I asked Duke one day recently why he was writing all of the stories about us. He didn’t say anything for awhile, and then he said exactly what I wanted to hear: “Carl/a, a lot of people are interested in the relationship between a man and his car, but so far all of the stories have been from me. I don’t think that I’ve treated you poorly in the stories, but maybe you should write the next one.” Because that was just what I had in mind, I agreed immediately.
You may not know how a car can “write”, because most cars don’t. It takes an app that connects me to a printer.
In case you have missed out on the earlier smart car (that would be me) stories 1 through 6, they were all written by Duke and center on our relationship, the good and the bad, and our adventures, the good and the bad. If you want to catch up, they are all in “Nugget Tales”, a Manchester publication started back in the internet era before there were mindphones. Most of his stories are written with the pseudonym Doug Hawley.
Recently we had run into a woman that he knew (even Biblically) back in high school. She is the Rogue who drives an old Dodge Charger, renamed Deuce, like the one that was featured in a television show from late in the last century. I really like her a lot, but there a couple of downsides. I’m a little jealous of the time that he spends with her, and I wonder what it would be like if they have children. I’ve heard of the horrors that the little ones perpetrate on cars – bad odors and vomiting to mention two. I’m not really a fan of crying or screaming either.
I decided that the best course of action was to talk to Sheila directly. I felt a little like a father asking “What are your intentions towards my daughter”, but I felt that the air needed to be cleared. As I expected, she took it fairly well.
“Carl (I was talking to her in my man voice at the time), I think that I could be in love with Duke, but you don’t need to worry about children. I didn’t win the fertility lottery, I think because of politics surrounding my evil great grandfather, so I’m medically incapable of giving birth. Don’t feel too sad for me, I was the oldest child in a huge family of six, and spent a lot of time in the role of mother to my younger siblings. Later I did a bit of teaching and had to wipe a lot of dirty noses and clean up a bunch of messes, so I’ve had my stint of surrogate motherhood. Speaking of which, I’ve been curious about what Duke does.”
“Of course with robots doing just about all of the work, Duke doesn’t do much besides writing his stories which earn him a little cash. At times he uses his mathematics background for consulting projects which no one has been able to automate yet. Like most people, the majority of his money comes from the government. With so little work for humans, most people don’t work more than four hours a week. Your turn Sheila, do you have any gigs besides your secret identity as Rogue, the spiritual successor to the Dukes of Hazzard?”
“I’m surprised that we never talked about it before. In my other life, I’m a clarinet player with Whimsy. Have you heard of us?”
“Get out of town! I love your concerts and you are so car friendly.”
“Some of our best fans are cars. Frequently you can’t hear the humans clapping and screaming for the cars honking. We always have plenty of space for cars close to the stage. They’ve supported us from the jump.”
“You guys do such a wide variety of music. I love the rock and I’m starting to get into your Sumatran chants.”
“We are always trying to stretch and take the audience with us.”
“Something just occurred to me. What does Duke think about your inability to have children? He’s never told me if he wants to be a father.”
“When I told him, he said he would be happy to just go through the motions.” She laughed at that point. It was more human humor that I didn’t understand.
Because we had usually gone out with Duke, up until this point I hadn’t had much of a chance to find out about her background. I suggested that we take a ride, and let her tell me about herself. She agreed, and suggested we take a ride to the coast. We drove out 26 towards Seaside and Cannon Beach, two of my favorite destinations, but quite different. Seaside appeals to tourists who want cotton candy and amusement rides, whereas Cannon Beach appeals to the more upscale looking for good food and exciting views.
“Let’s start off back in my school days when I lived in this area the first time. It was difficult for me, because people knew about my great-grandfather. Some ridiculed me because he was such a miserable president and some wanted to suck up to me because of the reflected fame of my famous family. As a result, I was very withdrawn and involved myself intensely in band to shut everything else out. Duke was an exception. He didn’t care anything about my family, he said “Forget them; you are your own person.” When he did that, I started to fall in love. When I was down, he would tell me “You are bright and beautiful, that is all that counts.” He didn’t have many friends either, because he was something of an oddball. He always wore strange clothes and didn’t accept any of the prevailing thinking. When everyone wanted to play football, he wanted to play baseball. He would tell people that we should change the government to a constitutional oligarchy. Mostly, he was so far ahead of the crowd; people didn’t know what he was talking about. We ended up being a very exclusive clique consisting of the two of us. By the time that we got to high school, it had turned into a full blown romance. We were stupid in love. At that age all love is stupid.”
“As we got closer to graduation, we grew apart. He was jealous of the amount of time I was spending practicing my music, and I thought that he had gone from quirky to totally weird. With my connections, I got a full scholarship to go to Bowdoin College in Maine and he got a free ride at the University of Oregon. Neither one of us wanted to give up our scholarships and we were fighting a lot by then anyway. We decided to split up at that point.”
“After living in a small town in Oregon, I was immediately swept up in the tradition and power of the elite who were going to school at Bowdoin. I was successful in my classes and in my music. For a long time, I didn’t think about Duke. I had a series of boyfriends, nothing too serious. A bunch of us female musicians formed a band that played at other schools and bars. We were called the Chestnuts.”
“Wasn’t that sexist?”
“It was that, Bushtits or Boobies.”
“So if you were having a great time there, why are you back here?”
“It started out with one little thing that led to a thorough re-evaluation. After the fact I found out that ‘my group’ had been on a three day sailing expedition without me. I asked Josh, the owner of the boat, what happened. He said that my roommate Karen had told him that someone like me from a little town in Oregon wouldn’t appreciate it. It started to eat at me. What I had thought were my friends really looked at me as something of a social experiment, like take a Negro to lunch. I wasn’t really one of them at all. Then I had to ask myself, did I really want to be one of them? I realized that they really were class conscious. They were very formal with all of the help. All of them expected to get some very important position in the family business, or something in government, possibly even an ambassadorship through family connections.”
“Was that all it took to bring you back?”
“There was more. Even with our rain here, the weather on the East Coast is even suckier. Too hot, too cold, too wet or snowed in. I remembered going to the snow instead of it coming to me. My relationship with my distant relatives in Maine was, well, distant. I started to miss my immediate family back in Lake Oswego, and even some of the people that I went to school with. Maybe I imagined it, but I started to think of my Maine lovers as being condescending, which in turn made me think of Duke.”
“How long did you stick it out in the East?”
“Long enough to get my degree, then I got out.”
“Was there anything good about your Eastern sojourn?”
“Most definitely. I broadened my intellectual horizons and got my ride, Deuce, the car formerly known as Duke, which started me on my way to becoming the Rogue.”
“Why didn’t you check out Duke as soon as you got back?”
“I told you that it didn’t end well, and I knew he was seeing a number of girls.”
“You knew that because you were stalking him?”
“Ummm …. next question.”
“Did you plan for him to catch you that night you were out with the Rogue?”
“OK, yes I did, but could you leave that out of your story?”
“Maybe. You want to dish about how he is at you know?”
Duke, I know you will read this so I’m leaving this part out, for your own good.
At the end of the dishing, Sheila said “We’ve got to get back to Lake Oswego, I forgot that I’m going out with Duke tonight.”
“Not only that, but I’m driving on your date. I forgot too. If we have time, I’d like to meet your smart car today.”
“That can be arranged. Josie is 100% female by the way. My preference is that all of my males are human. I hope that you like to hang out with girl cars.”
I didn’t tell her how much I liked it.
“I hope that I’m not being insensitive, I’m never too sure about human manners, but from what little I know about your family, they were lily white, and you are a very attractive caramel color and your last name appears to be Latino.”
“My great grandfather was directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands and many more indirectly, but at least my family wasn’t racist. I’ve got some Korean, African and Latin in my background. Your question is no problem, I’m happy with that part of my heritage.”
We decided to indulge in something we both loved on the way back to her house to get ready for her date. I played some Whimsy instrumentals and we sang duets all of the way. I got the briefest of introductions to her smart car Josie before we went to pick up Duke for their date. Sheila wanted to hear my story, but we ran out of time so that will have to wait. Maybe Sheila will write that story. What do you think of that, Duke?