Some days it seems when journalists tire of everything else, we get stories about the advent of driverless cars. Apparently, those national journalists don’t drive in West Rome (neither do I, if I can help it), or they would know driverless cars are already amongst us.

But why not cars without drivers?

 Already, our cars speak directions and remind us to fasten our seat belts or to check under the hood.

We need every non-sentient thing to assist us these days, so that we can think less – or use our minds for more important matters, like explaining existentialism. So, when we forget to close the refrigerator door, that’s OK because the appliance will remind us with a Vivaldi-like melody.

Smart phones remind us of important events like birthdays and past-due bills, tell us we have new email, or tell us when and where our favorite band is playing. (Sometimes, we even use our phones to call friends to say “hello.”)

It is no longer sufficient for a microwave to emit a “ding” when the timer has finished its job. We must have it say, “Your pizza with extra cheese is ready. Be careful, it’s hot because I generate 1,200 watts of heat, lest you forget.”

Primitive writing was chiseled onto tablets. Contemporary writing is tapped onto tablets, ones with brand names and a hefty price tag.

If our phones and our appliances are smarter than us, why not our cars? Besides, think of the efficiency of driverless cars for cheating spouses. Of course, the motel industry would take a hit. But that’s just the basic precept of innovation and consequence. It was the automobile, after all, that put the horse-drawn carriage out of business.

I am concerned, though, for American storytelling. From John Steinbeck to Jack Kerouac, from W.C. Fields to The Beverly Hillbillies, our drama and our comedy is filled with tales of driving. And every common man or woman can tell a story about taking the first driver’s license test.

I would like to hear Wayne Lumsden, a former classmate, tell his story.

I don’t know what a driver’s license test is like these days, but when I was in high school it was easier than having to memorize world capitals. We all passed the driver’s exam easily, except for poor Wayne. We all got to senior year as experienced drivers, which was really important for dating, which is what high school is for, after all.

But Wayne failed the written portion of the driver’s test a few times and wasn’t allowed to try again for a long time.

But then, on a fall afternoon with senior year under way, Wayne passed the written test. That was followed by the actual driving test with an officious State Patrol officer in the passenger seat. The driving test consisted of keeping your mouth shut, following directions, and remembering to use your turn signals for a total of four blocks, roundtrip back to the courthouse.

 

Easy as spitting. So Wayne made it, except for the last part. You know where you pull into a parking space and apply the brakes? Wayne angled the car in all right, but instead of applying the brake pedal he stomped the accelerator. The car jumped the curb, flew across the sidewalk and went halfway up the courthouse steps. I have always doubted that last part of the story because, applying the laws of acceleration and mass, gravitational pull and traction times incline (which I studied during senior year but have mostly forgotten), the car probably only went a third of the way up the courthouse steps.

No one was injured; no government property was damaged, so Wayne’s parents were able to fetch him in a little while.

Wayne finished high school without a driver’s license. Or a date.

 

Recalling that story now, I have changed my mind about driverless cars. Because somewhere out there there’s another Wayne who’s too stupid to drive, but if the car drove itself, he could get a date and he could procreate. That’s a vicious cycle we don’t need.

 

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Biz Bits

If you play the stock market and you have invested in Krispy Kreme, you are very happy right now. Not so much if you hold shares in the Atlanta Braves, and I’m not talking about the baseball team that’s off to a lousy start this season and fired its very capable manager.

A Swiss holding company, JAB, is purchasing the doughnut maker for $1.35 billion and plans to take it private. So, celebrate your windfall. Have a doughnut.

Liberty Media, absentee owner of the Braves, is also singing a happy tune. In its quarterly report to stockholders, the bean counters downplayed a plunge in the trading value of Braves’ stock, instead referring to the Braves as a valuable “real estate holding.” That’s an obvious reference to the Braves’ move next year to a taxpayer-built stadium in Cobb County.

Here’s a memo to Liberty Media from a former Atlantan who once attended several games each summer at the former two downtown ballparks:

The Braves’ hard-core fan base has always been in town, not outside the city limits.  The shine of the suburban ball park will wear off, like a new car after its first oil change. It’s still 90 feet between the bases; still 60 feet, 6 inches between the pitching rubber and home plate. You still have to play the game. The Braves, as currently constituted, can’t play the game.

The new “real estate holding” won’t sustain attendance, will lose money, and Braves stock will be a laughingstock until you commit to loosening the purse strings for player salaries.

An even sadder note: Morley Safer has passed on. He is remembered by most as the probing yet polite journalist on the long-running “60 Minutes” news program. But some of us remember how he bravely covered the Vietnam War, not always to our government’s liking. Obituary writers recalled the time President Lyndon Johnson roused CBS’s CEO from bed and alleged Safer was a Communist. That was after Safer and his Vietnamese cameraman broke the Cam Ne story of a village set afire though the enemy had left weeks before.

Hard to imagine today’s coiffed camera journalists doing that type of dirty work.

  1. Bryant Steele has won awards for business reporting, feature writing and opinion columns, and is based in Rome.

*The views expressed in this column are those of the writer, and do not represent the opinions of V3 Magazine

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J. Bryant Steele was first published when he was 14 and has made a living stringing words together for 40 years. But the main reason he writes is to avoid housework. He has won 50 or so writing awards. He is a graduate of the Grady School of Journalism (The University of Georgia) and of Education for Ministry (The University of the South). He also publishes poetry and fiction. He is the proud father of two magnificent adult children. He is also very opinionated.