Friday, March 28, 2014

Andrew drives a modern rental car, and concludes we're all going to Hell.

For the first time in years, I spent a day in Scottsdale without a car. I couldn't take it. It's horrible. How do you people do this.

Anyhow, due to needing a new (BRASS, not PLASTIC) radiator, my MR2 has been out of commission. 

So since it's (probably crying) in CarLife Autocare’s mechanic bay, they gave me a paid-for leathery rental. Not just a little economy bucket, no they hooked it up. I could write a glowing review about CarLife, but that's a story for another day.

A young mechanic oil-change kid named Alex picked me up from home and drove me to an Enterprise car rental center. "It's all paid for, unless you want insurance. Take it easy, buddy!" and he left.

Paperwork signed, I'm given a quick tour of my rental car by an Enterprise salesman guy.

Now the car they're lending me is nothing special by today’s super luxury standards. It’s an upper middle class fully optioned Chevrolet Captiva SUV. Brand new. Black on black, with chrome and aluminum accents. It's a car I'd glance over and forget as I'm thumbing for Porsches in this month's Car & Driver.

As I sit in the Captiva's driver seat, the Enterprise employee rambles about something. Then he waves and shuts the driver door with a quiet fump.
And the outside world is instantly muted. Turned off.  Completely gone and separate from me now

I take a look around this freshly stitched interior. So this is what GMs engineers have been up to.

I’m cocooned in fifty airbags, glossy faux aluminum and wood grain accents. There’s like 10 air conditioners and screens all over and I don’t know what it all means. The car is just on all of a sudden, like it knows I’m there. One of the screens flash words and welcoming animations. Asking me what I want in life. It can provide it. Anything you want, driver.

I just want to, uh, drive home. Can you do that, Captiva?

The driver seat alone has more options than my entire MR2. I want to adjust it a bit, so I reach down for a grab handle to find nothing. Instead there’s a handful of smooth buttons on the side. I press a couple of them and make the seat position worse, then give up.

This thing has so many gadgets, I don't even know what Bluetooth is but there’s like 6 kinds of it in here. I never knew I needed air conditioned seats, or responsive interior and exterior lighting, satellite location, onboard HD diagnostics, and warning beeping things and cameras until now.

Every surface has little bits of safety-laden convenience hoping to coddle me in every thinkable way.

I don't understand all this fancy technology and computers and it makes me angry.

So I decide to try and drive it while ignoring the flatscreen thing in the center console. It was offering me food and music and news updates and where the nearest whatever I need is... but I'm scared of all these buttons, so I just leave it.

Cruising along, blasted with ice cold air from the swoopy dash, I can’t feel or hear a thing from the road. It all seems so far away from me. I’m not driving a car as much as just watching a movie through the windshield.

Floating in the vast chasm of headroom above me is an open glass moonroof of the future. It’s letting bright Phoenix sunlight spill all over the chrome automatic shifter, blinding me as a result. 

Squinting my eyes on the movie road ahead, I reach up and grab for a sliding shade to close it.
But there’s no such thing, really. Instead there are a dozen buttons to control the fore and aft degree and angle and temperate and mood lighting of the moonroof. Can’t I just close this stupid thing? 
I hit all the buttons a few times until something makes it close. Ah, good.

The ride is so smoothly muffled and massaged, I can’t tell if I’ve run over a deer or a road reflector. There’s zero feeling. No connection between me and the outside. Not that there needs to be. I wonder if I’m even needed in this car actually. I’m sure it could drive itself fine with or without me.

In my MR2, there are no driver aids. It’s just you and the wheel and this eager little engine and that’s it. You make it all happen. If you screw up even the slightest bit, it’s your fault. Sorry. Learn to drive better or get out, chump.

But in this new Captiva, in this new car, you could have a baboon dowsed in itching powder as the driver, and everything would be just fine. The computers would handle everything. No tires would screech, no fuel would be wasted, nobody would get hurt. Everything’s gonna be just fine. We’ll even get McDonald’s on the way.

I was chuckling to myself about this, when it hit me.

This is what cars are like now. This is what people want.
I’m the weirdo, here. Not them.

I look around at the Scottsdale traffic whizzing by. Many of the cars are far nicer than this Captiva. I steal a glimpse from each driver as they pass. Every driver in their own suede-covered protective tech bubble vacation. They don’t care about anything outside of themselves. Their car makes sure of it.

The modern car can answer their every want and need, with silent obedience. The car makes them feel important, exclusive, and special. No rude boss, no screaming kids, debt, disrespect, stress or noise to worry about.

This is the future. Highways filled with millions of tiny escapes.

…I really miss my MR2. I miss my notchy 5 speed, and two working speakers. I miss my little early 90s Toyota world. Where things made sense.

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