Long read. I wonder what percentage of the global population would answer that question in the affirmative? More and more every day, I think, unfortunately for us enthusiasts. Will be interesting to see how things change over the next couple decades. My oldest will be driving in 3 years, my youngest in 9. What will their life with cars be like? We live in a very rural area, so automation and ride-sharing will come to us last (if at all), but as cities’ transportation becomes more automated, how do those who these new transportation networks do not serve maintain their freedom of movement? At some point, will I have to park my truck on the outskirts of the city and hail a autonomobile to ferry me the last few miles?
The summer I was eighteen, I visited a parking lot forty-five minutes north of town and got behind the wheel for what I hoped would be the first real rite of my adulthood. I was tall, gangly, excitable. Less than a week earlier, following a brief stretch of test-taking at the Department of Motor Vehicles in San Francisco, I had received my learner’s permit. Learning in those days seemed easy. Tests were easy. Doing—when the matter arose at all—was hard. Behind the wheel, I made a show of adjusting the mirrors, as if preparing for a ten-mile journey in reverse. I surveyed the blank pavement ahead of me and slowly slid the gear-shift from park into drive.
Cars had been my first passion. As a two-year-old, I’d learned to recognize the make of vehicles by the logo near the fender or perched on the hood. I grew to understand the people in my life according to their cars; I learned what sort of person I was from my parents’ two old Hondas, one of which, a used beige Accord, I had gone with them to buy. My father’s lingering bachelor vehicle, a rotting yellow Civic, needed to be choked awake on dewy mornings, and I’d performed that job with relish, pulling out the knob beside the steering wheel, waiting a long moment, and pushing it back. This was the late eighties. Gas prices had fallen, and the roads were knotty with cars from across the world. I no longer remember what, as a small child, I envisaged for my future, but I know that it involved moving at speed behind the wheel.
Now, all those years later, the parking lot was virtually empty of cars, and I felt a flush of reassurance. I was learning in my parents’ highly defatigable ride, a minivan with an all-plastic interior and the turning radius of a dump truck. My teacher was my father, a flawless but not wholly valiant driver, who habitually refused to drive on certain bridges in certain directions, for fear of being, as he would put it, “hypnotized” by trusses passing alongside the road. For reasons lost to time, my little sister was on board, too, in the back. I eased my foot onto the gas; the engine revved for a moment, and the van lurched.
For the first time, I felt the seething power of the thing—not as a conveyance, which is how I had known cars in the past, but as a huge appetitive machine that interacted with the world through its own strength and expressed urges I did not. I was, I realized with a start, embarrassed at the wheel. It felt like being observed during a first attempt at slow dancing; my impulse almost at once was to use the brake. I did, and now it was my father and my sister who lurched...