The Road Goes On Forever

By Anna Mitchael

And the silence may never end

When the machines take over the world, I’ll be one of the first to know because undoubtedly my car will drive itself to our front door and immediately start tooting its own horn.

I won’t understand what’s going on until the female computer voice I know and don’t love at all breaks through the night. “Would you like to call Help?” she will ask.

Meekly, feebly, I will say yes because I am a kitchen appliance addict. If the machines get control, it’s only a matter of time until my emulsifying blender gets me back for all the times I’ve forced it, headfirst, into making mayonnaise.

Of course, the computer won’t hear — or will just ignore — my answer. “Pardon?” she will ask.

“Call Help,” I will say again, enunciating slowly like I have learned to do.

“O-K,” she will say, her computer brain processing the very best way to annoy the socks off me. Then, with computer chuckles barely suppressed, she’ll ask, “Would you like to call Help on mobile or at home?”

At that point I’ll give myself up to the blender, hoping a smaller device will be a more benevolent captor.

The idea was that the car computer would make life easier. Before this upgrade I drove around with a combination of earpieces and wires that took so long to connect, people usually hung up before I could answer the phone.

One wonders if people are happy to see her, or if they are smiling because she’s walking around town with a forgotten wire dangling from her ear.

When I visited car dealerships, I discovered these car computers were all the rage. Being a savvy consumer, I’m automatically distrustful of anything I buy in person these days — I’ve grown dependent on reviews from other consumers. Sure, those consumers could be 40-year-olds living in their parents’ basement in Topeka who write reviews for fun. Or employees in a corporate-sponsored, review-writing center on the outskirts of Mumbai. But I feel better when I know KansasBoy42 and Eddie! give it five stars.

The salesman tried to ease my distrust during the test drive by nonchalantly calling his wife. “What’s for dinner, honey?” he asked, giving me the thumbs up to reinforce how great everything was going. What I really wanted to see was the thumbs-up emoji.

She said they would be having lasagna.

“Is it really that easy?” I asked him.

“Oh, yes,” he promised.

I nodded my head and bit my tongue. I knew he was talking about the car. I was really asking if it could be that easy to get someone to bake me lasagna for dinner.

Once the vehicle was mine, the computer was not nearly as easy to work as the dealer promised. I read online that it can take some time for the computer to adjust to intonations of the human voice, but the only dialect I speak is Central Texan. Last time I checked, that was easily understood pretty much everywhere except the White House.

Andrew thought I was too quick to summarize the situation as a failure. He recommended I spend more time talking with the computer to see if she and I could reach some kind of communication agreement. I found this advice difficult to stomach, mostly because talking and reaching communication agreements are activities Andrew normally likes about as much as having his toenails ripped off.

But I gave it a try. Even when I knew perfectly well where I was going, I would ask the computer for directions. I inquired about the weather when the sun was shining and requested numerous phone calls to people I didn’t even want to talk to.

But my computer and me were like two ships passing each other in a foggy night. If I said I wanted to know how to drive to Austin, she would offer to call my friend Autumn.

“No call — no,” I would say. (Nothing against you personally, Autumn.)

“O-K,” she would respond. “Calling Nolan. Would you like to call Nolan on mobile or at home?”

I’m sure if I worked hard enough, this computer and I could find a way to get along. But our modern-day life is so chock-full of discovering compromises and appeasing each other — is it really so bad to want just one small box in the world where you are totally and completely in control? Is it too much to want to be able to purchase, with your own hard-earned money, one leather chair on which you can sit and be the queen? I know women who run their homes that way, but I don’t need a box that big. The smaller one, the one I drive around the rural Texas countryside, will do me just fine.

Now I am trying a new tactic with the car computer. It’s one that has been studied in the field for centuries by people like me, who simply want to be in charge. Perhaps you have even tried this revolutionary form of behavior modification a time or two yourself. It’s called the silent treatment. So far my computer hasn’t cracked, but I’m certain she will. Every day I start her up with a new serving of hope.

What’s interesting is that the whole point of this new machine was to make my life easier. And now that I ride around in silence, it actually is. Maybe it truly is like my grandmother (and probably yours, too) always said: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

The only downside of all this quiet is that I’ve noticed the strangest whirring noises coming from the backseat. Almost as if a tiny kitchen helper of some kind is sneaking up on me. If I make it until next month, we’ll know it was nothing to worry about.

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