. The brainwashers behind the Order’s educational system had done a good job. “2032.”
“And what happened before 2032?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Hannah said. “Nothing at all happened before 2032.”
I stared at the little girl. “How old do you think I am?”
“I don’t know,” Hannah replied.
“Older than eighteen?” I asked.
“A lot older,” Hannah said.
“So,” I said. “Something happened before 2032.”
“I figured,” Hannah said. “But my teacher doesn’t like it when we ask about that.”
I stared at the screen and returned to my granddaughter’s original question. “The world has always had color. It’s just that long ago, when people were still learning how to make movies, putting a movie out in color cost a lot of money and people weren’t sure how to do it, so they made movies in black and white.”
My bones ached so I unlocked Veronica and sat down in the driver’s seat. Hannah crawled into the passenger’s side.
“What other movies are on that thing?” I asked.
Hannah smiled. “There’s a movie about a teenager who pretends to be sick so he can skip a day of school and gets his sad friend and girlfriend to go to Chicago with him and his sister and the man in charge of the school try to catch him in the act of truancy.”
“Ha,” I said. “That was a good one.”
“Then there’s this one movie that’s kind of weird,” Hannah said. “There are these two men who murder people for money…”
“Hit men,” I said.
“OK,” Hannah said. “And one of the men dances with the boss’ wife in the beginning of the movie, then he gets shot in the middle of the movie and dies and then he gets breakfast with the other hit man at the end of the film.”
“I know that one,” I said.
“Whoever made it must have been a bad editor,” Hannah said. “There’s a movie about a rich man who dresses like a bat and fights a clown.”
“Epic,” I said.
Hannah’s eyes lit up. “Oh! There’s this one in space where the bad guy wears all black and he has a hard time breathing because he has asthma and an old man gives a laser sword to this farm boy…”
My jaw dropped. “That’s on there?”
“It is!” Hannah cried. “And it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life!”
“You should see the others,” I said.
Hannah looked at me with a hint of glee. “They…made…others?”
“Lots of sequels,” I said. “You can skip the prequels.”
“Grampa?” Hannah asked.
“Yeah?” I answered.
“Why aren’t these movies on the state approved tele-web?” Hannah asked.
“You just answered your own question,” I said. “The state doesn’t approve of them. The One World Order doesn’t want people knowing how happy people used to be before they took over.”
“Were people happier?” Hannah asked.
“Meh,” I said. “More or less.”
“That’s not a good answer,” Hannah said.
“Let me put it this way,” I said. “People had more freedom, so they had a better chance at finding their happiness.”
“A lot of the people in these movies don’t seem very happy,” Hannah said. “People are always fighting, killing and torturing each other, shooting and blowing people up…usually the fights are over money or the love of a woman.”
“Well,” I said. “Sometimes one man’s pursuit of happiness will be the source of another man’s sorrow. It’s complicated.”
Hannah glued her eyes to the X-Tab.
“Please hide that good,” I said.
“I will,” Hannah replied.
“Tell no one you have it,” I said.
“I won’t,” Hannah said.
“Because we’re only allowed to have tablets with state approved media on them and nothing more,” I added.
“I know,” Hannah said.
“And if anyone ever finds that and asks you about it, just play dumb and tell them it’s mine,” I said. “I’m old. I can take a rap.”
“A rap?” Hannah asked.
“I don’t think people were happy when you were a kid,” Hannah said.
“What makes you say that?” I asked.
“Because I found all these songs and they all sound very sad and the photos that go with them all show men with long hair and beards and they’re all wearing flannel and they all look very depressed and…”
I cut the little girl off. “Oh. 1990s music. Skip that if you don’t want to end up suicidal.”
“Is this real?” Hanna put the screen under my nose and palyed a scene from one of the old Fast Car Criminal movies. I couldn’t remember which one this was, but had a hunch it was about the seventeenth. Damn they made a ton of those flicks. In this scene, the main character, a grungy, bald headed badass by the name of Roderick Falsetto, drove a sports car off a cliff, saild through the open bay of a Chinook helicopter, then landed safely on top of a mountain on the other side of a valley.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Did stuff like that actually happen?” Hannah inquired.
“No,” I said. “Of course not. Hun, sometimes the movie people would just make up incredible stuff to get people to watch. No one could have ever made a jump like that and survived.”
“I know,” I said. “I figured that out. I mean, did people really drive cars?”
I laughed. “Kiddo, you don’t know the half of it.”