The Last Driver – Episode 1 – Chapter 3

THE LAST DRIVER_finalebook1

March 14, 2050

“People drove cars all by themselves all the time, sweetheart,” I said, still sitting inside Veronica with my granddaughter.   “People drove themselves to the store, to work, to parties…”

Hannah threw her hands up in disbelief. “But how? How would even have been possible for a human to drive a car?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It wasn’t that hard, really. They gave driver’s licenses to the dumbest people. Anyone with a pulse could get one. Frankly, you were considered a loser if you didn’t drive.”

“I’m not buying it,” Hannah said. “Cars need an AI. They need guidance chips and internal memory banks and precision sensors surrounding the entire vehicle just to make sure they don’t bump into anything. You’re going to sit there and tell me that these great big hunks of steel moving fast on a road with only inches between them were operated by people?”

“Yes,” I said. “Millions of them. All over the world. Everyday.”

“And no one ever hit anything?” Hannah asked.

“Oh, I never said that,” I said. “People hit stuff with their cars all the time. Walls. Pedestrians. Other cars.”

“Why’d they do that?” Hannah asked.

“Beats me,” I said. “Some people just weren’t very good drivers. They’d get tired and make a mistake. They’d stop paying attention and do something stupid. Some people would even get drunk and drive, which never ended well.”

“Drunk?” Hannah asked.

“Intoxicated,” I answered.

“Huh?”

“When people drank too much beer, they’d get sick and woozy and act weird,” I said. “It was called, ‘getting drunk.’”

“But how could people get drunk when there was a beer buying limit?” Hannah asked.

I sighed. “Hun, in those days, people were allowed to buy unlimited beers.”

“Wow,” Hannah said.

“I know,” I replied.

“I have no idea how you all survived if everyone was getting drunk and ramming their cars into each other all the time,” Hannah said.

“Me neither,” I said. “We were lucky I suppose.”

“I still don’t buy it,” Hannah said.

“Buy what?” I asked.

“That people drove cars,” Hannah said.

“You saw it in the movie.”

“You said it yourself,” Hannah said. “That was make-believe. There was no way someone could have driven a car off a cliff, through a helicopter and land on the other side.”

“True,” I said. “But people drove normally all the time. What about that movie about the kid who took the day off? He drove a car in that one. He got his sad friend to steal it from his father.”

Hannah thought about it. “That was make-believe too. The movie people just made it look like he was driving his sad friend’s dad’s car to make the movie more interesting, but he was just pretending.”

“Is that so?” I asked.

“People never drove cars, Grampa,” Hannah said. “You’re just messing with me.”

“Am I?” I asked.

“Yes,” Hannah said. “A human car driver is like a unicorn or a sasquatch or a wiener dog. Fun to think about, but they never existed.”

I pointed at the girl. “Watch it now. The great Dachshund extinction of 2025 is nothing to joke about.”

“Come on,” Hannah said.

“I mean it,” I said. “Those dogs suffered.”

“Yeah, right,” Hannah said. “There’s no such thing as wiener dogs and there’s no such thing as human drivers. Stop pulling my leg. I’m not a little girl anymore.

I reached into the pocket of my tattered plaid shirt and pulled out my keys. They were still attached to Dad’s poker chip. “How much you want to bet I can drive this car right now?”

Hannah rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”

I stuck the key in the ignition. “Get the door, if you please.”

“Grampa,” Hannah said. “If this is going to be like the time you pretended to pull candy out of my ear…”

“Apparently obedient children are as extinct as wiener dogs,” I said.

“Were kids obedient in your time?” Hannah asked.

“Not especially,” I said. “Get the door.”

Hannah grumbled and hopped out of the car. She punched the garage door, rolling it up. She returned to the car. “OK. Let’s see whatever lame thing you’re going to do.”

I turned the ignition over. Hannah jumped as the engine rumbled. We traded glances.

“It’s a trick.”

“Is it?”

“Yes.”

“Hun,” I said. “You’ve seen the inside of a self-driving car. They all have seats that face each other. This one has seats that face the road. Why do you think that is?”

“I don’t know,” Hannah said. “Do I look like an old person?”

I made sure Veronica was in park, then pressed my foot down on the gas pedal, revving the engine. Hannah was astounded. “Wait, you can control the engine?”

I smiled. “Listen to that tiger growl.”

“This is impossible,” Hannah said.

“Is it?” I asked, revving the engine again.

“OK,” Hannah said. “So you can control the engine. Big deal. The sheer number of calculations and decisions that have to be made to move a car – I’m sorry, but it’s all too much for the human brain to process.”

Challenge accepted. It’d been decades since I’d last driven a car. It wasn’t by choice. I was allowed to keep Veronica in my garage as long as I kept paying the renewal fees on my antique car collector’s license, but only self-driving cars were street legal.

I sat there, debating my next move in my mind. If I took the car outside, I risked arrest. Oh well, I was old and the best part about being old is you just run out of fucks to give. This was a chance to be a hero in my granddaughter’s eyes.

“I hope I remember how to do this,” I said.

“You don’t,” Hannah said. “Because you never did.”

“Eh,” I said. “I bet its just like riding a bicycle.”

“A what?” Hannah asked.

“Put a cork in it, sweetheart.”

“A what?”

I slapped my forehead. “Just throw the dirt over me already.”

“Why would anyone throw dirt on you?” Hannah asked.

Ugh. Recreational cycling, wine, and funerals…all things that were lost on young people. Only the higher classes could still get wine, recreational cycling had been deemed an inefficient waste of time and the Order had declared that land was in too short supply to allow spent carcasses to be planted in it. It was cremation or bust.

I put Veronica into drive and ever so slowly, took my foot off the brake, allowing this fine hunk of American Made steel to eek out into the driveway.

Hannah was amazed…thrilled…out of her mind. The look on her face was comparable to what I imagine to what a child’s face would look like upon spotting the aforementioned unicorn or sasquatch…or wiener dog.

“Holy shit!”

“Language, young lady!”

Hannah couldn’t control herself. “Holy fucking shit!”

“The drones will have you hauled you if they hear you talk like that,” I said.

“I don’t care,” Hannah said as she looked around. “This is…I can’t believe it!”

As soon as the car hit the edge of the driveway, I hit the brake. “Well, well, well…don’t you feel bad for ever doubting your old grandpa?”

“I do!”

“Telling me I never drove a car,” I said. “The nerve. You kids today know nothing.”

“How did you learn how to do this?” Hannah asked.

“To do what?” I asked. “Drive a car?”

“Yeah,” Hannah said. “It’s got to be so complicated…did you go to engineering school or get an advanced science degree or…”

“I just took a class with Mr. Ferguson.”

“Who?” Hannah asked.

“Mr. Ferguson,” I repeated.

“Was Mr. Ferguson some type of wizard?”

“No,” I said. “He was my high school driver’s ed teacher. Every teenager had one.”

Hannah grabbed my arm. “They let KIDS drive?”

“When they were just a little bit older than you,” I said.

“Sir,” Hannah said. “You had drunk people and kids driving and everyone was operating a car without an advanced science degree. You lived in some truly messed up times. I congratulate you for living through them.”

“Thanks,” I said.

Soon enough, my time as a hero came to an end. Mrs. Howard, that nosey old battle-axe, was sitting across the street in her drive-way, striking a pose in her finest plus-sized mu-mu, taking notes of everything I was doing in a little journal. God, that bitch hadn’t just drunk the One World Order’s Kool-Aid. She’d licked the pitcher clean. “Happy Order Month” signs were stuck in the ground all over her lawn, as if one wasn’t enough.

I stuck my head out the window. “How are you today, Mrs. Howard? Lovely day, isn’t it?”

The old buzzard made a face like she’d just sucked on something sour. “Uh huh.”

She glared at me and waited for it. Oh, how I hated saying it, but it was necessary. “All hail the One World Order.”

Mrs. Howard stated the return refrain in her weak voice. “Long may it reign.”

I looked around the neighborhood. There were hundreds of small, white, boxy houses all lined up in perfect rows for as far as the eye could see. I turned my head to the right. A sleek, gray, 2041 Yarikazi Finster pulled into the driveway of the house next door. The center door on the right hand side slid open automatically. Mom, Dad, son and daughter all hopped out, looking happy and well-rested.

“Welcome home, Martinez family,” the car’s AI said. “It was a pleasure to return you to your domicile in Residential District 595XTK-Alpha.”

I scoffed. “Residential District 595XTK-Alpha. Please.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Hannah asked.

“I like this place better when it was called Compton. Ugh, the INP is rolling over in their graves.”

Hannah shook her head. “It’s like your speaking English…but not.”

The kids were too excited with a toy they were fighting over to notice me, but Mom and Dad were aghast at the site of me behind Veronica’s wheel.

“Holy shit,” Mr. Martinez said.

Mrs. Martinez’s lower lip quivered. She breathed heavily. She dropped her purse and her finger wavered as she pointed at me. “Warlock!”

Hannah attempted to intervene. “Oh, no. He’s not a warlock. He took a class from Mr. Ferguson.”

“Thing of evil!!!” Mrs. Martinez cried as she gathered up her children and ran inside. “Get in the house! Quickly!”

Mr. Martinez approached the car.

“How you doing, Mateo?” I asked.

“Oh fine, fine,” Mr. Martinez said. “Wow, my old man told me this was possible, but I never dreamed…”

“It’s all under control,” I said. I glanced at Mrs. Howard, then at Mr. Martinez. “I assure you, I’m a fully registered antique car collector, just showing my granddaughter how cars worked in the old days.”

Mr. Martinez looked clueless. “But there’s no history before 2032.”

“Yes,” I said. “So people keep telling me.”

I turned my attention back to Mrs. Howard. She’d picked up her cell phone and had begun dialing.

“Oh, Mrs. Howard!” I said. “Please, there’s no need to call the authorities!”

Mrs. Howard shot me a dirty look and lowered her phone. “Uh huh.”

“Everything’s fine, dear,” I said. “I’m just reliving my glory days. You know how it is. I’m sure you remember when you were young, riding around town in cars driven by your various handsome suitors..”

“Uh huh,” Mrs. Howard said.

“Or when you hit the drive-thru fifty times a day to order the super-size meal you fat…”

I observed Hannah’s quizzical face and realized there was still time for her to avoid becoming a miserable, nasty old prick like her grandfather.

“Drive-thru?” the girl asked.

“Nixing those might have been an improvement,” I said. “I’ll give the One World Order that one.”

“Super-size meal?” Hannah asked.

“Two,” I replied.

Mr. Martinez knocked on the side of the car. “Hey Frank, put this away, will you? It’s creeping me out.”

I nodded. “Sure. Not a problem.”

“And keep it away from my kids.”

“I had no intention of running over your lovely children, Mateo,” I said.

“I appreciate that,” Mr. Martinez said. “Hey, where’s your Order month sign?”

“My what?” I asked.

“It’s Order Month,” Mr. Martinez said.

“Oh,” I said. “I thought celebrating that wasn’t mandatory.”

“It isn’t,” Mr. Martinez said. “But you know, the drones and their questions.”

I smiled. “Right, right. The damn drones.”

“They stop by,” Mr. Martinez said. “They ask me if I know why you don’t have a sign. I tell them I keep putting signs on your lawn for you but they keep disappearing.”

“It’s the kids!” I said. “I swear, the kids…I mean, not your kids, but the kids at large in this neighborhood. They just keep swiping my Order month signs. I don’t know what it is. I’m sorry, Mateo.”

“That’s OK, Frank,” Mr. Martinez said. “I’ll put another one up for you.”

“Oh,” I said. “You’d do that for me? You are a jewel, Mateo. What would I ever do without you?”

“I don’t know,” Mr. Martinez said.

“You’re sure it wouldn’t be a bother?” I asked.

“Not at all.”

“Oh good,” I said.

“Just watch it with the car,” Mr. Martinez said. “I don’t need to be up all night answering the drones’ questions.”

“I know,” I said. “None of us need that.”

The Finster’s AI perked up. “Mr. Martinez, I have received word that your grocery order awaits pick-up at the food depository. If I am not needed here, I will head over there now.”

“That would be great,” Mr. Martinez said. “Thank you.”

The Finster started up, rolled out of the Martinez family’s driveway and down the street.

“In my day people had to load the groceries into cars themselves,” I said.

“Yeah,” Mr. Martinez said. “How was that?”

“It sucked,” I said.

Mr. Martinez headed for his door. “See you later, Frank.”

“Later, Mateo.”

“All hail the One World Order,” Mr. Martinez said as he stepped into his house.

“Yeah, yeah,” I replied. “Long may it reign.”

I looked at Mrs. Howard. “OK, have a nice day, Mrs. Howard! I will now return the car that I remind you, I own legally, and will return it to my garage and there will be no need to tell the drones about any of this!”

I put Veronica into reverse, looked over my shoulder, then slowly backed her into the garage.

Once again, Hannah was floored. “People were able to drive backwards too?!”

“Yup,” I said.

“I can’t even wrap my head around this,” Hannah said. “I mean, the shear number of mathematical computations a self-driving car has to process just to be able to drive backwards…”

“Yeah,” I said. “Or you could just look over your shoulder.”

I parked the car, switched off the ignition and hopped out. Hannah followed and gave me a big hug.

“Aww,” I said as I patted the little girl’s head. “What’s this for?”

“For being the best Grampa ever!” Hannah said.

“Oh,” I said. “OK. I’ll take it. Let’s eat. I’m starving.”

“Me too,” Hannah said. “But you have to tell me more about driving. Did you ever do anything dangerous?”

I laughed. “Of course not.”

 

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