Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Zombie Driver

After I started my car last night, it took over and drove me halfway to Austin before I got control of the wheel and backtracked toward my original destination. Yes, my little MX-5 has a mind of its own.

Usually it does a very good job. I can travel all thirty-five miles to Austin without even being aware of it until suddenly I'm there. My baby car stays on course, keeps in its lane, dodges semis, and adjusts itself to the traffic speed, all without me being conscious of it.

When you think about it, driving is a very complicated business. Unlock and open the door, ease into the seat, shut and lock the door, check the seat and the mirrors, fasten the seat belt, insert the key into the ignition, step lightly on the accelerator, turn the key and hope the engine catches, then release the brake. Next comes pressing the the button to open the garage door, putting the car in Reverse, backing out slowly (veering slightly to left to avoid knocking the side mirror off again). Once out of the garage, close the door, cut back sharply to the right, pause to move gearshift to Drive, then cut to the left and turn in order to head down the driveway face first. Along the way, adjust the air conditioning and recheck the mirrors.

Sometimes I mentally click off all the steps--1,2,3 . . . .

It's very complicated maneuvering that is second nature to any experienced driver, but nothing compared to highway driving, which is nothing compared to city driving. The signs, the traffic lights, the ebb and flow of the vehicles around us--we rarely register them consciously, because our cars automatically know what to do.

Which leaves us free to dial up the world on our cell phones.

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