I read an article today that prognosticated the death of personally owned vehicles and the internal combustion engine within the next 20 years. It made many fine points projecting how much safer, more convenient, less expensive, and environmentally conscience eliminating the traditional family car would be. We could all hail them like an Uber, let them drive us to our destination while sleeping or fidgeting with our spinner, and paying a “nominal tax” for the maintenance and upkeep of this new and exciting public service.
It’s an interesting concept, to be sure. Then, of course I look at how well we’ve managed to maintain the current generation of public infrastructure and wonder what madman would willingly give up his clean and well maintained personal vehicle in perpetuity for the joys of the sights, smells, and sounds of public transportation in automobile-sized formats? I’m thinking of the guys I’ve seen taking a leak on the DC Metro and the noxious mix of whatever it is that makes taxi floors so disgustingly odoriferous. Add in the part that one of these marvelous transportation pods might not be available when and where you need one, and it sounds like a real winner of a plan to me.
Look, maybe it’s the kind of thing that would make some flavor sense for someone living in a dense urban environment or those consciously deciding to forgo privately owning a vehicle – a group that already seems largely served by things like trains, buses, taxis, and ride sharing schemes. For those of us who made the conscious decision to live in a rural part of the country, I have no idea how something like this makes sense. The density of pods needed just to get people in my rural county to and from work would seem to be prohibitive at first blush. Then add in the times you need to have something like a pickup truck to haul trash, or furniture, or firewood, or just to make a trip to the garden center and the plan frays even further around the edges. Are there going to be special freight pods that come with even less unit density than the normal passenger pods and how much inconvenience are people as a group going to tolerate to make this concept work?
It’s an interesting notion, but for the foreseeable future is going to be a hard no from me. I like knowing I have a machine only a few feet away that I can climb into and, with a reasonable amount of maintenance and upkeep, transport myself anywhere on the continent at the time and route of my own choosing. I have no intention of giving that up that level of freedom and convenience to feed someone’s nightmare hellscape dream of a “future without cars.”
Sunday night I saw an advertisement for the Chrysler Pacifica siting its onboard vacuum cleaner as a feature… as if a shop vac or a stop over at the neighborhood carwash is just too hard to figure out. But fine, if people don’t have enough appliances in their homes and need to start carrying them in their cars full time too, I’m not going to judge. Well, I am going to judge, but I’ll do it quietly at least.
Add to that advertisement the several social media posts I’ve seen singing the praises of minivans as the new “cool,” all I can do really is shake my head and disbelief. A 68 Chevelle is cool. A 59 Caddy with its enormous fins is cool. A McLaren P1 is cool. Anything rolling out of the shed at Koenigsegg is, by definition, cool. See where I’m going with this yet?
I get that people drive minivans for very good reasons. They’re excellent at what they were designed to be – small, personally owned busses. People carriers. Chances are you bought one because it was very good at what it was designed to do. That’s the same reason I drive a full sized pick up truck instead of a 137 pound Smart Car.
What I didn’t do was buy a pickup truck and then try to justify myself as now driving a cool car. I bought a truck because I have two dogs that occasionally get filthy and from time to time I have the need to haul large or awkwardly shaped things from Point A to Point B. I didn’t buy the truck because it was cool any more than you minivan drivers bought your ride because of its cool factor. I bought it because it was vehicle that would get the job done.
If you’re driving a minivan, embrace it for what it is. Celebrate its capability. But for the love of Pete can we all agree to stop pretending that it is any way “cool?”
1. Twatwaffles. Here’s a fun fact – the more condescending your tone the more I will go out of my way to make even the easiest things difficult for you to do. If you insist on speaking to me in such a manner, I’ll smile happily at your jabs and then proceed to frustrate your efforts at every available opportunity. I can out-snark you on every imaginable level. Your powers are weak and pitiful compared to the untempered brunt of my sarcasm. You, my dear, clearly have no understanding of with whom you trifle. I will take great joy at your discomfiture, you hapless twatwaffle.
2. Self-driving cars. While conceptually interesting enough, I find the practical side of the idea to be something less desirable. If there’s anything I trust less than a human being behind the wheel it’s a computer programmed by a human behind the wheel. At least, at some point, one might hope that a human driver might as a last resort be expected to fall back on their instinct for self-preservation. I don’t have any such fleeting hope for a truly autonomous vehicle. It will do precisely what its programming tells it to do right up until it hits a buggy line of code and then does something completely different. If the computer on my desk at work is any indication, by the time we clog up our car’s computer with sufficient software to protect it from hackers, advertising bloatware, and the actual programming needed to perform mechanical and navigational operations, well, I expect to be about 17 minutes into my commute before the damned thing starts throwing off errors and just gives up and shuts itself off. I’m sure there is an enormous market for these fantastical autonomous cars, but I think I’d like to keep the 20th century simplicity of a steering wheel, a throttle, a brake, and a gear stick (clutch optional).
3. Falling out of the sky. I’m not sure if there are actually more planes falling out of the sky now than there were in the past or if we just hear more about them now than we use to. I’m sure there’s some handy website that keeps track of that information that’s only a Google search away, but really the actual numbers don’t matter as much as perception. It just seems like these contraptions are hurtling back towards earth like giant man-carrying lawn darts way more often than they should. This isn’t likely to stop me from boarding my next flight, but I’d be lying if I said a certainly unnerving series of “what if” thoughts won’t spend the entirety of that flight lurking around in the dark recesses of my mind.
Early in the commute this afternoon, Big Red’s odometer rolled over 100,000 miles. That’s not quite as big a deal with these fancy new vehicles as it was say with a 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass, but it’s a personal milestone for me. It’s the first time I’ve ever held on to a car long enough to rack up that kind of mileage.
It’s one of the few times in life I can honestly say I’m not really even interested in looking for a new car (though I wouldn’t say no if someone dropped a Ferrari or a Koenigsegg in the driveway). I thoroughly enjoy driving this over sized red beast of mine. Sure, she’ll never sip fuel like a Prius and there’s the occasional rattle of indeterminate origin, but I just plain like the old girl. I don’t suppose it hurts that she’s bought and paid for either.
It’s inevitable that at some point something new and shiny will catch my interest and replace Big Red as the objective of my automotive affection. Until then, though, I think I’ll be perfectly content traveling the highways and byways in my Tundra/living room on wheels and watching the Smart cars scurry out of my way.