Short Story

Smart Car 6

Auto Rogue

Have you heard this one before? – It started innocently enough. Carl/a and I had gone out for a drive. I was going to pick up some take out at McBroccoli and Carl/a was mostly on the lookout for sexy cars. Halfway there the shocking occurred – we were passed up by another car and that violates the first law of carbotics – all cars were programmed to go the optimal speed for the conditions. That was just the beginning – the car looked like one that I had seen in a high school history class film, a 1969 Dodge Charger, a car which was totally controlled by the driver with hardly any safety devices. Stranger yet, the driver bore a resemblance to Daisy Duke, a character from the show “The Dukes Of Hazzard” that we saw. After a stunned moment, I guessed what had happened. I’d just been passed by The Rogue.

No car had been produced that was strictly controlled by a human in more than forty years and the older cars were banned from the streets for very real safety reasons. There was a legend about The Rogue, someone who had an old car and did the driving. The Rogue may not have been reckless, but it put the fear in all of the humans who had long since left the driving to their cars. A few people had claimed to have seen The Rogue, but the government said that the sightings were really hallucinations or swamp gas. Pictures of The Rogue and tire prints were all faked we were told. If it really existed, why hadn’t anyone captured it, went the official reasoning. I feared that I had been another unreliable witness.

Carl/a said “I don’t know what you think, but based on what other cars have told me, that must be The Rogue. We must follow it.”

When she turned left from Willamette onto Cascade Street, we did too. We all went to the Maddox Woods parking lot on the Willamette River. With great trepidation, I approached her car, if that’s what you could call it. The driver rolled down her window and said with the sternest expression, “I hope that you can keep a secret.”

“First, what is the secret, and why should I keep it?”

“Are you ready for a long story?”

“You’ve got our attention”, speaking for Carl/a and myself.

I was looking at her as she spoke and was getting some vague notion of recognition, but I could not place her. Maybe it wasn’t Daisy Duke that she reminded me of.

“You probably have guessed that I’m The Rogue. My real name is Sheila Valdez. You wonder how and why I do what I do. I’m the great granddaughter of one of our craziest presidents, the one who invaded Asia over ideology or oil or something. Anyway, it was a tragically stupid idea which had horrible results. Maybe a little wildness made it to my generation, but without the stupidity. Whereas he was reckless with an ‘r’ I’m wreck less with a ‘w’. Years ago when I was in grade school history they showed us a “Dukes Of Hazzard” episode. I was really taken with the excitement those boys had. It showed what drivers could do with old fashioned hot cars. Or so I thought. It wasn’t until later that I learned the best stunts were faked, but by then I was hooked.”

“Wait a minute. Sheila Valdez in Mrs. Spickerman’s class?”

“Holy crap, what’s your name?”

“Duke Hanley.”

“You took me to the senior prom in high school!”

I was too much of a gentleman to mention what happened after the prom. Anyway, after we graduated, we went to different colleges and never saw each other again until now.

“Back to my story. My family had quite a bit of money, so I got this antique car when I started college in Maine. The idea was that I’d just drive it around the family compound, but when I decided to come back to Lake Oswego, I had it shipped out here and garaged. My contacts in high places helped a lot. I have a regular smart car, but I like to take out Duke now and again.”

“You named the Charger after me?”

“Slow down, I named it after the TV series.”

“Why haven’t you been caught?”

“The car has a cloaking device, which makes it look like a regular smart car, and I usually follow the traffic laws.”

“Then how did the legend of The Rogue start?”

“Sometimes the cloaking goes on the blink, and sometimes I just want to live dangerously. So far, with the help of my friends in high places, and my powers of persuasion, I’ve managed to wiggle out of every predicament.”

No wonder I didn’t recognize her at first. In high school, she was a high fashion stick model type. Now, she looked more like a curvaceous earth mother. I wondered about cause and effect. Did the Charger encourage her to rebel, or was getting the Charger caused by the rebellion?

On another front, looking like she does now, I didn’t doubt her “powers of persuasion”.

“So how did I catch you tonight?”

“I didn’t notice that the cloaking device light was blinking. It must not be working. Listen, Duke I don’t want to trade on our old friendship, but I hope that you won’t reveal my secret. Could you just take a ride with me to see how important Duke, the car, is to me before you decide what to do?”

It occurred that she could have threatened me with her ‘friends in high places’, but was trying to reason with me instead, so I accepted her offer. OK, that wasn’t honest. I had been thinking about her ever since we graduated, and jumped at a chance to spend some time with her again.

I asked Carl/a if s/he minded leaving me here. S/he chuckled and said “I wanted to find a way to dump you early so I could go see Pat tonight. She had promised to show me some new attachments.”

Sheila had to open Duke’s door for me because I was used to them opening by themselves. Car Duke had an override button which allowed Sheila to get the cloaking going again. As we drove, I noticed the total engagement and joy Sheila experienced as she drove. I had no idea what she was doing, but it made the car do what she wanted it to do. We drove up to Skyline Drive and caught the view for miles around on a cloudless night. She said “What do you think now? Are you going to rat me out?”

I’m something of a dick, but there is no way I could deprive her of her joy, so I said “Your secret is safe with me. I’ll make sure that Carl/a agrees.”

“So I don’t have to take you into the back seat to convince you?”

As the thought “Oh, shit I blew it” went through my mind, it must have been reflected on my face.

She started to laugh, tried to cover her face to stop, but gave up and laughed out loud. “We are SO getting into the back seat. I just wanted to see your reaction first. That is all I need to know, buddy. I’ve been waiting for this a long time too.”

Later she asked if I liked her new look. I told her honestly, I very much did. She said “You don’t look like a nerd anymore; you’re more of a hunk.” Thank you hours in the gym, laser treatment of my eyes saving me from coke bottle lenses, and better hair.

Carl/a easily agreed to keep Sheila’s secret and is looking forward to meeting her smart car, because car Duke won’t be any fun for him. Carl/a and Sheila have a good relationship. She teaches him about human physiology that she learned from her yoga practice. As an aside, I certainly appreciate her flexibility. He entertains her by expounding on artificial intelligence. When Carl/a and I were alone, s/he approved of me dating Sheila and told me that he will be on his best behavior when we go out.

After awhile we got tired of saying guy Duke or car Duke. Because car Duke had no mind, he didn’t mind changing his name to Deuce.

Sheila and I aren’t in high school going steady anymore. So far we are seeing other people, but I’m falling in love all over again. We’ll see.