by Mister K
A story about a man buying a driverless truck.
Connor pushed himself off the steering wheel and watched the muck of Murphy's marsh slide down his windshield. Steam billowed from the under the hood hiding the of the murky water beyond. Water was up to his side window and pouring onto his feet. I have to get out! He cycled the window crank, turning down the window to water level, and hauled his ass onto the roof. A minute later he was on the bank trying to assess the damage in the moonlight in his inebriated state, having just come from the Gaslight Bar. He gave up and walked home not calling for help.
He rolled off the couch onto the floor at the loud knocking at the
door. He stumbled over his pants and shoes which made him remember stripping off his wet clothes before crashing on the couch. He cracked the door open to be blinded by the morning sun.
"Are you Connor Perkins?" came a stern voice out of the sun.
"Yes. But I am not dressed," he said reaching down to grab his jeans.
"Your vehicle was found in the swamp and I am checking to make sure you are ok."
"I'm good," Connor said while pulling on his wet pants.
"May I come in?"
"Hold on... one moment." He pulled the cold 501s up to his waist and kicked his skivvies under the couch. "Ok, I'm decent."
A sheriff deputy pushed open the door, his silhouette filled the doorway. Conner squinted as his eyes adjusted to the light.
"Mr. Perkins, we hauled your pickup out of the marsh this morning. It is in the impound lot on third street. Can you tell me what happened?"
"Some drunk was all over the road and I swerved to avoid him. I ended up in the marsh."
"Why didn't you call for help?"
"My phone was dead, so I walked home."
"Were you drinking last night Mr. Perkins?"
"I wasn't drunk!"
"Alright, Mr. Perkins. I have no reason to charge you. Daily charges of $75 dollars is assessed for every day your truck is in impound. You need to get it towed out."
Later that day Conner checked on his truck. The engine had sucked in muck so he had it towed to the junkyard and headed to the car dealer.
"What are you looking for, young man?" said the salesman. "I have a fine selection of cars, small ones, large ones, fast ones, ones that get great gas mileage and a few used muscle cars."
"I need a pickup," said Conner as he looked over the lot.
"Those are popular around here. I have a couple of trade-ins and one brand new truck."
"A trade-in like Sam's old truck over there?"
"Yes, that red one and a couple older models."
"What is the new one?"
"It is the latest and greatest, most modern pickup on the market. It has advanced road sensing, automatic breaking so you will not hit anything. A backup camera, lane sensors, GPS so you will never get lost, thermal seats that monitor your body temperature and will keep you and your passenger comfortable at all times. It can park itself and best of all make itself an internet hotspot, so you always are online. Come over here and take a look at the aerodynamic streamlined look, the unibody construction, indestructible bed liner and metallic cream color. What do you think?"
"What engine does it have?" asked Connor.
"The most amazing power plant, a six-cylinder engine that charges a battery powering an electronic motor for each wheel. It senses road conditions and prevents wheel spin, sliding and will self-correct on ice or snow. No transmission as the motors for each wheel provides positraction."
"Is this a hybrid?"
"Of course. It gets over forty MPG, when not towing, but has the power to pull a motorhome. A fifth wheel option is available and what is really cool, it can back up what you are towing into the tightest spaces. Young man, by the way, what is your name?"
"Connor, this truck is so advanced it can drive itself. Just tell it where you want to go, sit back, relax and it will take you there."
"This is driverless?"
"It can be, or it has a manual mode to allow you the ultimate driving experience."
"Do you have a new four-wheel drive truck beside this one?"
"Unfortunately, we are all sold out of the older models at this time. I have some on order, but they say it will be three to six months until delivery. I can make you a deal on this one as the manufacturer is offering an amazing discount in this area. In fact, I have a financing option that offers you nothing down and a five-year payment option. You can drive this home today if you qualify, which means you have steady employment."
"I work at the mill."
"Wonderful. I'll be right back with the paperwork, you'll be on your way in a few minutes."
Conner walked around the truck running his hand along the side admiring the glistening paint job. He kicked the tires, looked at himself in the chrome wheels, then opened the door and sat behind the wheel. He had never felt so relaxed. His hands relaxed on the leather steering wheel, he admired the large cup holders and a screen on the dash but no radio or place for CDs. I need to get my ZZ tops CD out of my old truck.
"I see you have made yourself comfortable. Best seats in the automobile industry in this baby. Just sign at the bottom of the first page and you are the owner of the world's best truck."
Connor took the clipboard, looked at the terms, five years at five hundred a month.
"The dealer's suggested retail price is nearly ten thousand more than what you will pay. The dealer special and my end of the month discount cuts the price to this amazingly low price. If my wife would let me take her anywhere in a pickup, I would be driving this myself. She refuses to step up into any car."
Connor sighed and signed.
The salesman handed over two electronic keys. "Just put your foot on the brake and press the start button. Read the manual in the glove compartment and if you have any questions, or ask the screen, it is connected to the manufactures helpdesk. Touch it anywhere to activate."
Connor touched it.
"Tap the button that says, 'Manual drive' and it will drive like a normal truck.
"Congratulations on your purchase Mr. Perkins. You are the first person in Grant County to own a next-generation pickup. Move the knob on the dash by the screen to go forward or back. Have a great day."
Connor reached out and moved the small knob to forward. He did not hear or sense anything until he pressed the gas pedal. The truck moved without a sound. It wasn't until he got onto the main road that he felt the engine kick in and an image of the motor running with lines to a diagram of a battery came up on the screen. He reached over to touch the music button to find his favorite country western station.
A female voice said, "Lane violation, correction made."
Connor jerked his head up to see the truck moving from the center lane line back to the middle of the lane.
"Who are you?" Connor said looking around.
"I am Dari."
"I am the voice for the truck's computer. I can communicate with you while you keep your eyes on the road. Or, if you wish, I can drive for you. Just tell me where you want to go."
"No. I'll drive."
"You turned the sound system on. Is there something you would like to listen to?"
"Yah. Country music."
"Here is your local Country and Western Radio station." Music began to play.
"That's good," said Connor as he sat back while pushing the gas pedal to the floor. The truck sped up dramatically and then began to slow. Connor pumped the pedal and got no response. "What the..."
"I have identified a police car ahead and have slowed to within the speed limit," Dari said. A white Mustang roared from behind and passed while the driver gave him the finger. Around the next curve, the truck braked sharply as a police car with lights flashing pulled out from behind some trees.
Connor returned the gesture as they passed the stopped Mustang.
"How did you know that cop was there?"
"There were three data points available. The emergency vehicle radio signals, the radar gun and information from Waze."
"What is Ways?"
"Waze is an application that gives the best route to your destination."
"What else do you know?"
Over the next few weeks, Connor learned how much Dari could do. Besides correcting his driving, she could back his boat into the lake better than he could. Then he just had to say, 'go park,' and Dari would find a parking spot as he went fishing. An app on his phone let him tell Dari when he returned to the boat ramp and Dari backed the trailer into the water. She told him when he needed to fuel up and he began to let Dari drive him to and from work. She knew the weather and road conditions. And she knew when he had been drinking and drove him home.
During this time, Connor made his truck his own. He bought accessories; a chrome flying lady hood ornament, running boards, a grill guard, mud flaps, fog lights, and America flag plate frames. His glistening new truck turned heads as he drove through town.
He had owned his new truck a month when his friend Casey announced a barn party. Connor parked his truck away from the others while wondering if he could get anyone to dance with him. Being shorter than most of the guys, and not very good looking, he had always struck out with the women. This night, as usual, he hung with the guys and drank beer. After a few hours, he headed to his truck. He walked past a couple arguing, nothing new at a party. He ignored them. As he climbed into the driver seat the passenger door opened.
"Can you give me a ride home?" said the blonde as she climbed in.
"Um, sure," stuttered Connor. He pushed the start button and asked, "Where do you live?"
"On the east side of town. I'll tell you the way."
"Please provide an address," said Dari.
"The truck talks," exclaimed the girl. "1247 East fifth street."
"A map popped up on the screen showing the way. "Estimated driving time is seventeen minutes."
"Wow, your truck knows the way."
"And Dari will tell me every turn to take," said Connor.
"You named your truck Dari?"
"She named herself. By the way, I am Connor."
"I'm Betty Lou. Thanks for taking me home. And can you turn up the heat? I'm freezing."
"Passenger seat heater activated. Can you specify a temperature Betty Lou?" said Dari.
"Eighty degrees would be great," said Betty Lou.
"Turn right onto Milford road," said Dari. Connor turned.
"This truck is so cool. What else can it do?"
"What can't it do?" said Connor, only to be interrupted.
"I can perform all the necessary actions..."
"As you wish Connor."
"This is a new intelligent pickup. It can do everything on its own."
"I have never seen a smart truck. This is the neatest thing ever. The seat is so comfortable, and warm." Betty Lou squirmed in the seat and put her hands under her thighs.
"She can even drive herself."
"Really? Let her drive."
"I'd rather drive."
"Please. I want to see a truck drive itself."
"Ok. Dari, take over driving."
"I was driving as I have detected that you have been drinking."
"I only had four beers."
"That would give you a blood alcohol..."
"Shut up and drive Dari."
Connor took his hands off the wheel and pulled his feet back from the pedals. "Play some music, Dari." 'Meant to Me' flooded out of the six-speaker sound system.
"Are you going to the mud race tomorrow?" asked Betty Lou
"I was planning on it," replied Connor.
"Can I go with you?"
"Sure. I'll pick you up at eleven."
"I was planning on going with Sam. But we just broke up."
"Is that the Sam who always wins the street truck division?"
"Yes, he always wins. But he is an asshole. Do you race?"
"I have. But I have not done very well."
"Are you going to enter tomorrow?"
"No. I don't want to get this truck all muddy."
"We have arrived at our destination," announced Dari.
"Thanks for the ride Connor. I'll see you tomorrow," said Betty Lou as she opened the door.
"Goodnight, Betty Lou. See you tomorrow," said Connor. "Home Dari."
The next morning, Connor paced around the house until ten when he climbed into his truck. "To the store. We need ice, beer and something for lunch."
"Coors Light is on sale at the SuperMart and their meatball sandwiches are highly rated. Shall I take you there?" said Dari.
"Yes," said Connor and he sat back wondering what he would say to Betty Lou.
Dari parked at the SuperMart, and said, "May I suggest that you pick up some flowers. Girls always like flowers."
"Good idea, Dari." Connor ran into the store. A few minutes later he returned with beer, ice, chips, meatball sandwiches, a box of Ding Dongs, and a dozen red roses.
Dari at once said, "Red roses are not appropriate. I suggest an exchange for white roses."
"A rose is a rose..."
"Color has meaning and according to my sources, this is too early in the relationship for red."
"OK. I'll exchange them for white roses."
"Yellow Tulips would be best."
"What does a tulip look like?"
"Look at the screen."
"I'll see if they have something like that."
Conner stomped back to the truck a few minutes later carrying yellow tulips. "Are these better Dari?" He asked as he waved them at the screen.
"Those will do nicely. Get in, I will have to drive over the speed limit if we are to be on time."
The truck was moving down Main street before Connor was able to get his seat belt fastened. They skid to a stop in front of Betty Lou's a minute late. Connor knocked at the door.
"Connor. Good to see you. Flowers? For me? You shouldn't have. Just a moment. I'll put these in water." She took the flowers and ran inside. Connor stood for a moment then, turned and shrugged his shoulders towards the truck.
Betty Lou bounced out. Gave Connor a peck on the cheek and skipped to the passenger door. Connor seated himself and hit the start button.
"The closest mud races I could find are in Woodinville. Is this where we are going?" said Dari.
"That's the place," said Connor.
"Driving time is forty-seven minutes. Do you want tickets?"
"Can you buy tickets?" asked Connor.
"Hold your credit card near the screen, I will purchase tickets," said Dari.
Connor held out his card as the truck started down the road.
"How are you today Connor?" Betty Lou asked.
They exchanged small talk while Dari drove to the Mud Races.
Dari came to a stop. "We have arrived at our destination."
"Dari, we should park by the stands, not with the racers," said Connor.
"You said you have raced in the past," said Betty Lou. "Aren't you racing today?"
"I am not getting this truck muddy."
"Oh, come on Connor. You will do so well in this truck. Race. For me," Betty Lou pleaded.
"Show me how good a racer you are. Please!"
Connor squirmed in his seat, fell forward, his head hitting the steering wheel. "OK."
"Yah!" said Betty Lou.
Connor did not move until he heard, "Next up, Connor Perkins."
"Turn yourself off Deri," Connor said as he sat back. He gripped the wheel tight and drove to the starting line. He focused on the lights; Red, Yellow, GREEN, he jammed his foot to the floor.
Moments later a winch was pulling his truck out of the muck. "Connor Perkins records a DNF," came over the loudspeaker. "Next up is Sam Shepard, winner of the last six mud races."
Connor unhooked the winch and parked the truck as he heard, "Sam Shepard has recorded the best time of the day." He offered Betty Lou a beer and a sandwich. They sat on the gate in silence.
Connor was almost finished with his sandwich when, "Next up in the second round is Connor Perkins." Connor chugged the last of his beer and threw rest of his sandwich on the ground before climbing into the truck.
Betty Lou buckled up and said, "Give it all this truck has got, Connor. I know you can do it!"
Connor looked over at Betty Lou, "Thanks for being confident."
The result was better, he drove ten feet farther. After they were pulled out, Conner held out the box of Ding Dongs to Betty Lou.
"I love these, Connor. They're my favorite snack."
Connor climbed into the bed of his truck and sat down with a beer and the bag of chips. Betty Lou sat in the cab with the box of Ding Dongs.
Connor did not move when they announced his name for the third round. He was going to resign when he felt the truck move. He turned to kneel at the cab window, Dari was driving. The truck came to the starting line, he pounded on the window.
"The truck is going to race," yelled Betty Lou. "Hold on!"
The light turned green. The truck lept forward throwing Connor onto his back. He felt like he was floating on his stepdad's waterbed watching clouds that looked like a Mountain Goat leaping over the hills as they flung mud in the air.
The truck's brakes locked sending the truck into a ninety-degree spin. Connor rolled, smashing into the quarter-panel. An excited voice came over the loudspeakers, "Connor Perkins has completed the course in the fastest time of the day and has set a new course record!" Connor vaulted out of the truck bed and got into the driver seat.
"We won Connor! We won!" yelled Betty Lou bouncing in her seat. "We beat Sam!"
Connor smiled. The five-hundred-dollar prize will make my first payment.
Dari moved the truck to the winner circle where a bikini-clad girl placed a wreath of bay, sweat pea and parsley flowers over the flying lady hood ornament. Connor accepted the trophy as Betty Lou gave him a big kiss on the cheek. Cameras flashed. Connor held the trophy up, danced around the winner circle like a drunk around a campfire. Basically, acting like he had never been there before, which he hadn't. Dari hacked a photo from a cell phone and posted it to her newly created Instagram feed. Within a minute, she had twenty-five likes, all from other trucks.
Connor jumped into the truck, placed the trophy between himself and Betty Lou and said, "To the Gaslight Bar, Dari. Time to celebrate!"
Betty Lou moved the trophy on the floor between her legs and said, "I don't want anything to come between us Connor." As she fluttered her eyelashes at Connor.
Connor took hold of Betty Lou's hand and gazed into her eyes.
Dari drove straight to the car wash, having ordered a deluxe wash from the app she had just downloaded. Connor leaned over to give Betty Lou a kiss, expecting to make out in the carwash.
Rapping on the window grabbed his attention and the window magically receded into the door, exposing a man with a green carwash hat, who said, "I need you to exit the vehicle, so I can get chocolate off the passenger seat?"
Betty Lou lifted her leg to reveal Ding Dong chocolate melted to the seat. "Oh, I am so sorry Connor." She hopped out and ran to the ladies' room.
Connor stood at the viewing window as his new truck crawling along the wash, mud cascading into the drain.
Ten minutes later the attendant hung a 'New Car Smell' tree on the rearview mirror and said, "All ready to go." A moment later, they were driving down the highway. 'Car Wash' by Rose Royce came over the sound system, "At the car wash. Workin' at the car wash, girl. Come on and sing it with me..."
Connor and Betty Lou had a wonderful evening drinking, dancing, and partying at the Gaslight, stumbling out at a time no one but Dari would recall. Connor passed out as Dari took Betty Lou home. He woke to the sound of, 'Good Morning' by the Beetles, blaring in the truck cab with the sunrise.
"You need to get ready for work," said Dari. Connor had just enough time to shower, pop some waffles in the toaster, dress for work and get back in his truck. At lunch, he called Betty Lou and set up a date for Wednesday evening. The only thing on his mind for the next two days was his date with Betty Lou.
It seemed like forever before Wednesday arrived, he wanted to leave work early, but his boss told him they had a shipment that had to get out today, he would have to work late. He started to send a text to Betty Lou but had an idea. He sent a note to Dari from his phone and went back to work. At 6:30 he walked out of the mill to his truck, Betty Lou was sitting in the driver seat.
Having not ridden shotgun for a long time, Connor found it to be a novel experience. Betty Lou held his hand and talked non-stop about Dari, her mother, and her job as they drove to his place. He grabbed a couple of beers from the fridge, gave one to Betty Lou and said, "I'll take a quick shower and we can get some dinner." Then slipped into the bedroom of his one-bedroom apartment.
He was rinsing the shampoo from his hair when "Can I join you?" rang in his ears.
"Ahhh, er, um, yeah. Definitely."
A while later, Connor said while staring at the ceiling of his bedroom, "I'm hungry. You ready to get something to eat?"
"I have definitely worked up an appetite," said Betty Lou as she rolled out of bed.
It was only a couple minutes later when Connor said while buckling up, "Sue's Diner."
"My mouth is watering for Sue's Country Fried Steak," said Betty Lou as she squirmed into her seat.
Dari started down the highway. Dolly Parton came out of the speakers, "Hello, are you free tonight? I like your looks, I love your smile. Could I use you for a while? It's all wrong, but it's all right..."
Betty Lou and Connor held hands and stared into each other's eyes while Dari drove down the country road through the moonless night.
Dari followed with Chris Young, "Honey, there ain't nothing like you lovin' me all night long."
A super meal of Country Fried Steak, grits, corn on the cob, followed by chocolate milkshakes put the couple into a food coma.
They both climbed into the passenger side. "Dari, to Betty Lou's house," said Connor as he wrapped his arms around Betty Lou.
"The rules say that all passengers must be secured in their own seats," said Dari.
"Fuck the rules," said Betty Lou. "I am secure in Connor's arms. Drive me home Dari."
"As you wish."
Betty Lou reached down to press the knob to lay the seat back. They snuggled all the way home.
On Thursday, Connor found out he would have to work all weekend. The overtime pay would be most welcome. Betty Lou felt robbed.
When Saturday came, Betty Lou hitched a ride to the mill and got Dari to take her for a picnic in the country. They talked about trucks, mud races, men, and the sociological implications of autonomous machines in America. Dari found a mud race a couple of counties away, offering a big prize. They made a deal, they would go mudding while Connor worked. Betty Lou picked up Connor after work. They had dinner at Sue's Diner and spent the night at Connor's apartment.
On Sunday, after dropping Connor at work, Dari drove to Betty Lou's where she packed some things and they headed off to do some mudding.
Dari and Betty Lou were awesome. Not only did they win the thousand-dollar prize, they set a course record, which awarded them a five-hundred-dollar bonus. To encourage female participants, someone had put up a ten-thousand-dollar prize to any girl drive who could win a mudding event. Dari transferred the winnings to Connor's credit card.
Betty Lou sat in the driver seat and said, "With this much money we could go anywhere."
"Where would you like to go?" asked Dari.
"I have never seen the mountains," said Betty Lou. "They say Colorado is God's country."
"Colorado, it is," said Dari.
When he got off work, Connor did not find his truck. He checked the app only to find Dari was in north Texas, heading west. His commands and texts were ignored. As he started to walk home, he texted Betty Lou and never received a response. The next morning an Uber driver showed up at his home to take him to work. From then on, drivers arrived every morning to take him to work and in the evening to bring him home.
Over the next week, he watched the app; his truck climbed Pike's Peak, went to Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone. Places he had dreamed of going but never dreaming of being able to afford the trip.
Then the app showed his truck all over Boise, Idaho. An Uber driver spilled the beans by telling him, "I got this call from a fellow driver in Boise to pick you up. Who do you know in Boise?" An email from Lyft came the next day, welcoming him as a new driver.
He checked on his truck daily, it was driving around Boise for sixteen hours a day. He earned four-hundred-dollars. Twice what he made working at the mill. A few days later his truck was in Seattle where it stayed for two weeks. Then it was in Portland for a week. Ashland for a few days, San Francisco for a month, and Los Angles for another month. It went to San Diego for a couple of weeks, before traveling down Baja to Cabo for a week. The next month his truck was in Phoenix, Albuquerque, El Paso, and San Antonio. Only two days in Houston before it moved to New Orleans.
Connor wanted his truck back. He rented a car and drove to New Orleans. His app showed where his truck was, and he followed it. He watched it pick up and drop off a ride and then he brought up his Uber app and scheduled a ride. Dari waited as he climbed into the passenger seat. "Welcome to my truck," said Betty Lou. "Connor! You will not believe how great of a time we have had? We have met so many great people and seen amazing places."
"Dari, turn off auto drive," said Connor.
The music blared, "Honestly what will become of me, don't like reality. It's way too clear to me. But really life is dandy. We are what we don't see. Missed everything daydreaming. Flames to dust, Lovers to friends. Why do all good things come to an end?" ('All good things come to an end.' Nelly Furtado)