Steering toward the future

By Thomas Block, Columnist

There’s just something about the road that gets me. I’m young and inexperienced, but I can only imagine that the wide open highway means a quarter of what it used to, and retains about a quarter of the character. Of course, my only impression of its history is sculpted by “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” 1983’s cartoonish ode to involuntary family bonding. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a documentary.

I get it. Times change, and our perceptions of adventure and intrigue shift with them. This new generation doesn’t boast about how far we can travel; we bemoan how long we have to do it. Whether you’re driving or sitting in the passenger seat, it’s easy to get sick of a car. It gets stuffy in there, and there’s not a whole lot of legroom to enjoy. Oh, and just one of those things spews out heaps of rancid fumes that eat away at the ozone by the minute. There’s that, too.

I won’t defend cars on environmental grounds, but I will reveal my somewhat curious, even paradoxical, admiration for them. Yes, they offer bundles of educational nuggets for engineering students like me, but cars transcend just the nuts and bolts. I’d hate to get too sentimental about gas-guzzling nuisances, but gosh darn it, aren’t cars simply the story of our lives?

You start off in the booster seat in the back, content with a complementary sippy cup. You may technically move down an inch or two once you grow out of it, but at that pivotal moment, you feel like you’re on top of the world. Every once in a while, there’s more of your soccer teammates than there are seat belts, but you all have to get to practice somehow. You jam in shoulder to shoulder and experience, alas, your first taste of crime (and hopefully the last).

Your first ride up front doesn’t feel like much. You’ve worked up to it, after all (although the cutthroat game of shotgun keeps you on your toes from this point on). By the time your first high school dance rolls around, your driver’s license feels long overdue. College is on your mind when you start shuttling yourself to and from school, and you’re too distracted to notice that for the first time in your life, your parents or guardians aren’t the ones behind the wheel. It’s you.

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I guess, until self-driving cars inevitably make their big splash in the market. Will it bug me when I can’t use that metaphor anymore? Not at all. Times will change, and I will have no choice but to change with them. Nothing, however, will change my habit of clicking my teeth for every dashed lane line that whizzes below the dashboard and out of my line of sight. It’s a kind of childish thing to do, and no wonder: I’ve been doing it since I was five years old.

Thomas is a sophomore in Engineering.

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