Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Explaining driving

"So you've never ridden in a car before, you say? How odd. But that's alright. I'm sure you'll want to know what's going to be happening, so I'll explain what's going to happen.

First of all, don't worry about me being rude. I'm ready to have a conversation with you while driving this car. My attention will be on what you are saying and thinking, even if I'm facing away from you. But I will delegate to the part of my brain that reminds me to inhale and blink the charge of controlling this vehicle, unless something horrible happens. This will free up my higher functions, my cerebellum to fiddle with the radio, check out female pedestrians, and converse with you. In any case, if something horrible does look like it may happen, I will likely swear. That swear indicates that my cerebellum is taking over, but in any event it will probably be too late. More on that later. Anyways, let me explain what I mean when I say 'controlling this vehicle.'

This vehicle is what I'll be in controlling. It's mainly plastic and lots of metal...some of it sharp. Some of it becomes dangerously hot. All together, it weighs about one ton, or the weight of two horses. Now, horses max out at 50 miles per hour for brief stretches...we'll be going almost twice that at times (don't tell the police). So, we'll be dealing with 4 times the vector force of an equestrian mode of transit. That's enough force to go through the sides of this building...or that building...anyway, you get the point.

Of course, a horse can sense danger while this machine cannot. It will attempt anything I command, even if it is clearly suicidal. If I'm not paying attention, the vehicle won't tell us anything. Incidentally, it's powered by a slow combustible process fed by inflammable liquid. If I threw a match into the tank that holds this liquid, the entire machine would go ka-boom.

I change direction be rotating this wheel, and hoping the dozen or so parts that translate this action convey it to the tires. We call that power steering and think it's a good thing. I change speed by relying on another dozen or so parts to do their job when I push these pedals with my feet. Of course, I can't see what I'm doing down there...I go by feel. And no, I've never met anybody involved with the assembly of this vehicle, which is made up of parts from probably dozens of countries that I've been assured work together.

During our trip, we'll at times be traveling parallel to other vehicles doing similar speeds with similar force. We've all earned the right to do this by talking the bank into buying one of these for us as long as we promise to pay them back. The government lets us 'drive' a car because it gave us a 10-question quiz and a 5-minute road test a couple decades ago. We got as many chances to pass it as we needed. I have these three mirrors to keep an eye on all of them, but oddly enough I still can't see a car if it's in just the right spot. So if I'm going to the left, you'll see me twist to look over my shoulder.

Oh, and don't forget to put that paper-thin piece of fabric around your waist and torso. That will save your life. Now, if you're ready, I'll be spending most of my time fiddling with the sound system to find a song that I like.

It's a wonder anyone ever gets into a car.

Really, driving is an amazing process. We are put in singular direct control of a greater amount of sheer impact force than Napoleon or Julius Caesar ever had, at speeds they never attained. People who can't read -- literally can't read -- command a machine that is a mistake or two away from a spectacular explosion. If aliens had landed in 1910, say, and rolled out a modern Ford or Mazda with 30mpg and a top speed of 120mph, do you think the government would have started producing factory copies accessible to most anyone? Heck no! They'd have hidden away copies to be driven only by lengthily trained pilots, the way space shuttles are today.

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