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Take the wheel while I grab some Zs

I remember when driving cars meant being in control.


You steered the wheel, fed the gas, worked the brake and, before leaving for parts unknown, carefully studied the roadmap. And if a tire was going flat, you wouldn’t know until you heard the whump-whump and felt the steering wheel pull to one side.


Then there was the headlight dimmer switch on the floor. You stepped on it to dim or raise the beam on the headlights.


Those days are gone. If you’ve bought into the new generation of automobiles, you know what I’m talking about, so just bear with me. Or, better yet, go read what Mr. Movie has to say.


Those of you who are left — both of you — apparently haven’t bought a new car in the past decade. I purchased my first brand-new vehicle — which I’ve named Cameron in honor of my maternal grandmother’s maiden name — in June and have found that driving it is similar to putting an airplane on autopilot.


Cars these days don’t have keys, they have remote controls. I can keep my remote in my pocket and it sends a signal to the car door to open when I pull the handle.


Once inside, I step on what’s still called the brake and push a button where the ignition used to be. I have a hybrid so there’s no sound of an engine cranking, just some electric-type noises.


A hybrid runs on both a battery and a gasoline engine. The battery keeps you going at slow speeds and the engine does the heavy lifting, like when I have to speed after the guy who just cut me off.


There’s a screen in the middle of the dash where I have options such as radio stations, telephone numbers and how many miles the car will go on this tank of gas. 


There’s a smaller screen between the speedometer and the dial containing oil and water pressure, etc. It tells me how fast I’m going and how fast I should be going. It even lets me know if a tire is low on air and automatically dims the headlights when a car is approaching.


I use my smartphone to connect with the larger screen so I can call people hands-free, or use the GPS to find my way around. If someone calls me, I just press the number on the screen and talk. I also get text messages, which the kind lady inside the dash reads for me so I don’t have to take my eyes off the road.


Not that it matters if I take my eyes off the road. My smart car pretty much takes me where I want to go.


All it needs is for me to sign into the GPS, list the destination address and press “Go.” Then I put the car on cruise control, set the preferred speed and head down the interstate.


Cameron is always looking out for me. If I’m doing 65 and run up on a slower vehicle, she slows down to the slower speed. 


If the traffic ahead comes to a halt, she’ll slow to a stop. No need for the brake.


In years past, when I wasn’t paying attention and drove too far to the right, I could wind up on the shoulder of the road. Cameron will tell me with a couple of beeps that I’m over the line.


That’s when I say, “Don’t beep at me. You’re driving.”


Since I can feel her controlling the steering wheel, sometimes I remove my hands. It’s not long before she sends me a message: “HOLD STEERING WHEEL.”


It’s not like I’m driving, I think to myself.


But Cameron is concerned for me, I can tell. After a couple of hours on a long trip, she’ll send me a text: “Are you ready for a break?”


It’s not coincidental that Cameron has a woman’s voice. I’ve heard that phrased somewhat differently by a feminine voice over the years: “Are you ever going to stop?”


There are some details even Cameron can’t control, like when to get gas. The screen is telling me I can go another 150 miles but the gas hand is inching toward a quarter full.


So I ask myself, “Do I want to try going another 100 miles? Nah, Ginny insists on stopping at the next Cracker Barrel and it’s next to the Gas R Us.”


So far Cameron has driven me safely for going on 6,000 miles. She does a lot for me, except for one thing.


Like Ginny, she can’t parallel park. That’s something I can still brag about.


Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189, larrypenkava@gmail.com.