When I first started driving, my arms and legs all had assignments. But now, fewer of my limbs have something to do when I’m going down the road. The car and the computers that operate the car are doing more. I’m doing less.
The dimmer switch in the floor is gone. First, they moved the dimmer switch to the blinker arm. But these days, the car dims its own lights when you meet an oncoming vehicle.
I’m not sure why we even have dimmer switches anymore. There are so many cars on the road now you can’t ever turn your bright lights on. Except for the drivers who race up behind you with their brights on. They still use their bright lights.
The rearview mirror doesn’t need me to flip the lever when someone drives up behind me with their brights on. The mirror knows when the guy behind me has his bright beams blasting and flips something all by itself to prevent me from being blinded.
As far as getting in a vehicle, I don’t even need a key anymore. If I have a fob thing that, as long as it’s in my pocket, will unlock the door when I touch the handle and start the car when I push a button on the dash.
At this rate, it won’t be long before my vehicle leaves without me.
I learned to drive in a 1966 Ford Mustang. It had a straight-six, 200 cubic inch engine with a three-speed manual transmission. It was a really basic automobile and was purchased for a budget price. That car looked great, was easy to repair, and was reliable.
But the Mustang also had no power steering and no power brakes.
Driving that car was like watching an octopus trying to hustle up dinner. My left leg was handling the clutch and brightening and dimming the headlights; my right leg took care of the gas and the brake; my left hand steered and turned on the blinkers; my right hand was employed part time with the steering wheel, and the rest of the time shifting the stick.
Today, you can tell your phone where you want to go and your phone places a call to your car, which then talks to the map app, which, after doing a background check and seeing how much money you have in your checking account, clears you to make a trip to the dollar store to buy more batteries for your car key and garage door opener.
I remember our first garage door opener. It was the neatest thing that we could drive up to our house, press a button on a device that was clipped to the sun visor, and the garage door opened up for us to pull right in. (This was, of course, assuming that the garage was actually empty and available to park a car and wasn’t filled with stuff you no longer needed but couldn’t bring yourself to part with.)
Our newest car has garage door opener buttons built into the rearview mirror.
But since I don’t know how to operate the rear view mirror, I also don’t know how to operate the garage door opener using the mirror.
The last time I tried to push a button on the mirror to open the garage door, the neighbor’s porch light went off and the map app plotted a course for the Grand Canyon.
I’m not sure how we lost control of our cars, but it seems we’ve lost control of just about everything. And I miss having control.
In 1978, one weekend I requested permission from my parents to make a trip to see my aunt and uncle in Dallas. There were no cell phones. I had no credit cards and just a Texaco map of the State of Texas to get me to Big D from Arkansas.
Mind you, I was all of 16 years old.
But no one thought anything about it. I had a tool kit and extra hoses and belts in the trunk. If I had car trouble, I’d fix it myself, or maybe some nice guy would stop and help me. The only thing my mom said was, “Call me when you get to Aunt Gwen’s house.”
And that’s what I did. I spent the weekend hanging out with my cousin, going to Six Flags and trying to meet girls (the latter was the less successful aspect of my trip). But, I had control of my car, and consequently, my surroundings.
Now, we have some lady named Alexa who’s been invited by people into their house to turn lights on and off and answer trivia questions, and a cell phone that tells us where to go (I had an ex that did that too).
Now I have a car that is just a few steps away from not needing me.
I’m not sure what my role will be going forward. Maybe Alexa does.