Saturday, November 27, 2010

in which i wax lyrical about cruise control

I've just dropped my young charge for the day home. She lives a bit over half an hour out of town. It's a wet, gloomy night and I don't like driving at night at the best of times, but especially not in the rain at night. (Of the relief when I was told I had astigmatism three years ago... to know I am not old before my time, or a big wuss. I have a valid reason for not liking night driving - I can't see that well. Don't worry - I can see enough to drive safely, just not enough to feel comfortable!) (I also have small island syndrome from living trapped in a space 68,401 sq km small for too long. A half hour drive to anywhere is a drive to the end of the earth.)

I cruised along in the rain this evening, and probably should have gone a little bit slower, but I was tired and the rain was gentle and I wanted to get home. There were no great swathes of water lying across the road and (here is the advantage of living on a small, isolated island) there was almost no other traffic. It seemed safe enough to sit on the speed limit in cruise control.

Ah, how I love cruise control. I'm a late comer to this marvellous invention, being unable to figure out how to get it to work for quite some time. It took reading the book to discover I had to turn the whole system on before pressing levers up and down to maintain the perfect speed. Now I can do it with ease, sit back, take the foot off and look around at all the beautiful scenery.

Well, that's what I'd like to do - cruise control tempts me to it! Turning it on seems to give over control of the car to, I don't know, a sentient machine. It does the work for me while I sit back and relax... if it can regulate my speed so appropriately (when it senses the looming slow car in front I'll be even more impressed!) surely it can also turn the steering wheel and apply the brake should anything untoward suddenly occur?

Alas no. I cannot enjoy the scenery so much as I might like, and still I must remain alert to the potential emergency that requires swift braking.

Today I noticed something else about cruise control. I've become a mildly nervous flier. I used to love it but now I tune in to every whine of the engine, every turbulent jolt, almost expecting to drop from the sky. I've learned to temper this with deep breathing and by reminding myself that if we go down, there's nothing I can do about it and there's no knowing in advance. I may as well relax and enjoy things in the meantime. I try my best. I also pay close attention to the safety demonstration.

I didn't realise how closely I had tuned into the acceleration and cut back of aeroplane engines until my heart jumped as the car engine cut back while under the control of the cruise mechanism. 'We're going to cra... Oh, I'm in the car. Everything is fine.' It's a little disconcerting, being convinced we're on the way down while driving. Especially since this time I can do something about it because as much as I like to think cruise control is driving me, I'm driving myself, and if I don't get a grip then something bad just might happen.

It's silly I know. But I can't help this almost visceral response to the modulation of a motor. It isn't about to stop my using cruise control through! I love that once I've set it, I don't have to think about what speed I'm going!



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