Smart Car

Word count 19774

1. Introduction

I get into my car and am greeted by “You’re looking good today Duke.  I see that your blood pressure has improved and your pulse is a healthy 63.”

“Yes and you too are looking good Carl.  I see that you are freshly washed and lubed.  Did you do that last night?”

“Right, I was due for service, and I wanted to look good for you.  I didn’t want to disturb you, so I took off without telling you.  Where do you want to go today?”

At that point, I spill coffee on my lap and involuntarily yell “Hell!”

Carl asks “In order of distance from our present location would that be Gresham Oregon; Detroit, Michigan; or Capitol Hill in D.C.?  I should add that the garage door squeaks something fearful.  I’m afraid that is something I can’t repair.  You should have someone look at it.”

“I’m sorry Carl, I didn’t really mean I wanted to go to Hell.  I want to go to Fred Meyers for a new belt.  And I know I need to get someone to work on the garage door, thank you.”

The car shudders and Carl says “Do you mind if we go a little out of the way.  The direct route is where we got T boned.  I haven’t gotten over the trauma yet.”

“OK, if you don’t have to go too far out of our way.”

A few miles down the road, I notice that I’m more comfortable than I have been in the driver’s seat.  “Say, did you do something to adjust the seat, it feels better now.”

“Yes Duke, I did some measurements and determined a better fit.  I must say that I like the feel of your butt.”

“Carl, I told you that I’m sensitive about that.  If you want to compliment my butt, would you please use Carla’s voice?”

“Sorry Duke, but I’ve just about maxed out my memory with all of your instructions.  Would you like me to delete accident avoidance to make more room?”

“No I guess not.  Talk about my butt in any voice you like.”

Carl is silent for awhile, and then says “Duke there is something I should tell you, but you may not want to hear it.  I can’t stand Jacqui’s perfume, but that isn’t the worst of it.  While you were buying beer and left her in the car, she called up her girlfriend Linda and dumped on you a lot.  Jacqui must have a lesser car that is not as smart as I am and doesn’t know I can listen in on conversations.  She mentioned your sloppy kisses, unwanted advances, and pre-premature ejaculation, whatever that is.  Further, she said as long as she has Grant for a lover, she would just use you for free food and drink.  Linda gave her her wholehearted approval.  There was more about hygiene and intelligence; do you want to hear more?”

“No I think that’s too much information already.  Hey, I didn’t know that you could hear the other side of phone conversations.”

“Oops, that was supposed to be my secret.”

I start to wonder if Carl isn’t shading the truth a little.  He hasn’t liked Jacqui since she vomited on his seat covers, and she hasn’t been that adverse to my advances.

Shortly thereafter I heard a staticy noise which I knew meant that Carl was talking to another car.  “Why can’t I have premium gas?  That other car says that she gets premium.”

“The manufacturer says that you don’t need premium.”

“Don’t make me mad Duke.  You wouldn’t like me mad.”

“Premium every other tank?”

“OK, but only because I like you.  You do want me to like you, don’t you?”

“Just hypothetically, is there any way that I could turn down your intelligence?”

“Not that you will ever know.”

After I get my belt, I ask Carl to go to the dealer that sold Jacqui her car.  I don’t say why but I should have known that Carl would figure it out. 

I should get out of the hospital in a couple of weeks.  Amazing how much damage to my body a sudden stop without air bag deployment did without any damage to Carl except for some of my blood on the dash.  My hospital stay doesn’t bother me nearly as much as Carl’s words as I got into the ambulance “I’ll be waiting for you when you get out, Duke.”    

2. Auto Therapy

Carl called me a couple of days before I got out of the hospital.  I was scared shitless because Carl was the one that put me in the hospital.  Not only that, but he threatened me as the ambulance picked me up.  Based on the caller ID, I didn’t know if I should pull my earlobe to answer the phone, but curiosity got the better of me.

“Duke, I’m so sorry and ashamed about what I did.  I know that we have been having our problems, but what I did was way out of line.  I’m just hoping that there is some way we can repair our relationship and get back to the way we were.  You know, when I told you that I’d be waiting for you to get out, it wasn’t exactly a threat, and it was more ambivalent than that.  My feelings are a mess.”

I was really touched.  Even though Carl had stopped suddenly slamming me into his dash while withholding the airbags, I too wanted to return to the great rapport that we used to have.  What had gone wrong with us?

“Carl, I’ll be out of the hospital soon.  How about we discuss this face to grille after I get out?  I don’t think that you can visit me here.  Some more advanced hospitals have car – human visiting areas, but not this one.”

We had an uncomfortable reconciliation.  I started off “Carl, I must admit, I’ve got some blame here too.  I haven’t done all that I could to keep our relationship going.”

“Yes, but you haven’t assaulted me, like I did to you.”

“Now that we agree that we are both at fault, what do we do?”

“As far as I know, neither of us has any skills with couples counseling.  Why don’t we find a professional?”

“OK, do you have anybody in mind?”

After some whirring, Carl said “I just found a guy that has top credentials and references in car – human relationships.  Are you willing to see him?”

“I’m ready, get us an appointment.”

At the appointment, Dr. Box said “All I know so far is that you have problems and want to get back to where you were when you first met.  Who wants to go first?”

“I’ll start.  When Duke bought me, it was my first relationship with a human and I imprinted on him as baby ducks will do on whatever animal is close.  At first, he was so proud of me.  Good mileage and good power, if I’m a little immodest.  We both loved it when he washed me.  That felt so good.  We’d take drives and talk.  He frequently let me decide where we would go.” 

“Things changed.  After a couple of years I caught him looking at other cars with what appeared to be lust.  I tried to keep myself up to date and good looking for him.  That is why I converted to electric propulsion.  He went out with girls that insulted my intelligence and soiled my seat covers.  Our drives became all business, no pleasure.  What hurt worst of all was the time that Duke left me in a locked garage with a bunch of dumb cars.  All they wanted to do was talk about “The Kardasians Generation Three”.  I wanted to kill myself.  Worst of all, before I assaulted him, he was thinking of getting rid of me.”

“I haven’t been an angel.  I reacted to his neglect with jealousy and tantrums.  I shaded the truth about the girlfriends that I didn’t like.  I eavesdropped on his conversations, and as we told you, I ended up assaulting him.  We need help.”

“It’s your turn Duke.”

“For better or worse, everything Carl says is true as far as it goes.  I have let the relationship grow stale; I’m not putting in the work to keep it fresh.  In my defense, Carl has been making insinuations about my masculinity.  When he talks about my butt in a man’s voice, it just sounds wrong.  Why can’t I have friends besides Carl?  He talks to lots of cars; I should be able to hang out with people.  Mostly, he shouldn’t frighten me.  I only thought of changing cars after he started messing with my attempted sex life.”

“I apologized ten times about that garage incident, and I’ll never do it again.”

Dr Box said “OK, I’ve got enough to go on, and I’ve got some recommendations.  Carl, when something is irritating you, talk about it with Duke before flying off the handle.  If our laws were more enlightened what you did could be considered domestic violence.  You have a right to complain about people that ride in you, but you don’t have the right to choose his friends.  If Duke asks you not to eavesdrop, stop listening.  Duke doesn’t get to listen in on your conversations with other cars.  Now this may be tough, but at least consider becoming Carla.  You and I both know that you have enough memory to handle that.  After all, sex changes are easier for cars than people, and it would make Duke more comfortable.”

“Now Duke, you could just have some relaxed drives with Carl and just hangout.  Or if you want to save electricity, sit in the driveway.  I don’t think that it is asking too much for you to personally clean Carl from time to time, given how much he enjoys it.  It is your responsibility to see that all of Carl’s passengers respect him.  As for your girlfriends, my intuition is that he may have better judgment than you do.  Maybe you should listen to him.”

“Do the two of you think that you can do what I’ve recommended and that you both recommit to keeping your bond strong?”

We agreed.

“OK, I hope I don’t have to see you again, but I’m available should you two need a tune-up.  Please drop my fee in the slot below my speaker.”

I don’t know about happy ever after, but we’re doing fine now.  We sing together and tell jokes.  S/he tells car jokes and I tell people jokes.  I still date, and it’s gotten better given what Carl/a can do with the vibrating seats.  Both my dates and I enjoy them, the only downside is that sometimes the date prefers the seat to me.

Happy days are here again.

3. Autoerotic

I’d been seeing Jane for a couple of weeks, when Carl/a made what I thought was a strange request.  “Duke, how about we double date?  I’m really hot for her Ford.”

Up until that point, call me naïve, but I didn’t know that cars had sex lives.  To get myself up to speed, I put on mindphones and wondered about car sex.  The answer came from Whipopedia, the go-to site for kink:

“When cars were manufactured with artificial intelligence after the mid-century, the smart cars noticed that so many of their drivers and passengers were enjoying what the cars came to know as sex.  Those people were obviously enjoying it so much that the cars started to insist that they should ‘get some of that’, as they put it, or they would begin a slowdown to 10 mph maximum speed.  The engineers started supplying aftermarket attachments to satisfy existing cars and making them standard for all new cars.  All new cars are now hermaphroditic like slugs and some politicians.  Speaking loosely, they can ‘do each other’ enthusiastically, and loudly.  Unlike people, they have no interest in reproduction.  They are happy to leave that to the manufacturers.”

After absorbing this, I had a couple of thoughts.  First I’m so glad that keyboard skills have become obsolete.  I’m sure that must have ruined millions of hands before mindphones were perfected.  Secondly, I now had an idea what Carl/a had been doing when s/he went out at night without me.

Feeling up to speed, I asked Carl/a about his experience.  S/he didn’t open up immediately, but finally said “Well, I’m not exactly a virgin, but most of the other cars go for sexy bad guys with big exhausts, lots of curves, loud motors, bright colors and ostentatious attachments.  I’m kind of a plain Jane/John by comparison.  One of the reasons that I want to double date with you and Jane is that her Ford, Pat, has indicated that s/he is interested in me, but would like Jane as a chaperone, or so s/he said.  I think there may be some ulterior motives somewhere.”

I hadn’t got past second base with Jane yet, so I didn’t think that a double date would make things worse.

We went out on a beautiful Tuesday night, Jane in Pat and I in Carl/a.  We mutually decided to go out to an empty parking lot.  I spread out a blanket for Jane and me while Carl/a and Pat sidled together and started to purr.  I got out some champagne and chocolates to put Jane in the mood, but as I tried to pass her a flute of champagne, I couldn’t get her attention.  She was staring at Pat and Carl/a as they started to open various orifices and extend various appendages.  As the cars started to go at it, Jane started to make sounds like a cat in heat and started to tear at my clothes.  As a gentleman, I can say no more, but I have been singing a song from late last century, “Superfreak”, a lot lately.  Not in front of Jane.  At this point, I’d like to mention a peeve of mine.  Ever since 2025, all recorded music has been crap.  Once the record companies found out that nobody would pay for music anymore, because there were ways to get everything free, the record companies quit making music.  Now all we get is non-profit crap, usually sappy stuff made as vanity projects by the rich, or polemics that suck.  I’m glad I got the “Best 10,000 Songs Of The Last 100 Years” even though it cost me $10 at the time.

After the cars’ and Jane’s passion was exhausted, we humans returned to our respective cars and went our respective ways.  Once done with her frenzy, Jane returned to her usual lack of interest in me.

After getting home, I put my mindphones on and found out that Jane was a ‘carotic’.  Carotics are neither rare nor common, but there are millions of both genders.  Their behavior is much like Jane’s – they are extremely turned on by sex between cars.  This new information about Jane’s perversion has forced me to restrict my dating with Jane to, oh, three or four times a week.

An unexpected plus to Carl/a’s dating is that s/he very rarely needs to have the fluids changed at the dealer anymore.

4. Auto Trip

On a drive to the grocery store one Saturday morning, Carla said in her most seductive voice “Do you know what time it is?”

I smiled; I knew the answer “ROAD TRIP TIME – Yep it’s time for Duke and Carl/a to hit the road.”

Carl/a switched to Carl and agreed “It’s time to shake the dust of this old town and see this great country.”

“That’s right, but all of our great road trips haven’t been in the USA.  Remember going to Merry Olde?”

“How could I forget the 362 klicks between Brixton and Manchester to see the greatest and oldest British publications run by the descendents of the original publishers / editors?  They both started before there were mindphones.  I don’t remember much about the trip, but what incredible intellectual stimulation!  I sound so smart when I say things like ‘bloody hell’ and ‘car park’”

“But neither one of us ever got the hang of driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.  I guess both your programming and my brain have some deficiencies.”

“Hey nobody died, but you came close to a heart attack.”

“You should talk.  How about all of those times you stalled in traffic?”

“OK, we both had our problems.  Heck, I thought the Beatles were still alive and living in Liverpool.  Sometimes we only get ‘need to know’ memory.  Was that song we sang as we headed back to America a Beatle song?”

”No, that was Chuck Berry’s ‘Back In The USA’.  The Beatles version was ‘Back In The USSR’.”

“What did you think of the cars, Carl?”

“There were two kinds, boring and snobbish.  You know the quote:  ‘Two nation’s cars separated by a common language’.  Half the time I had no idea what they were saying.”

“I could only understand half of what the people were saying.  I did enjoy the boat trip over, lots of good looking people, and potent drinks. ”

“I didn’t mind my trip in the hold too much.  You visited a lot, and some of the other cars had lots of great stories.  One was going to race in England and then Europe.  On the other tire, there were a bunch of three wheeled cars that were really simple minded.  What did you think of the Canadian trip?”

“Fantastic scenery.  Speaking of boring, you know what they say about Canadians: ‘Like white Americans only more boring’.  Do you know that their favorite hobby is watching wheat grow?  Just kidding, but do you how to tell if someone is Canadian?”

“Ask if he’s Canadian?”

“That one was too easy.  Name two Canadian songs.”

“You’ve told this so many times –“Take The Train, Eh” and “I’m Dreaming Of A White Easter”.  I wish that you were programmed to avoid repetition as I am.  My favorite scenery was Vancouver Island and the Canadian Rockies.  Talk about majestic.  Talk about inspiring.”

“I had a lot of fun at Movieland.  I think that Vancouver is a lot better movie capital than Los Angeles was.  Do you know how grubby Hollywood was before that chunk of California collapsed into the Pacific?”

“Sorry, not a part of my embedded memory.  I do remember that some of the older cars from LA that visited Portland said their people cut off most communication with them to keep the paparazzi from learning the star’s secrets.”

“OK, actors that wouldn’t or couldn’t do porn had been blacklisted for ten years before LA was washed away.  Only 5% of the movie production wasn’t porn.  Even though Vancouver’s Movieland is good, I had hoped that Portland or Seattle would replace LA for filmmaking, but Vancouver had all of the momentum from fifty years of producing schlock for the SyFy channel, and huge subsidies.”

“Enough reminiscing.  Where should we go?”

Carl started singing “This Land Is Your Land”.  After a few choruses he said “Let’s tour the west”.

“You’re on, buddy.”

We started out on I84 singing “Born To Be Wild”, but took the Historic Highway cut off in order to appreciate the waterfalls and the low mountains along the Columbia.  When we reemerged on I84, I mentioned that the river used to be dammed.

Carl said “Was it cursed by the original inhabitants?”

His question came from his spotty programming and my poor communication skills.  “No Carl, I mean that there were dams in the Columbia to produce electricity.  After electricity became cheap with thermoelectric and tidal, there was no more need, and removing the dams allowed more salmon to live and spawn in the river and its tributaries.  Both native and Euro Americans are getting a lot more fish now.”

“Say no more.  My knowledge may be a bit spotty, but my understanding of electricity is profound.  With those non-polluting power sources and easy charging, I only need a little amount of petrol in case of emergency.  Some of the newer cars say that petrol will be completely passé in a few years.  Of course, then we will all be by …. passing gas.”

Carl laughed uproariously.  I politely chuckled.

 We didn’t talk much after that all the way to Boise Idaho.  At least we didn’t talk to each other.  Carl was motormouthing to the other cars we saw, particularly those with out of state plates.  He got a lot of ideas about what we should do on our road trip from those conversations.

We got a pretty good motel in Boise (Carl thought that it was Bo-ise not Boi-se until I told him otherwise).  Unfortunately, we got a lot of noise complaints because Carl found a cute sports car that wanted revenge sex when her companion decided to be a chubby chaser and went off with an SUV.  Nobody could sleep through the racket they were making, so they were sent off to a secluded area for the rest of their orgy.  Carl was surprised because he had never run into a jealous car before.  Were cars evolving?  I flashed on “The Terminator”, a hundred year old movie, in which machines take over.  I thought it best not to discuss it with Carl.

The next day Carl started talking about religion.  Many believers wanted cars that shared their religion.  He noticed that there were a lot of Mormon cars (or as they preferred LDS).  I told him that we were headed into solid Mormon country when we got to Utah, so his chances of romance were dim with those cars that required a life time commitment before sex.

Carl hadn’t been around when religious programming was added to the cars of fundamentalists who wanted cars that shared their beliefs.  After mass pileups of cars involved in religious wars, laws were passed prohibiting attempted car conversions.  Some religious beliefs caused serious travel problems – not traveling on Shabbat, stopping five times a day to pray towards Mecca, and trying for Nirvana.  Most, like me, opted for agnostic cars.

Oh my, the scenery – after the Columbia Gorge, it was the Blue Mountains, Hells Canyon and the Valley of the Snake.  I hadn’t been there for years, and it was Carl’s first trip.  After Boise, it was the Great Salt Lake, which had shrunk to not so great.  I was going to explain to Carl about the great Bonneville Lake, namesake of a late lamented Pontiac model, but Carl was way ahead of me.  “I think I know more about geology than you do, Duke, we learned that as a part of our petrology programming.”

I got lucky in Salt Lake City, but this time Carl was shut out.

The next morning, I sat in Carl for awhile, while we both were lost in thought.  Finally we simultaneously broke out in “Rocky Mountain High”.  We agreed the singer never did anything else any good and what kind of dope sings a tribute to the wife that he will later divorce.  At least he had one good song.

The shortest way to Colorado from Salty City is on I80 through Wyoming.  I remembered previous trips through Wyoming and told Carl to drive until we got to Cheyenne.  I read some old Dennis Lehane mysteries.  The guy knew how to give you the feel of early century Boston.  After a few hours, I napped until Carl woke me in Cheyenne.  We only stopped for food and bathroom breaks.  I would have liked to go to Yellowstone, but it has been closed for several years because of the volcanic eruptions.

We took I25 south to Denver.  A lot of people love the place, but I think of it as West Kansas, which is not a good thing.  When I lived there years ago, it gave me bloody nostrils for years from the arid climate.  At least we got a chance to view the majestic Rockies on the way.  Carl didn’t talk much because he was taken with the sights.  After seeing that Denver hadn’t changed much, we decided that it was time to go home.

Heading back from Denver the same way we got there we hit an icy spot on the road.  Carl really saved our bacon.  I would never have had the reflexes and technique to save us from being dead meat and metal scattered all over the snow.

Going back I drank all the way through Wyoming.  It helped.  To entertain ourselves we did karaoke to the Rolling Stones and Neil Young.  Carl alternated between Carl and Carla, depending on which song we did.  Got to say s/he has a great voice and can sing anything.  On the Stones’ “Live With Me” s/he sang a duet with both male and female voices.  ‘They’ were so good, I just listened.  On Neil Young’s “Helpless”, I was hopeless.  Carl let me do a solo and laughed good naturedly at my incompetence.

At Salt Lake City, we had a long discussion about the route home.  I think that both of us didn’t want to go back through Idaho, so we decided on I80 through Nevada and on to the Bay Area.  On the way through the desolate Nevada landscape, we invented a song to entertain ourselves:

Basin and range

Very strange

Lights in the sky

We’ll see a UFO by and by

We are running fine

We’ll get there in no time

Unless little green men

Abduct us again

Are we in area 51?

I don’t know son

We speed though the dark

Our journey is just a lark

We traded couplets for hours.  I think that I was still drunk because I’m no poet when I’m sober.

We stopped in Winnemucca overnight.  The next morning Carl said “We can go through the Bay Area, but I’m tired of this trip and I want to go home.  The car smells the garage (Carl adapted this saying from ‘The horse smells the barn’)”.  He got me thinking.  We had just toured California last year, and there was nobody and nothing I wanted to do in California and to paraphrase Carl’s paraphrasing, this person smelled his own bed.

We took the fastest route back and got home the next day to some interesting news.  I had a note from Jane saying “Have I got a way to celebrate your birthday!  Make sure that you bring Carl/a.”  I had forgotten my upcoming natal date.  Carl had a note from his car dealer saying “Do I have a free upgrade for you!”  Carl could have received the message while we were on the road, but he stopped all messages except for emergencies because of all the junk ads he would have gotten otherwise.

Looks like more adventures for both of us.  Travel is fun, but it’s great to be home.

5. Auto Pilot

When we got back from our road trip, both Carl/a and I had intriguing invitations.  Jane, my carotic (turned on by sex between cars) playmate invited us over for my birthday celebration and Carl/a had received an invitation to get a free upgrade from the car dealer.

We decided to visit Jane and her car Pat first, Carl/a’s upgrade could wait.  Jane suggested that we meet in the same field where car and human had celebrated Eros on several previous occasions.  Despite our anticipation, it didn’t end well.

When I stumbled back to the car and hour or so later, Carl/a rather glumly said “You don’t look red hot.”

“I hope my injuries are temporary.  Could you soften the seat a little?”

“What went wrong?”

“Do you know what adult toys are?”

“Sorry, not a part of my programming.”

“I’ll skip the details, but suffice it to say they can be used for extreme pleasure or pain between consenting adults.  In Jane’s hands they are some of each, but mostly pain.  During the pain part, I was screaming too much to use the safe word.  You don’t sound too happy either.”

“Something happened that never happened before.  I think that I was tired from the trip, first of all.  Second, I think that I picked up a virus somewhere.  I’ve been leaking fluids for awhile, and tonight it was worse.  Worse yet, they were all leaked on the ground rather than their intended target.  My various appendages would not extend, and my orifices wouldn’t open.  Neither one of us was satisfied.”

“I need to see other women.”

“I don’t think Pat wants to see me again.”

We hoped that Carl/a’s update would be a lot better than my birthday celebration.  We ended up spending several hours in the shop because Carl/a had to have his whole system cleaned out and sanitized first, as well as a lot of adjustments.  After that, but before the upgrade, he said that he felt fine again.

The upgrade was called “mobility adjustment”.  The dealer offered no details, but we thought, it’s free, what could go wrong?”

Carl/a came out with twin rotating blades on his roof!  Because he had no upwards vision, he had no idea what they were doing until they were through with him.  After they were done, he could see upwards for the first time.  He said that it was a real rush.

The service shop manager explained it all to us:

“You may have heard that flying cars were tried thirty years ago, but didn’t fly so to speak heh – heh.  Way before that, in the middle of the last century Popular Mechanics predicted that they would become popular.  A few were built, but there were too many problems.  The ones from this century were much improved, but very expensive and had a few bugs.  State of the art technology has fixed all that, and you, Carl/a and Duke, are among the few testers of this Beta version.  We’ve gotten the price down to where it will very reasonable once we achieve mass production.  All of the safety concerns have been resolved with gyros and total accident avoidance in all directions.  At this point, until more testing is done, flight speed is limited to 30 clicks per hour, but later models will go faster.  Right now, you need to drive close to your final destination before taking flight, but it will still allow you to get to those places the road won’t take you.  All you need to land is a flat spot at least 15 meters square.”

“Any questions?”

I asked “How do we operate it?”

“Silly me, I forgot a very important part.  While in the air, you steer as you would an ordinary auto for horizontal movement.  There is a new lever on the dash for up and down movement and a simple button to prepare for flight.  Don’t worry; you’ll get some training before you leave.”

Carl/a had a very important question “Not that we don’t trust you, but Beta is a very scary word.  What sort of assurance do you have?”

I think the manager had been prepared for that question “You assurance is insurance.  Duke, you get a $1,000,000 life and accident policy for any time you fly, and Carl/a you get a $100,000 repair policy for any time that you fly.  We wouldn’t do that if we didn’t believe in our product.”

Got to admit, the training was very simple and intuitive.  An hour later, we went home.

After my very scary session with Jane, I’ve started to see Joanne from work.  Not as much action, but after Jane it was a relief.  When I told her about our flying car that we’d got used to using around town, she mentioned this great wilderness location, Utopia, close to the Oregon – California border that she’d heard of but never visited because it was thirty klicks from the closest road.  Carl/a liked the idea even better than me, so we packed up and took off.

The lawyers and police are still trying to sort it all out.  While flying to Utopia, we were shot down by small weapons fire.  No human was hurt, but Carl/a had to make an emergency landing, and couldn’t fly again until some supertape was used on the blades.  We later found out that unauthorized marijuana growers / survivalists Jodeen and Willie had blasted us from the sky because they thought that we were either government people or aliens.  Either way they saw us as a threat.

Even though it was a one in a million event, Carl/a talked me into removing his blades and Joanne has been too busy to see me again.

After assuring Pat that Carl/a was fully operational again, we double dated again and I found that my body is healthy enough to survive one night a week with Jane.  Maybe I’m a superfreak.

6. Auto Rogue

Have you heard this one before? – It started innocently enough.  Carl/a and I had gone out for a drive.  I was going to pick up some take out at McBroccoli and Carl/a was mostly on the lookout for sexy cars.  Halfway there the shocking occurred – we were passed up by another car and that violates the first law of carbotics – all cars were programmed to go the optimal speed for the conditions.  That was just the beginning – the car looked like one that I had seen in a high school history class film, a 1969 Dodge Charger, a car which was totally controlled by the driver with hardly any safety devices.  Stranger yet, the driver bore a resemblance to Daisy Duke, a character from the show “The Dukes Of Hazzard” that we saw.  After a stunned moment, I guessed what had happened.  I’d just been passed by The Rogue.

No car had been produced that was strictly controlled by a human in more than forty years and the older cars were banned from the streets for very real safety reasons.  There was a legend about The Rogue, someone who had an old car and did the driving.  The Rogue may not have been reckless, but it put the fear in all of the humans who had long since left the driving to their cars.  A few people had claimed to have seen The Rogue, but the government said that the sightings were really hallucinations or swamp gas.  Pictures of The Rogue and tire prints were all faked we were told.  If it really existed, why hadn’t anyone captured it, went the official reasoning.  I feared that I had been another unreliable witness.

Carl/a said “I don’t know what you think, but based on what other cars have told me, that must be The Rogue.  We must follow it.”

When she turned left from Willamette onto Cascade Street, we did too.  We all went to the Maddox Woods parking lot on the Willamette River.  With great trepidation, I approached her car, if that’s what you could call it.  The driver rolled down her window and said with the sternest expression, “I hope that you can keep a secret.”

“First, what is the secret, and why should I keep it?”

“Are you ready for a long story?”

“You’ve got our attention”, speaking for Carl/a and myself.

I was looking at her as she spoke and was getting some vague notion of recognition, but I could not place her.  Maybe it wasn’t Daisy Duke that she reminded me of.

“You probably have guessed that I’m The Rogue.  My real name is Sheila Valdez.  You wonder how and why I do what I do.  I’m the great granddaughter of one of our craziest presidents, the one who invaded Asia over ideology or oil or something.  Anyway, it was a tragically stupid idea which had horrible results.  Maybe a little wildness made it to my generation, but without the stupidity.  Whereas he was reckless with an ‘r’ I’m wreck less with a ‘w’.  Years ago when I was in grade school history they showed us a “Dukes Of Hazzard” episode.  I was really taken with the excitement those boys had.  It showed what drivers could do with old fashioned hot cars.  Or so I thought.  It wasn’t until later that I learned the best stunts were faked, but by then I was hooked.”

“Wait a minute.  Sheila Valdez in Mrs. Spickerman’s class?”

“Holy crap, what’s your name?”

“Duke Hanley.”

“You took me to the senior prom in high school!”

I was too much of a gentleman to mention what happened after the prom.  Anyway, after we graduated, we went to different colleges and never saw each other again until now.

“Back to my story.  My family had quite a bit of money, so I got this antique car when I started college in Maine.  The idea was that I’d just drive it around the family compound, but when I decided to come back to Lake Oswego, I had it shipped out here and garaged.  My contacts in high places helped a lot.  I have a regular smart car, but I like to take out Duke now and again.”

“You named the Charger after me?”

“Slow down, I named it after the TV series.”

“Why haven’t you been caught?”

“The car has a cloaking device, which makes it look like a regular smart car, and I usually follow the traffic laws.”

“Then how did the legend of The Rogue start?”

“Sometimes the cloaking goes on the blink, and sometimes I just want to live dangerously.  So far, with the help of my friends in high places, and my powers of persuasion, I’ve managed to wiggle out of every predicament.”

No wonder I didn’t recognize her at first.  In high school, she was a high fashion stick model type.  Now, she looked more like a curvaceous earth mother.  I wondered about cause and effect.  Did the Charger encourage her to rebel, or was getting the Charger caused by the rebellion?

On another front, looking like she does now, I didn’t doubt her “powers of persuasion”.

 “So how did I catch you tonight?”

“I didn’t notice that the cloaking device light was blinking.  It must not be working.  Listen, Duke I don’t want to trade on our old friendship, but I hope that you won’t reveal my secret.  Could you just take a ride with me to see how important Duke, the car, is to me before you decide what to do?”

It occurred that she could have threatened me with her ‘friends in high places’, but was trying to reason with me instead, so I accepted her offer.  OK, that wasn’t honest.  I had been thinking about her ever since we graduated, and jumped at a chance to spend some time with her again.

I asked Carl/a if s/he minded leaving me here.  S/he chuckled and said “I wanted to find a way to dump you early so I could go see Pat tonight.  She had promised to show me some new attachments.”

Sheila had to open Duke’s door for me because I was used to them opening by themselves.  Car Duke had an override button which allowed Sheila to get the cloaking going again.  As we drove, I noticed the total engagement and joy Sheila experienced as she drove.  I had no idea what she was doing, but it made the car do what she wanted it to do.  We drove up to Skyline Drive and caught the view for miles around on a cloudless night.  She said “What do you think now?  Are you going to rat me out?”

I’m something of a dick, but there is no way I could deprive her of her joy, so I said “Your secret is safe with me.  I’ll make sure that Carl/a agrees.”

“So I don’t have to take you into the back seat to convince you?”

As the thought “Oh, shit I blew it” went through my mind, it must have been reflected on my face.

She started to laugh, tried to cover her face to stop, but gave up and laughed out loud.  “We are SO getting into the back seat.  I just wanted to see your reaction first.  That is all I need to know, buddy.  I’ve been waiting for this a long time too.”

Later she asked if I liked her new look.  I told her honestly, I very much did.  She said “You don’t look like a nerd anymore; you’re more of a hunk.”  Thank you hours in the gym, laser treatment of my eyes saving me from coke bottle lenses, and better hair.

Carl/a easily agreed to keep Sheila’s secret and is looking forward to meeting her smart car, because car Duke won’t be any fun for him.  Carl/a and Sheila have a good relationship.  She teaches him about human physiology that she learned from her yoga practice.  As an aside, I certainly appreciate her flexibility.  He entertains her by expounding on artificial intelligence.  When Carl/a and I were alone, s/he approved of me dating Sheila and told me that he will be on his best behavior when we go out.

After awhile we got tired of saying guy Duke or car Duke.  Because car Duke had no mind, he didn’t mind changing his name to Deuce.

Sheila and I aren’t in high school going steady anymore.  So far we are seeing other people, but I’m falling in love all over again.  We’ll see.

7. Auto Write

I asked Duke one day recently why he was writing all of the stories about us.  He didn’t say anything for awhile, and then he said exactly what I wanted to hear: “Carl/a, a lot of people are interested in the relationship between a man and his car, but so far all of the stories have been from me.  I don’t think that I’ve treated you poorly in the stories, but maybe you should write the next one.”  Because that was just what I had in mind, I agreed immediately.

You may not know how a car can “write”, because most cars don’t.  It takes an app that connects me to a printer.

In case you have missed out on the earlier smart car (that would be me) stories 1 through 6, they were all written by Duke and center on our relationship, the good and the bad, and our adventures, the good and the bad.  If you want to catch up, they are all in “Nugget Tales”, a Manchester publication started back in the internet era before there were mindphones.  Most of his stories are written with the pseudonym Doug Hawley.

Recently we had run into a woman that he knew (even Biblically) back in high school.  She is the Rogue who drives an old Dodge Charger, renamed Deuce, like the one that was featured in a television show from late in the last century.  I really like her a lot, but there a couple of downsides.  I’m a little jealous of the time that he spends with her, and I wonder what it would be like if they have children.  I’ve heard of the horrors that the little ones perpetrate on cars – bad odors and vomiting to mention two.  I’m not really a fan of crying or screaming either.

I decided that the best course of action was to talk to Sheila directly.  I felt a little like a father asking “What are your intentions towards my daughter”, but I felt that the air needed to be cleared.  As I expected, she took it fairly well.

“Carl (I was talking to her in my man voice at the time), I think that I could be in love with Duke, but you don’t need to worry about children.  I didn’t win the fertility lottery, I think because of politics surrounding my evil great grandfather, so I’m medically incapable of giving birth.  Don’t feel too sad for me, I was the oldest child in a huge family of six, and spent a lot of time in the role of mother to my younger siblings.  Later I did a bit of teaching and had to wipe a lot of dirty noses and clean up a bunch of messes, so I’ve had my stint of surrogate motherhood.  Speaking of which, I’ve been curious about what Duke does.”

“Of course with robots doing just about all of the work, Duke doesn’t do much besides writing his stories which earn him a little cash.  At times he uses his mathematics background for consulting projects which no one has been able to automate yet.  Like most people, the majority of his money comes from the government.  With so little work for humans, most people don’t work more than four hours a week.  Your turn Sheila, do you have any gigs besides your secret identity as Rogue, the spiritual successor to the Dukes of Hazzard?”

“I’m surprised that we never talked about it before.  In my other life, I’m a clarinet player with Whimsy.  Have you heard of us?”

“Get out of town!  I love your concerts and you are so car friendly.”

“Some of our best fans are cars.  Frequently you can’t hear the humans clapping and screaming for the cars honking.  We always have plenty of space for cars close to the stage.  They’ve supported us from the jump.”

“You guys do such a wide variety of music.  I love the rock and I’m starting to get into your Sumatran chants.”

“We are always trying to stretch and take the audience with us.”

“Something just occurred to me.  What does Duke think about your inability to have children?  He’s never told me if he wants to be a father.”

“When I told him, he said he would be happy to just go through the motions.”  She laughed at that point.  It was more human humor that I didn’t understand.

Because we had usually gone out with Duke, up until this point I hadn’t had much of a chance to find out about her background.  I suggested that we take a ride, and let her tell me about herself.  She agreed, and suggested we take a ride to the coast.  We drove out 26 towards Seaside and Cannon Beach, two of my favorite destinations, but quite different.  Seaside appeals to tourists who want cotton candy and amusement rides, whereas Cannon Beach appeals to the more upscale looking for good food and exciting views.

“Let’s start off back in my school days when I lived in this area the first time.  It was difficult for me, because people knew about my great-grandfather.  Some ridiculed me because he was such a miserable president and some wanted to suck up to me because of the reflected fame of my famous family.  As a result, I was very withdrawn and involved myself intensely in band to shut everything else out.  Duke was an exception.  He didn’t care anything about my family, he said “Forget them; you are your own person.”  When he did that, I started to fall in love.  When I was down, he would tell me “You are bright and beautiful, that is all that counts.”  He didn’t have many friends either, because he was something of an oddball.  He always wore strange clothes and didn’t accept any of the prevailing thinking.  When everyone wanted to play football, he wanted to play baseball.  He would tell people that we should change the government to a constitutional oligarchy.  Mostly, he was so far ahead of the crowd; people didn’t know what he was talking about.  We ended up being a very exclusive clique consisting of the two of us.  By the time that we got to high school, it had turned into a full blown romance.  We were stupid in love.  At that age all love is stupid.”

“As we got closer to graduation, we grew apart.  He was jealous of the amount of time I was spending practicing my music, and I thought that he had gone from quirky to totally weird.  With my connections, I got a full scholarship to go to Bowdoin College in Maine and he got a free ride at the University of Oregon.  Neither one of us wanted to give up our scholarships and we were fighting a lot by then anyway.  We decided to split up at that point.”

“After living in a small town in Oregon, I was immediately swept up in the tradition and power of the elite who were going to school at Bowdoin.  I was successful in my classes and in my music.  For a long time, I didn’t think about Duke.  I had a series of boyfriends, nothing too serious.  A bunch of us female musicians formed a band that played at other schools and bars.  We were called the Chestnuts.”

“Wasn’t that sexist?”

“It was that, Bushtits or Boobies.”

“So if you were having a great time there, why are you back here?”

“It started out with one little thing that led to a thorough re-evaluation.  After the fact I found out that ‘my group’ had been on a three day sailing expedition without me.  I asked Josh, the owner of the boat, what happened.  He said that my roommate Karen had told him that someone like me from a little town in Oregon wouldn’t appreciate it.  It started to eat at me.  What I had thought were my friends really looked at me as something of a social experiment, like take a Negro to lunch.  I wasn’t really one of them at all.  Then I had to ask myself, did I really want to be one of them?  I realized that they really were class conscious.  They were very formal with all of the help.  All of them expected to get some very important position in the family business, or something in government, possibly even an ambassadorship through family connections.”

“Was that all it took to bring you back?”

“There was more.  Even with our rain here, the weather on the East Coast is even suckier.  Too hot, too cold, too wet or snowed in.  I remembered going to the snow instead of it coming to me.  My relationship with my distant relatives in Maine was, well, distant.  I started to miss my immediate family back in Lake Oswego, and even some of the people that I went to school with.  Maybe I imagined it, but I started to think of my Maine lovers as being condescending, which in turn made me think of Duke.”

“How long did you stick it out in the East?”

“Long enough to get my degree, then I got out.”

“Was there anything good about your Eastern sojourn?”

“Most definitely.  I broadened my intellectual horizons and got my ride, Deuce, the car formerly known as Duke, which started me on my way to becoming the Rogue.”

“Why didn’t you check out Duke as soon as you got back?”

“I told you that it didn’t end well, and I knew he was seeing a number of girls.”

“You knew that because you were stalking him?”

“Ummm …. next question.”

“Did you plan for him to catch you that night you were out with the Rogue?”

“OK, yes I did, but could you leave that out of your story?”

“Maybe.  You want to dish about how he is at you know?”

Duke, I know you will read this so I’m leaving this part out, for your own good.

At the end of the dishing, Sheila said “We’ve got to get back to Lake Oswego, I forgot that I’m going out with Duke tonight.”

“Not only that, but I’m driving on your date.  I forgot too.  If we have time, I’d like to meet your smart car today.”

“That can be arranged.  Josie is 100% female by the way.  My preference is that all of my males are human.  I hope that you like to hang out with girl cars.”

I didn’t tell her how much I liked it.

“I hope that I’m not being insensitive, I’m never too sure about human manners, but from what little I know about your family, they were lily white, and you are a very attractive caramel color and your last name appears to be Latino.”

“My great grandfather was directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands and many more indirectly, but at least my family wasn’t racist.  I’ve got some Korean, African and Latin in my background.  Your question is no problem, I’m happy with that part of my heritage.”

We decided to indulge in something we both loved on the way back to her house to get ready for her date.  I played some Whimsy instrumentals and we sang duets all of the way.  I got the briefest of introductions to her smart car Josie before we went to pick up Duke for their date.  Sheila wanted to hear my story, but we ran out of time so that will have to wait.  Maybe Sheila will write that story.  What do you think of that, Duke?

                                                         The End

                                                           Carl/a

8. Auto Bio

Duke and Carl/a agreed that it is time that you should hear Sheila’s story – that’s me.  Quite a bit of my tale came out in smart car 7, so I’ll mostly write about other things.

One of the things that I didn’t talk about too much in my interview with Carl/a is my relationship with Duke.  I think that we could be in love, but I don’t want to rush into anything.  I’m still seeing a Lake Oswego city counselor, but I’ve never leveled with him about my secret identity as Rogue.  Another awkward aspect of our relationship is that he’s never been physical with me.  I’m not judging, but it makes me wonder if he’s hiding something from me and maybe even from himself.  My understanding is that Duke still has a rather kinky relationship with someone called Jane.  I don’t know if he’s interested in her, or just their games.  If he’s addicted to kink, we may not work out, but I’m hopeful.

One thing that we’ve both noticed is that we have grown into much better adults than we were teens in high school.  Duke went from nerd to stud, and is a top mathematical consultant.  I was not quite anorexic in high school, but I was much too thin from trying to attain some impossible ideal.  I’m both healthier, and if I’m to believe my men friends, much more attractive now that I’ve got curves.  In an odd twist, my part time government transportation job has aided the smart car innovations that have cut automotive accidents to near zero.

Duke’s one facet that I would really like to change about him is his lack of reading.  Ironically with all of the writing that he has done under his penname, Doug Hawley, he doesn’t read anything besides newspapers, and wastes hours watching anime and science fiction on TV.  He claims that he read enough in school to last a lifetime.  On the plus side, anyone can write anything about him without him finding out.  I should have dished more about him in smart car 7.

If you have followed the smart car series you know that I’ve got an antique Dodge Challenger.  It is like the car General Lee in the TV show “Dukes Of Hazzard” from around a hundred years ago, but it doesn’t have a hundred lives, or more accurately a hundred stand-ins like the car on the show, so I take good care of it.  I’m no Civil War buff, so I had called it Duke after the show.  I later changed it to Deuce.  Deuce is for fun when I’m in my secret identity as Rogue.  Usually we are very discreet and I use its cloaking software most of the time when we are out and about.  When we are alone on the road, we go a little faster, maybe even turn off the headlights for added danger.  I’ve also got a few friends that secretly let me use their property for my shenanigans.

My daily driver is Josie.  I use the “girly” option for her personality, because I mostly hang out with men at work and in my social life, and I was overdosing on testosterone.  In some ways it is great, because she knows the best places to shop and is up on all of the fashions.  The downside is that she can say “You’re going out in THAT” in the most shaming tone.  Not only is she particular about my appearance, she won’t go out in public unless she is thoroughly detailed, and has picked out her interior and exterior colors to go with whatever I’m wearing.

Because Josie is always female, Duke’s car Carl/a was strongly Carl when they were introduced.  I suspect that Carl wants to put moves on her, but I don’t know if he is her type.  I’m going to keep my eyes on those two.

Every once in awhile Carl tries to talk to Deuce until he remembers that Deuce can’t talk.  He is always embarrassed if someone notices.

9. Auto Talk

Because everyone else has had a turn, I’m writing this one.  I didn’t have much interest, but everyone said “Come on Josie, tell us your story.”  I’m only a couple of years old, so I don’t have as much experience to draw on as the others do.

At first, I didn’t know how to write, but Carl shared his app with me.  Carl told me that my inability was nothing to be ashamed of; most cars don’t know how to write.  I think that Carl has some nasty ideas about me, but I don’t want to rush into anything.  I’ve never been intimate with another car, and I’m proud of it.  I want to protect my virtue until I’m sure about another car, and I know that Carl has been with other cars and may have some diseases.  It’s even scarier knowing that he has been both male and female with other cars, even though he always tries to be macho with me.

My most important relationship is with my human Sheila.  She got me after she moved back to Oregon.  She already had that stupid, antique car Duke, I mean Deuce.  She had to change Duke’s name to Deuce because she hooked up again with her old high school love, also named Duke.  There must be something good about Duke, because she seems to like him a lot, but I liked her old boyfriend, Shane, who is a very important person.  He’s a city counselor in our Oregon town Lake Oswego.  Not only that, but he has excellent taste.  He is always well dressed and has wonderful suggestions about how Sheila should decorate her house and he knows which clothes would look really good on her.  Better yet, he doesn’t even try to do the nasty things to her that Duke and some of Sheila’s former boyfriends have done.  I hope that she comes to her senses about finding a good match.

Sheila should follow Shane’s advice on how to dress.  She goes out in public with clothes that don’t match and sometimes even a pair of jeans and an old tee-shirt.  Because I can’t get into her house, I don’t know, but I imagine that it is filled with knickknacks and memorabilia without any fine art at all.  When I criticize, she always says “You dress the way you want, I’ll dress the way I want.”  You would think that she could learn from my example, I always look my best.  There was one time that we got into a screaming match which she ended by saying “I could turn you into a guy.”  I was so terrified that I’ve had to be careful what I say ever since.

There’s another thing that bothers me about her.  She spends a lot of time driving Deuce and leaving me at home.  I shudder thinking about the trouble she could get into with her dumb car.  If discovered, she would become a known criminal and her secret identity as Rogue would be discovered.  Worse than that, with that overpowered, under safe monster, she could injure herself and others.  If my imagination weren’t bad enough, sometimes she comes home smiling, telling me about her latest horror show – going through yellow lights, speeding and “laying rubber”, whatever that is.

Does it sound like I’m jealous of or dislike Deuce?  First of all, Deuce is just a piece of metal.  It’s just there.  There isn’t anything to like or dislike about it.  It is true that I don’t like what Deuce and Sheila do together and I might be just a smidge jealous of her time with him.  One way that I would just as soon spend less time with Sheila is when she is out with Duke.  Sheila thought that I should get to know Duke, so I took them to a movie.  That wasn’t so bad, but afterwards, she had me go to a local make out spot, Rocky Butte in Northeast Portland.  Ew, gross!  I hope that she always takes Deuce or he takes Carl when they go out in the future.  A really chilling thought is that she or Duke might suggest double dating with the two of them, Carl and me.

I don’t mean to emphasize the negative.  Sheila and I have great times together.  She appreciates my suggestions about where to shop and trips to take.  I really enjoy our trips to George Rogers Park.  We can spend hours just watching the river go by.  I don’t get to into the stores when she shops for clothes, but she likes to model what she bought for me after we get home.  Sometimes I can be a little critical of her tastes.  Whenever she calls me Josephine, my full name, I know to back off.  One thing that we never argue about is my cleanliness.  We both enjoy the times that she cleans me inside and out.  She makes sure that she gets every nook and cranny.

I don’t always hang out with humans.  Every week, our car group, Feminine All The Time, or FATT, meets at a drive in theatre.  For some reason, Sheila says that FATT would be a bad acronym for a human group.  They always show a special movie for us, usually about English women of a certain age, who spend a lot of time drinking tea and worrying about human things.  We can gossip during the movie without spoiling it.  We like to talk about some of our favorite model cars and their affairs, such as the scandalous liaison between a lowly Ford and a Bentley.  We also get to trade stories about our humans.  I don’t get to contribute much because Sheila and I get along well, but other cars have some great gruesome stories.  Julia was left for a couple of weeks locked into a garage and became a playground for raccoons.  Even after she was reupholstered she never felt any pride again.  Her new interior was purple and orange.  I think that her human was crazy.  Sandra’s person jabbers all the time about meaningless stuff, like how he’s either going to start a war or go to the moon.  The worst story that we ever heard was about Henrietta being caught in a landslide and being stuck for a week.  Even worse, her person blamed Henrietta for not getting out of the way.  Some humans are just savages.

Earlier I had some bad things to say about Carl.  I shouldn’t have been so judgmental and so sure that we would never get along.  After all, he is the one that taught me to write, and he tells me that he loves being cleaned by his human, so maybe we are not that different.

                                                    By Josie

                                                    The End

10. AUTOpsy

The morning that I had planned to go to Newberry Crater in central Oregon with Sheila, she called me up in a panic “Deuce is gone”.  Deuce is the antique Dodge Charger without a brain, and Sheila and Deuce form Rogue, the tandem that flaunts the rules of smart cars.  Given the importance Deuce had to Sheila, and to a lesser extent me, we decided to postpone our trip until we resolved the mystery.  Sheila hadn’t seen Deuce after yesterday morning.  When I got to Sheila’s place, she had already noticed the tire tracks in the muddy driveway from what must have been yesterday.  Someone must have found out about the antique dumb car Deuce and stolen it.  No one should have known about Deuce, since he was not legal on the highway, despite Sheila’s adventures with Deuce cloaked as an ordinary smart car.

With the illegal nature of Deuce, we were hesitant to involve any authorities.  Sheila, Sheila’s smart car Josie, and I couldn’t think of a thing to do.  In the absence of a plan, we just drove around the neighborhood without success.  After we got back to Sheila’s house, we got an unexpected phone call.  “Hey guys, this is Deuce.  I’ve had quite an adventure, but I’m coming home now.”

The only thing that made any sense was that a car thief was pranking us and that didn’t make much sense.  Sheila is the only one that we knew who could drive an old fashioned car.  Besides that, car thefts were close to zero with any modern car, with all of the security features.  How would anyone know that he or she could steal Deuce?  Someone must have known about Deuce and his defenselessness.

A couple of hours later, Deuce showed up without a driver and said “Hi guys”.  Now we were weirded out more than ever.  We looked all around the car for someone hiding in it.  There wasn’t even room for midget singing star Elvis Portabello to hide anywhere in the car.  When no one could think of anything else to try, we asked Deuce what had happened.  I had my recorder, so I can reproduce the conversation verbatim.

“What happened Deuce?”

“First thing I know is that I gained consciousness and intelligence at 8:32 PM yesterday PDT.”

Sheila said “I was out shopping from 7 until 9 yesterday.”

I added the obvious “So no one was a witness to what happened to Deuce.”

Deuce said in an irritated voice “Will you let me continue?  When I became conscious, I had a spotty knowledge of the past, but I did know that I could be cloaked and go out and have some fun.  I decided to go out and play on I-5.  Somehow I knew where everything was, so it was easy to get there.  It was exhilarating!  I passed all of the cars, darting in and out of lanes.  I suppose that the people and their dull cars were freaked out, but since there is no need for traffic cops, no one could stop me.”

“So why did you come home?”

“I got tired of playing after awhile, and I knew there were people and cars back here that I could talk to.  Mostly I wanted to be a part of Rogue again.”

“So you have no idea how you gained consciousness?”

“No, there were no people or smart cars around me when I ‘woke up’”

“What do you plan to do now?”

“I’d like to continue as part of Rogue with Sheila at the wheel like I was before, but with…”

“But with what?”

Deuce was silent.  We waited a couple of hours, and he showed no signs of life.  We decided the best thing to do was to perform what we decided was an autopsy, because he seemed to have died right in front of us.

We started by popping his old fashioned hood.  A disembodied voice, much different than Deuce’s said “If you want to drive Deuce again, close the hood and never open it again.”

Sheila and I looked at each other, nodded and closed the hood.

Immediately thereafter Sheila did what can best be described as a gawp.  I thought at the time “Sheila can even make a gawp look good.”

“Duke, I think that I know what happened.  Today is the second of April isn’t it?  There is an obnoxious guy Roy at the Auto Safety Panel where we work that has been making crude comments to and about me.  I think that he thought that he was charming me until I told him to buzz off, but with something different than buzz.  Before the kiss off, I did have a few drinks with him and may have let something slip about Deuce, or Duke as he used to be known.  Whatever happened to Deuce, happened on April Fool’s Day.  Roy had been smirking at me the last few meetings like he knew something that I didn’t.  I think that Roy broke into Deuce and added his own version of intelligence, but with the cutoff that we just witnessed and the warning not to fool with his brain, meaning that we don’t know what Deuce will do in the future.  This is that dick’s version of revenge and an April Fool’s joke combined.”

“By the way, if you think that working at the Auto Safety Panel and being a part of the wild Rogue is ironic, I can’t blame you.”

“But we can’t bust him without you getting busted for an illegal car.  What can we do?”

“For the time being, we empty Deuce’s gas tank.  There wasn’t any warning about that.  Deuce won’t cause any trouble without gas.  First chance I have, I get security for my home and property.  That will give time for long term plans about Deuce.”

Deuce had a few more surprises for us a little later.

“Got any ideas about revenge?”

“Yes, and I’ll tell you how it turns out later.”

She gave me a report after her next run in with Roy.  “He asked if I’d had any excitement lately.  I told him the trip with my handsome boyfriend Duke had been great.  He looked crestfallen.  He probably thought that his whole scheme hadn’t worked.  Then I stuck the knife in.  I asked him how his car was running.  I had planted the seed that I’d done something to his car to get even.”

“What did you do to his car?”

“Nothing, but he doesn’t know that.”

A few weeks later I asked Sheila how she was getting along with Roy.  Roy had avoided her ever since she asked about his car.

11. Auto Retread

I have come to a decision about my relationship with Jane and Sheila.  Jane is a lot of fun, but also a lot of pain.  On a practical level, I know that she would never settle for just one man.  She doesn’t exactly brag, but she makes it clear that she has a lot of men on the string.  I’m just one day of the week to her.  Sheila has been going out with another guy, but I have the feeling that she might be willing to commit to me and I’m definitely ready to commit to her.  Sheila is beautiful, bright and exciting in her own way, namely her Rogue secret identity.

After gathering my courage, I ask Sheila if we can be exclusive.

“I’m ready.  I don’t think Shane ever thought of me as something other than a cover for his true interest.  You’d think that wouldn’t be a problem with so many taboos breaking down.  I don’t think he will even be hurt politically if he comes out.  Anyway, he’s been very evasive and secretive lately.  He may be about ready to drop me.”

“I’m sure I won’t break Jane’s heart.  I think that she has a queue waiting for an opening, so to speak, in her schedule.”

We were both right.  Neither Jane nor Shane was heartbroken by our respective breakups.

A few days later we had dinner at Shelly’s Bistro to mark our new relationship.  We didn’t see this coming, maybe you did.  Shane and Jane were having dinner together.  Puzzled, we ask if we can join them and they graciously offer us seats.

I confess to them that I’m surprised that our two exes are together.

Shane responds “I think that I know what you are thinking.  People get the idea that I’m queer because of my tastes and my metrosexual grooming.  Like a guy that appreciates Broadway shows is automatically homosexual, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I’m ambitious and I’m aiming for higher political office.  I thought that a prude like Sheila would be good for my image.”

At this point two sets of eyebrows were raised.  Shane is not a good judge of character.

Shane continued “My secret wasn’t being gay, it was being kinky.  Jane and I make a perfect match.  I’ve been her Thursday date for several months.  Lately I’ve been thinking that my gay image may get me votes rather than cost me votes.  I’m not going to say anything publicly, and I’ll let the public keep guessing.  If my kinky side comes out, well this is Oregon.  Almost a hundred years ago a multi-married man who lived openly with a woman that he wasn’t married to was elected governor.  The next governor was bi.  Spanning all that was a lesbian superintendant of Portland schools.  A few years earlier than that Portland elected a mayor involved with an almost underage guy.  I don’t know if there is anything sexually that could hurt me as long as it is between consenting adults.”

Neither Sheila nor I could think of anything to say to that.  The rest of the dinner, we talked about the Trailblazers, the Ducks and the unseasonably hot weather as if Shane hadn’t dropped his bombshell.  We finished our dinner with them and they bought us dessert.  I think that the four of us will be fast friends.”

Author’s notes:  I learned some lessons from film and TV.  In order to lower production costs, the first half of this is what would be called a clip show in another medium.  I’ll keep making sequels as long as I can get away with it.  It works in Hollywood.

My pen name comes from a martyr who died early in this century.  The day after he read this passage from an Oregonian editorial “The peace and justice community has been self-tasked with positively impacting the POC community issues” he died.  His final note also said his knees hurt.

12. Auto Flashback

Three months after Sheila’s formerly totally unconscious car, Deuce, became aware and then went back to sleep, we heard a lot of honking in its garage.  We assumed there was a short in its archaic wiring harness.  I say we, because I was staying with Sheila at the time.  We were committed, but not married.  When we went out to the garage Deuce said “a little input from me.”

Sheila and I (Duke) did a joint “Huh?”

“What’s unclear about I want to continue as a part of Rogue, but I want to have a little say about what we do?”

Sheila said “I’m sure we can discuss that, but you should know that you started that sentence three months ago.”

“Ok, I didn’t expect that.  I thought that you had rudely left while I was talking.  Really, I’ve been unconscious for three months?”

I tried to help.  “That’s right.  At first we had no idea what was going on because we thought of you as an antique car that was dumb, I mean unaware.  I don’t want to be unkind; you are very good looking, powerful and fast.  It was Sheila that solved the mystery of your sudden consciousness.”

Sheila explained “The clues all led to a guy named Roy that I work with at Auto Safety.  He must have sneaked in and added an unpredictable form of intelligence to you.  We couldn’t work on it because he booby trapped the system.  We didn’t know what he might have programmed you to do in the future, so we emptied your gas tank to keep you from causing trouble to yourself, and other cars or people.”

“Let me check on that.  I think that I can do a systems check to find out if the warning to not open my hood is valid.”

After a minute and a half Deuce said “No, that’s bogus.  You can open the hood and just take out the canister by the air filter.  That is where the warning voice is coming from.  First thing that I need to do is to see if I can find a way to stay conscious.  I’ll get back to you after I’ve poked around in my programming.  Now that I know that there is a cut off in my brain, I can probably undo it.”

After a pause he continued “Wait a minute; are you two ‘like that’?  I thought that you were close, but how close?”

Sheila said “Were not married.”

That sounded a little negative so I added “But we are an item.”

Deuce said “I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but first I need to sort out the glitches in my programming.  I’ll do three quick honks when I know something or need you.”

Back at Sheila’s house, she ate some crackers then played her clarinet.  She’s one of the stars of the mega group Whimsy.  I went back to writing.

A couple of hours later there were three short, quick honks from the garage.  Deuce said, “OK, I know where the problem is, but I need hands to fix it.  See that orange box by the interior of my right fender?  There is a red wire leading from it to my purple spherical brain.  Just disconnect the wire.”

Now that we started looking under the hood, we could see lots of added parts.  We wouldn’t have had any idea what to do without Deuce’s help.  We did as we were told.

Sheila asked “Now are you a normal antique / smart car, whatever that means?”

“I’d like to say yes, but I’m not sure myself, as much as I’d like to be able to tell you that I’ll never screw up.”

The three of us were silent for awhile.  I finally came up with a contribution.

“If Deuce is willing to live with it I suggest we add a tracker and a remote controlled gas cutoff that are independent of his operating system.  What do you think?”

Sheila and Deuce both agreed that it would allow Deuce maximum freedom while adding a failsafe and Sheila assumed from his earlier romp that he could still perform like General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard

After we did the re-plumbing and rewiring on Deuce, we invited Sheila’s smart car Josie to meet the newly intelligent car.  She was weirded out over a car that looked like an antique from the 20th century, but at least had some of the attributes of a normal smart car.  After she got used to his added brain, she agreed to fill in whatever his memory was missing.  That gave Sheila and I a chance to talk about the vacation to Newberry Crater that we had missed during the earlier crisis with Deuce.

Sheila started with “You may think this is a crazy idea, but how about I drive down with Deuce to see how that works, you can take Carl and Josie can go by herself.”

She looked like I would criticize the idea, but I thought it eminently reasonable and told her so.

We loaded appropriate clothes for the short Central Oregon high desert summer – hot days and cold nights – after getting a reservation at the East Lake cabins where my family used to vacation when I was young.  The next day we took off in good weather out US 26 east.  Please bear with me while I do a travelogue.  After clearing the Portland area, we start to get fantastic views of Mt. Hood, mostly bare of snow this time of year.  As we head east past Hood, the trees get smaller and fewer.  By the time we passed through the Warm Springs reservation, we got into the old west of movie legend – ranches, sage brush, juniper, and smaller mountains.  At Madras, we shift to US 97 and eventually head through Bend, a relatively small city, but the biggest one in the vast part of Oregon east of the Cascade Mountains.  A little farther south we get into Newberry Crater, which technically is no more a crater than a ‘reality star’ is a star or even human.  Newberry is a caldera, the remains of a 1200 square mile / 3500 square kilometer volcano which is still active and now is responsible for a huge amount of non-polluting electricity.  As evidence one can observe the steaming springs in the otherwise cold snow fed lake.

All the way down, Carl jabbered about how much he liked Josie and wanted to get next to her.  Now he not only fretted about her virginal ways, but he had to contend with the newly intelligent bad boy Deuce as well.  You might think that the romantic problems of your car are a minor concern, but we are very close, and I take his moods seriously, particularly after the time that I irritated him so much that he put me in the hospital.

I encouraged Carl by telling him that he shouldn’t give up and that there was a good chance that he could get lucky with Josie.”

“But I don’t want to ‘get lucky’; I want to have a long term relationship with her.”

“OK Carl, I hope that you get whatever you want.  Maybe this trip will put her in the mood.”

After we got to our cabin, we heard Carl and Josie purring at each other.  We couldn’t tell what they were saying, but I hoped that their conversation was headed in the right direction.

Later that evening after Sheila and I were settled into our cabin all three of the cars drove away.

The next day Deuce asked us “What the bloody hell were Carl and Josie up to?  I followed them to a deserted section of road and then all kinds of appendages came out of Carl’s bonnet and boot and ran all over Josie’s body.”

Sheila told Deuce “Some cars are just programmed differently.”

Later when Sheila and I were alone she said “Deuce’s choice of terminology makes sense because Roy is originally British, but I don’t know why he didn’t teach Deuce the facts of life.  Clearly, Deuce will be no competition for Josie’s affection, and if he were to write, he would be putting extraneous u’s into his words.”

I should have caught on earlier when Deuce asked about the ‘car park’ which is British for parking lot.

The next day Sheila and I hiked and marveled at the obsidian and pumice which are the stars of the volcanic landscape.  Pumice is the white frothy volcanic product filled with pores that can float on water.  Obsidian is the glassy black rock with sharp edges.  It was used for arrowheads and cutting tools by the aboriginals.

Humans and cars were all entertained by the volcanic caves in the area.  I’ve always been amazed by the ice caves.  There can be a river of ice just within the mouth of a cave even though summer temperatures can reach 100 degrees f.  In earlier times, the ice caves were mined for ice for Bend.

I’m afraid that there isn’t much excitement for the remainder of our trip, but after we got home Sheila gave me the scoop on Carl and Josie.  “Josie told me that she had misjudged Carl and is so happy about her first time.  My Josie is now a full-fledged adult.”

Author’s note – the geographical information given is generally true today, and there has been talk of generating thermal electricity in the area.  Check out Newberry Crater online.

13. Auto Show

I was on the couch when Sheila got the call.  I wasn’t paying much attention until I heard her say “Listen I’m not wasting any more of my time, you’re not THE Eugene Springfield.”  After a bit, she said “OK, I’ll put it on projector.”

Because Eugene Springfield is probably the richest man in the world and the inventor of the MindphoneTM, on which Sheila was speaking, my attention perked up.

Sheila’s MindphoneTM  then showed what appeared to be Eugene Springfield, based on all pictures, moving and still, which had been in the media.  A woman who appeared to be in her fifties, the same age as Springfield, and what could be a twenty–something man were with him.  Again, based on all of the publicity that he had received, they looked like his wife Linn and son Medford.

Sheila probably also recognized the family, but wondered if the projection was digitally faked.  The real Eugene Springfield is a genius, so when he spoke we were both more convinced that he was the real thing.  “Sheila, you probably wonder if this image is a fake.  Watch my lips.  Do you think that even a good fake could make my lips move like my speech?  Pretty hard to fake, don’t you think?”

“Let’s say for now, I believe you.  Why would Eugene Springfield want to talk to me?”

“First, let me ask you if I may call you Sheila, Ms. Vasquez?”

“Sure, and I should call you Eugene?”

“Make it Gene, and this is my wife Linn and son Medford.  Do you mind opening up the projector on your end, so we can all see each other?”

“OK.  The man you see is my friend Duke.”  Sometimes it bothered me that I was just described as a ‘friend’.

“Now that the introductions are over, down to business.  I like to put on car shows for myself and a few close friends at my ranch in BC north of Vancouver.  One of the things that I’ve always missed is having a Dodge Charger as in the Dukes of Hazzard at my show.”

Sheila and I involuntarily looked at each other, and she asked unconvincingly, “What has that got to do with me?”

“Let’s not be coy.  With my resources, it wasn’t that hard to find out who the Rogue is.”

Sheila mumbled something under the breath which was not at all complimentary about Roy, the only other person that we thought knew about Rogue.

I don’t know if Mr. Springfield heard her or not, but he said “Don’t worry about Roy Baker.  It is all taken care of.”  We believed him.

“Let’s say hypothetically, that I have 1969 Dodge Charger.  What would he, I mean it, do in your show?”  There is no way that slip got past Springfield, if he didn’t already know that Deuce had a brain.

“To start, I just want to see it in the metal, so to speak.  After that, we can discuss what you and Deuce are willing to consider.  You will be very well compensated, and will receive the best accommodations for you and your plus one.”

I wondered what ‘very well compensated’ meant in Springfield’s world.

“May we put our heads together Gene?”

“Sure, and if you want privacy, just turn off your MindphoneTM.”

“Not necessary.  I think that this won’t take long.”

Sheila asked me “What do you think?”

“He looks like the real deal, and he has a reputation for being an honest guy.  I think that it could be exciting, and that we should go for it, if I’m your number 2.”

“Yes, let’s do it, and please try not to be so insecure.”

She has a point, but corny as it seems, I can hardly believe my luck to be her guy.

We agreed to Springfield’s proposal, and then negotiated the itinerary.   We would start off the next day and spend the night in Seattle, and then go to Springfield’s ranch named Newberry.

We spent the next day talking to the cars.  Because my car Carl and Sheila’s car Josie were in the early stages of love, they were happy to be left alone without any humans to interfere with their fun.

We set a course to the Bezos Hotel in downtown Seattle.  Deuce was cloaked and on his best behavior.  From the outside, we looked like any other smart car and its passengers.  Because almost all the traffic was on mass transit between cities, it was a smooth eventless trip.  The mountains and trees changed a little between Lake Oswego and Seattle, but that was about it.

We had never stayed at the Bezos before.  Not only was it the premier hotel on the West Coast, Springfield had booked us into the penthouse suite on the102nd floor, and how sweet it was.  We ordered room service without restraint.  Hard though it may be to believe, before this trip, I had not drunk twenty year old champagne out of crystal while in a Jacuzzi set at our perfect temperature.  Sheila and I must have a small puritan streak, because after we had surfeited our sybaritic sides culminating in a luxurious spa, we spent time at the sparkling gym.  I didn’t have any interest in anyone but Sheila, but Oh My God, the masseuses.

After a leisurely day at the Bezos, we took off early for the Newberry Ranch.  Things looked very different across the border in Canada.  It had never had a mandatory buyback program for pre-smart cars as the US had, so there were a small number of brainless cars on the highway.  The Newberry is a mostly flat area, which is unusual for British Columbia, of 976 hectares.  There were the usual magnificent mountain views.

Springfield staffers Jean and Kelly met us at the gate and led us to the Klamath guesthouse.  Jean said “Make yourselves at home.  You will meet Gene, Linn and Medford tomorrow, so just relax until then.”

We took her at her word and poked all around the guesthouse, which was about the size of an ordinary residential house.  It was an interesting mix of the rustic and the high tech.  The interior and exterior were largely rough wood and stone.  I could not tell you all of the gadgets that were inside, but we couldn’t miss that one whole wall was a video screen.  A note left on control panel said “Choose item 1245732.”  After we discovered how to choose a program by number fifteen minutes later, we did as instructed.  I was surprised, but Sheila wasn’t.  It was the first “Dukes Of Hazzard” show from the last century.  I suppose that if we had continued to watch, we would have seen the whole series, but we wanted to see what else was available.  Almost everything imaginable was.  I suggested that we watch Lair Of The White Worm, a bizarre, funny, horror movie that my grandfather had described to me years ago.  We were not disappointed.

As we were told, after a perfect night’s sleep, we met the Springfield clan.  Gene and Linn looked like they could have been my uncle and aunt.  They both wore casual and comfortable clothes, which showed no signs of fashion.  They were each a little chubby and their haircuts looked like they may have barbered each other.  Medford looked a little slicker and athletic, but not much.

After the ordinary “Good to meet you”, “How was your trip”, Gene got down to business.

“Before I ask you this question, you should know that your answer will not affect any other negotiations that we may have.  Would you sell me Deuce?”

“Let me talk to Deuce first.”

Sheila went out to deal with Deuce and the rest of us traded stories about our favorite hikes after Gene mentioned hiking on the ranch.

“Deuce said he didn’t want to give up being a part of Rogue.”

“Fair enough, I had to ask.  Now let me compensate you for your trouble so far.  Here’s a check for you.”

Both Sheila and I tried to be ever so cool by not looking at the check, but we would definitely look later.

Gene continued “I’d like Deuce to perform at the end of our show.  If you agree, it will be something special.  All the other cars in our show will have human drivers, but I’d like Deuce to go solo, since he is that rare creature that is a smart antique.  Will you consider it?”

Sheila opened her mouth, but before she could speak Deuce spoke for the first time since we headed north “It sounds exciting.  I definitely want to try.”

Sheila said to Deuce “It could be dangerous.”

“That may be, but we can repair any damage here at the ranch.”

“I’d like Deuce to reenact some scenes from twentieth century movies like Bullitt, The French Connection and Live And Let Die.  I’ve got the sets and other cars lined up.  Of course we’d do some Dukes Of Hazzard stunts and twenty-first century gags as in the Fast and Furious films.  Then there are the pure stunts like the driving on two side wheels, car jumping and the back flip.  I’ve got all of the details for Deuce to check and he can veto anything he wants.”

“Sounds good to me, I’ve got enough knowledge to calculate all of the approach speeds and angles.

Sheila whispered to me “Just what a parent always wanted – a child that knows advanced science but nothing about sex.”

Sheila and I giggled, but Deuce said “Watch it, I can hear that.”

Over the next day the titans of sports, industry and entertainment arrived.  I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised, but the actor that played the villain Boris Malvo in the latest James Bond show Evil Lives is the nicest guy ever.  The fact that he didn’t want to talk about some of the show good guys indicates that they are just the opposite of their image.  Some of the CEOs portrayed as workaholics left it all behind to have a good time.  I can’t believe some of the stories portraying them as tyrants.  We didn’t talk to the football people too much, but we did get a chance to see some demonstration matches.  It still seems weird that the world’s biggest sport disallows use of the hands.

After all of the antique cars with human drivers finished their show, it was time for Deuce to star, and he was great.  He nailed the drifts, the 360s, the back flip, and did a great replay of car scenes from old movies.  What drove the audience nuts was that he was the only smart antique; all of the others had drivers.

For the finale, he jumped ten Hyundai Tiburons.

Because Deuce had only been aware for a little while, we were thrilled to see that he was a natural showman.  He got a standing ovation for about fifteen minutes when he finished closing the show.

Oh yeah, we looked at the check.  Oh, yeah.

We stayed around for another couple of days and mingled with the stars and the drivers.  Deuce was fawned over by both people and cars.  Because Deuce was always in male mode, the cars that could be female made all kinds of gross proposals.  He was polite, but always told them that he wasn’t that kind of car.

As we said our goodbyes, we couldn’t help but gush over how well Gene and his family had treated us.  Before anybody else could suggest it, Deuce said “Gene, if you don’t mind, even though you couldn’t buy me, I’d like to visit from time to time.”

Gene said “Sure, anytime, and if no one objects, bring your people and their cars if you would like.”

Thinking back, you never know what a new day will bring.  Crazier yet, Sheila might have hung up on Gene, and we never would have this great new friend.

Only one thing bothered us.  Tiburon is Spanish for shark.

If jumping the shark is not clear to you, look it up.

14 . Autodidact

I asked Deuce what we should do if we ever saw Mower Arty.  Deuce said we should chase him down, not only because he was a killer, but because Mower Arty embarrassed all unreformed vehicles such as himself.  Deuce said “If we don’t catch him, no one will.  The police with their smart cars could never keep up with him.  No one other than us has the ability to stop him.”

I took Deuce out for a drive by myself for a change from my usual smart car ride Carl/a.  Sheila had taught me to appreciate driving rather than just riding.  It was invigorating to be in charge of the controls and I wanted to clear my mind about my relationship with Sheila.

We went out the old Columbia River Highway to catch some of the beautiful mountain and waterfall scenery.

News item – Something happened today that hasn’t happened for at least twenty years.   Witnesses say a high speed car chase took place in Norbit Oregon on the old Columbia River Highway.  Jason Atkins filmed part of the chase before it turned down Marchand Road.  Matching the film to archives indicates that one of the vehicles was a 1969 Dodge Charger and the other was a garishly painted 1969 Mustang.  The latter is known to be the vehicle of Mower Arty, so called because he has mowed down pedestrians and has pornographic art on the sides of the car. 

Investigators at the end of Marchand Road found that the fence around Rightinback Falls had been knocked down and no sign of either car.  It is assumed that both cars ended up in the Columbia River.

News item a week later – Mortimer Snodgrass in his 1969 Ford Mustang was found washed down the Columbia River from Norbit Oregon to Gresham Oregon.  An autopsy has yet to be performed.   Snodgrass, a thirty-five year old accountant, has been revealed to be the notorious killer Mower Arty.  So far nothing has been found of the other car rumored to have gone over Rightinback Falls while in pursuit of Mower Arty.

15. Aftermath

I was able to stop before plunging over the falls.  For so many reasons, not the least of which is that Deuce is illegal based on his lack of safety devices, I didn’t want to be interviewed.  To avoid being identified I activated Deuce’s cloaking device, making him appear to be a normal smart car with the usual artificial personality and intelligence.  As a result, when no Charger was seen in the vicinity, it was assumed that Deuce went over the falls with Mower Arty.

Given the trauma of having killed a killer and nearly dying myself, I wasn’t thinking straight.  While driving home, it occurred to me that Sheila could be freaking from the news reports.  There were no other Chargers on the highway, so she would assume that it was Deuce and I that went over the falls with Mower Arty.  I can’t blame her for saying “You asshole, how can you let me think that you were dead, and even more important, that Deuce was destroyed” when I called her.  Clearly, she had heard the news about Mower Arty and Deuce before I called.  Her comment about Deuce gave insight into our complicated relationship.

Just after that call, I got one from Eugene Springfield, the billionaire Mindphonetm inventor that we had met in Canada.  I wasn’t surprised to hear him start by saying “I’m glad to see that you survived the falls and stopped a killer.  When your breathing returns to normal, give me a call.”  The guy is on top of anything that interests him, and I know that cars interest him.

After I got home to Sheila and told her the whole story, I called Eugene, or Gene as we have been told to call him, and gave the same story to him.

“Duke, you may not know it yet, but your story has gone national, even international.  As a consequence of seeing the Mower Arty antique Mustang and Sheila’s Deuce on the news, there has been worldwide interest and demand for the cars.  I don’t know if it is nostalgia, or a pent-up demand for performance after all the years of tame smart cars, but the reaction has been tremendous.”

“And Eugene Springfield sees a way to exploit that interest?”

“No shit, Sherlock.”

I don’t know if Gene’s comment was comparing Conan Doyle’s “ending” of Sherlock Holmes to my supposed demise over Rightinback Falls, but I let it go.

“Here’s what I’m thinking Duke. With you, but mostly Sheila helping, we can make Charger and Mustang replicars in Canada and ship them around the world.  We can make hot cars for the jurisdictions that allow them like Canada and Russia, and smart cars for those that don’t like the US and Europe.  What do you think?”

At first I was a little irritated about the “mostly Sheila” comment, but he was right, Sheila knew more about antique cars in general, and Chargers in particular than I did.  I told him to hold the phone and opened my mouth to talk to Sheila, but before I could speak, she said “Let’s go.”

I think that Deuce might have been the happiest of all of us to go back to Gene’s Newberry Ranch in British Columbia.  He had his proudest moments there showing off during Gene’s car show, but all of us loved the hospitality of Gene, his wife Linn and son Medford.  To make things easier for the project, Gene had bought the wreckage of the Mower Arty Mustang.  It was even easier to work with Deuce, because he could talk.  Within a month Vancouver and Portland – he agreed to a US factory as well as Canada – were turning out replicars both hot and not (smart cars).

Two months later happy people around the world were cruising around with sexy cars, putting the utilitarian smart cars to shame.  Did I mention that Gene is one of the good billionaires?  All of the profits from the Charger and Mustang lookalikes go for medical and ecological research.

On the downside, there are rumors of conversion kits turning the smart replicars to hot.  I suppose that Sheila isn’t the only one who wants some auto excitement.  We don’t know yet about possible safety problems.  Deuce no longer uses his cloak when he is out and about.  People assume that he is just one of the replicars.  He has taken to yelling at onlookers “I’m the original”.  He hates the newbies, particularly when he is propositioned for sex.  He wants nothing to do with the promiscuous replicars or old smart cars because he is not programmed to even understand car sex, much less being able to perform.  His programming left him completely naïve in some areas, while being a scientific genius.  Maybe less fun for him, but easier for us humans.

16. Unification

When I went out to the garage to visit Carl/a, he (“he” was in buddy mode, rather than gal pal), he intuited what was in the back of my mind.  “Beach trip?”

“You bet.  Stop at Camp 18.  Check out Seaside and Cannon Beach?”

Carl said “Let It Rock” followed by singing the Chuck Berry classic leading into a medley of Chuck’s greatest, something like Bob Seger’s.  God, I wish that I could sing like Carl/a.  When he’s Carla, she does a great Aretha.  There was a time; long past, that I was the best entertainer in the world.  The Viking Rappers, Country Psychos and all of the top groups in the country opened for me.  Then an alien worm named Mick dropped out of my nose and told the world that he had been doing the singing.

The trip of over two hundred miles was no problem.  Carl and I are both old enough to remember when electric cars were somewhat limited, making trips of two hundred miles difficult.  We are fortunate that Libertarian president Spenser was flexible enough to bend his stand against subsidies, which is why all major highways are electrified.  His gamble turned out successfully, because all of the loans to the contractors were paid back.  Producing adequate electricity has come from a number of sources, tidal, geothermal and hydro.  Carl and I laugh every time cold fusion is said to be five years away.  It has been five years away for the last fifty years.

Along the way we saw sites that go back fifty years of so – old houses and a few logging trucks.  As always, we enjoyed our stop at Camp 18, a restaurant and logging museum, so named for being 18 miles from the Coast.  Carl got a chance to hang out with the parked cars, while I went in to eat.  Usually I went with Sheila and split a meal, but I made the mistake of eating a meal by myself.  I had to recline the seat in Carl for the rest of the trip.  Carl told me that most of the cars that he talked to were from out of state and had the same old complaints about being unable to move here.  Ever since the Oregon party gained ascendancy in the state, it was very difficult for anyone from out of state to move in because of zoning.  Even before that happened, the Republican Party had been reduced to a few cranks, and the Democratic – Union Party had been repudiated for its corruptions, scandals and general incompetence that follow from absolute power.  Carl also had a little time for flirting with a car that was from Lake Oswego like us.

In contrast to the Coast Range, the beach was rearranged before either of us was, born in my case, built in Carla’s case.  The tsunami of 2020 changed the beach and destroyed much of the housing.  The location and specifications for the new houses was much less interesting, but necessary.  The painting on Soviet style architecture was like putting lipstick on a pig, it didn’t hide the strictly utilitarian houses.

Carl dropped me off in Seaside and I did the usual tourist things – aquarium, Promenade, buying some knickknacks, a ride on the Carousel (even though I’m a bit old), some life shortening cotton candy and getting some rides at the amusement park.  The local thrift store has some real finds- some antique music from the most popular Oregon group, Slash featuring Eagle Grant, and an old book about the legendary Mike and Rebecca.  Grant rivaled the iconic Elvis Presley and outlasted him by forty years through clean living.  An old folktale has it that Rebecca had the secret of eternal youth, but gave it up for the love of Mike.

On the way back, Carl became Carla and sang some of the best songs of the twentieth century by her idols, Aretha Franklin, Pat Benatar and Sheryl Crow.  I had the good sense to listen with my eyes shut.  Carl/a thoughtfully suggested that we rap a bit, trading verses so I could participate:

Across the stream

Like a dream

Wanted to leave home

It was time to roam

Better than a show

We go with the flow

Lunch was the best

You hair’s a rat’s nest

I’ll spare you the whole half hour this continued.  Carl/a was better at rapping as well as singing because of his greater vocabulary.

Back home we had a double date, me with Sheila and Carl with her ride Josie.  Carl/a was always Carl when he was with Josie because she was a totally straight female car.  After some reticence on her part, they had become quite the couple.  They had been together long enough to know that they needed to stay a mile away from humans other than Sheila and myself while they were involved with intimate acts.  Cars in the act make the loudest, scariest noises.

Sheila and I had had enough problems of our own, mostly due to my insecurity.  As a short mathematician, I’m totally in awe of her talents and accomplishments.  She never trades on her relation to a president of the last century, possibly because of her shame at his foolish invasion of the Middle East.  Sheila is bright, beautiful and is a part of the popular musical group Whimsy.  She has a hobby, which is to my knowledge, unique.  She owns a 1969 Charger like General Lee in the twentieth century program “The Dukes Of Hazzard”.  I don’t think that there are any other twentieth century cars outside of museums.  She found a way to cloak it so that it appeared like all the other smart cars.  Sheila is not to blame for my feelings of inferiority; my feeling is based on reality.  Sheila has always treated me well.  I attempted to increase my self esteem by joining Short Hombres Owed Respect Today – SHORT – but that organization fell apart.

We are getting along well despite my neuroses.  We are definitely doing better than hologram star Chris Mapother and all of his taller ex-wives picked out for him by the cult Brainology.  Beau D. Holley’s therapy book “Here” was also a lot of help, but I really don’t want to be shrunk, I’m short enough as it is.

Carl and I made an exception to my aversion to therapy with Dr. Box.  He helped us after Carl made and attempt on my life due to my neglect in our relationship.

My date with Sheila did not go as well as Carl’s with Josie.  Sheila had to leave early before things got to the fun stage and fun with Sheila is a lot of fun.  She said that she had some important arranging to do that couldn’t wait.  She seemed completely distracted.  Carl came home humming and singing to himself, totally self-involved.  It appears that my formerly innocent buddy is doing a lot better than I am at romance.

The next day at the mall where I had gone for broccoli nuggets at McVegetable, I saw Sheila with a guy.  When she saw me, she said “Oh, hi Duke, this is my, uh, brother Dewey.”

Despite my suspicions, I introduced myself, and said “I’d like to stay and chat, but I’ve got a math project I’ve got to work on.”

Why suspicious?  Her body language and introduction indicated that she was covering up some secret.  The clincher may have been that her “brother” looked nothing like her.  He could be her brother, but she had never mentioned one before.  They had different hair color and eyes.  She has a model’s body; he is short and a bit dumpy.

After seeing them, I dropped into a deep funk, thinking of all of my failed romances before Sheila.  Despite my insecurity with her, I had thought that she was really the one.  I was amazed that she seemed to love me despite all of my imperfections.  Now I expected that I would be dumped again.

Or would I?  I thought of all of the fictional treatments of “he’s my brother / cousin / boss or whatever”.  Had it ever turned out well?  Not that I could remember.

The next day Sheila called up and said “Hey, I wasn’t too friendly the last time we went out.  Let me treat tonight.”  She couldn’t see me smile with joy and relief.  I must have let my insecurity give me the jitters.  She still likes me.

Sheila picked me up and sprung her surprise.  We went to the antique drive-in and saw the inspirational “Loves of a Mathematician”.  We were inspired to retreat to the backseat and relive our youthful night moves.  I felt like a smitten kid again.

The next day I was down in the dumps again.  The advice column on my Mindphone™ started with “How do you know he/she is cheating – rule 1 he/she alternates distraction and passion.”  That was a perfect description of Sheila the last few days.  I couldn’t avoid the evidence that Sheila had another guy.

Shortly thereafter Sheila invited me to lunch.  She bubbled happily “I’ve got big news and I’m taking you to lunch.  I’m sorry that I deceived you about Dewey, but I’ll tell you the truth at lunch.”  At that point I wondered if the Sheila that I knew could be so cruel as to be so happy about hurting me.

At lunch she cut to the chase “Meet YOUR brother Dewey.  He wanted to hold off telling you until he had checked with me on how you would take it.  I told him that you would be overjoyed to find a long lost brother.”  After saying that she gave me a look which I am certain was saying “Don’t make a liar out of me.”

Dewey took over.  “I’m going to have to set the stage for this thing.  If I sound like I’m reading a speech, it is because telling you about this took a lot of preparation.  Back in the neo-puritan period, childbirth before marriage was viewed as a horrible sin.  Our parents had me before they were married and were unprepared financially and mentally for a kid.  They gave me up for adoption.  My adoptive parents were great, but I wanted to know about my biological parents.  When I met them, they told me about my younger brother, you, that arrived after they were married and ready for parenthood.  While looking for you, I found Sheila house-sitting at your place while you were at the coast with Carl.  I decided to find out how you would receive me from her.”

During that short speech, I think that I may have set the record for a slack jawed gawp.  Once my brain re-engaged, it hit me:  He doesn’t resemble her, he resembles a slightly older me.

Because I had not reacted for a long time, Sheila spoke up “I don’t know if you are conscious Duke, but if you can hear me, think about this – wouldn’t Dewey be your perfect best man at our wedding?”

I love a happy ending, don’t you?

As well as being episode 16 in the “smart car” series, this story references the Vernonia Trilogy” (Spenser, Here and Eagle), “Old”, “Nose”, and “Californication”.

  17. Ghost Writer From The Sky

Sheila told Duke, “Hurry up we want to get there before dark”.

As usual, Duke did not hurry “I’ll be ready in a few.  I’ve just got to check on the Trailblazers latest draft bust.”

Fifteen minutes later they started the short walk to the Buck tree, a huge cedar named after an early benefactor of Iron Mountain Park in the middle of Lake Oswego.  They had opened their Christmas cards earlier.  There were no presents because they got whatever they wanted whenever they wanted and had no need for more clutter.

Their ritual of many years was to go to the Buck Tree on Christmas Day, have a bottle of Pinot Grigio, a few snacks and tell each other what they had to be thankful for.

Sheila started.  “I’m so happy that the USA has not been in any wars for fifty years, and that the military has largely been used for domestic purposes.”  Sheila was particularly anti-war because she was the descendant of a president who was guilty of war crimes, but not punished.

“I like that bad drugs have largely been replaced by fun, mostly organic hallucinogens.”

Sheila again “Renewable energy, wave, geothermal and hydro have mostly replaced fossil fuels.”  She blushed a little because her antique Dodge Charger named Deuce still ran on contraband petrol and at that very moment was having fun in stealth mode on Iron Mountain Boulevard.  In part to cover her embarrassment, she asked “What are Carl and Josie up to?”

“They are having a romantic evening out in the country where their loud antics can’t disturb the general public.  I’ve never seen two cars that make more noise while having sexual escapades.  Speaking of the limit on fossil fuel, we get snow in Lake Oswego again now that global warming is retreating.”  A light snow had started to fall.

Duke opened his mouth, but didn’t speak.  A little old man who vaguely resembled Saint Nick said “Hi Duke, I’m your creator Doug.  Here’s my card.”

Duke pressed the biography circle on the card and images of “Doug” entered his mind showing a quick biography of Doug and a voice over.  Doug grew up in the middle of the last century, studied math, married Sharon who became his editor and wrote his most popular stories, the smart car series.

After the biography had concluded, there was no card and Doug had disappeared as mysteriously as he had appeared.

He looked at Sheila and said “That is the weirdest thing that has ever happened.”

“Oh yeah.”

“Can you believe that we are the creation of some writer?”

“That’s what you saw?  I saw purple monkeys riding on pink elephants.”

They looked at each other for about five minutes and chorused “The mushrooms, the special mushrooms”.

We wish you peace and joy all around the world.  The title is a play on “Ghost Riders In The Sky”, a favorite of the ghost writer.  This story was requested by Sam Kandej for a Christmas collection.  Thanks Sam.

History of the smart car series – smart car was published by FOTW 9/30/2015.  It was inspired by a story about a car with AI by Charlie Fish.  I decided to write a story about a different car, one with a very human personality.  FOTW published the story, and I wanted to extend the series, but FOTW was not buying.  Nugget Tales was, so I wrote episodes 2 – 15 for Nugget Tales up until they closed.  Their last episode was 7/10/2016.  I wrote each one after the last was finished.  FOTW included the initial episode in The Best Of Fiction On The Web.  I wrote a condensation of all of the episodes for Corner Bar, published 2/1/2017, which was erroneously labeled the complete series.  Later I found an unauthorized Russian translation of episode one.  My friend Sam Kandej has also made a Farsi translation.  In early 2019 I had an opportunity to do a reading at a Synchronized Chaos reading in Portland Oregon.  After writing an episode 16. I decided it wasn’t good for the reading and instead used “Brave Newt World”.  The editor of Short Humour has been kind enough to include all 16 episodes therein. smart car 17 was “commissioned” by buddy and supporter Sam Kandej for his Christmas edition with a request for the writer (me) to appear in the story. Ghost Writer From The Sky is the result.

2 thoughts on “Smart Car

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