The 2016 Dodge Charger hunched in the driveway like an indignant, angry beast while its owner gently played the hose across the car’s brilliant red paint. The car was a work of art, long and lean with sumptuous body lines fronted by a wide mouthed grill that made one instantly think of some ancient predator from the Jurassic sea. The headlights added to the impression, sculpted and arched in such a way that anyone who wandered across the car’s path would instantly know the beast’s attention was focused fully upon them. It was, as one reviewer described it, a sculpture of pure adrenaline and aggression laid down in steel and set on 18 inch wheels. It was hard to believe that tomorrow would be the car’s 100th birthday.
The world had changed since the Charger the left the factory. The future was ever rushing forward and the car’s owner, himself a spry 142 years old, had lived through much of it. The man was already middle aged when the car was assembled, at that point married for 10 years with three pre-teen children, when desire overwhelmed common sense and he had purchased the car. Even before he laid down his money, he knew it would be special. “It’s an investment in our future.” he told his wife. He could, he said, drive it for 20 years and then sell it for what he paid, maybe more. After all, it was widely known that, due to stringent new regulations, this would be the last gasoline V8 powered rear wheel drive car ever produced in the United States. His wife, ever the practical one had sighed and finally relented. The man was 42 years old, after all. He worked hard, came home without fail every night and was a devoted husband and father. If he wanted a toy, they could afford it. He had certainly earned it.
The lovely Josephine, Josie as her friends had called her, was a tall lithe vision with long auburn hair and piercing green eyes. Despite her initial reservations, she too had enjoyed the car. Not so much the car itself, but for the time she, her husband and children had spent in it. Her husband had been right about the car, it was special. From the day they brought it home, it was a conversation piece and had drawn approving nods at every gas station it had ever visited. During the summer months the entire family had piled into it for road trips, an almost forgotten tradition in 21st Century America, and traveled the length and breadth of the country, the Charger’s big V8 eating up the miles with ease. Later, when the kids had grown and left on their separate ways, their son to the Army and the two girls to college and then marriage, the couple became a regular sight at local car shows.
The Charger became an important touchstone for the family. The man had driven his boy to the enlistment depot the day he left for the Army. The service would be a good thing for him, the boy would learn a trade, independence, and have the opportunity to earn a living while he saved money for college. The Army was just the right place for a bright, motivated young man, but the war had changed that. The boy’s death at just 23 years of age still haunted the man. He remembered the goodbyes and good lucks that had taken place in the car before he had watched his only son disappear into the building. He thought of the long drives he had taken alone when gripped with sorrow over the boy’s loss, the brief but touching words of the President still echoing in his ears. The boy was a hero, the president had said, his bravery had helped ensure that the future would be a better, safer place. But the words rang hollow to the man and when visions of his son’s grisly death on the battlefield crept into his thoughts, he quickly replaced them with memories of the boy as a teen in the passenger seat, wheedling and begging for a turn behind the wheel of the grand, old car. He wished now he had given him that chance.
Later the man had driven his daughters to their weddings in the car and then he and Josie had used it to make visits to their daughters’ families when they moved about the country. The grandchildren had loved riding in the car and hearing stories about their own parents’ experiences in the aging machine. In time, however, the grandchildren themselves grew up and moved on, and vacations together became visits. Later visits became phone calls and eventually, even those dwindled, stopping altogether in the months after Josie’s passing.
That was the darkest of times. The cancer had ravaged the once lovely Josephine, shattering her beauty, causing her lush auburn hair to thin then fall out, leaving only her piercing green eyes staring out at the world from dark, shrunken sockets. Josie had fought back against the disease with an intense ferocity. Medical science was making greater and greater strides against the disease and it seemed like every month brought new treatments. The original six month prognosis stretched to eight and then a year as new drugs and new therapies were brought to bear. Josie had embraced them all in her effort to stay alive and the car often featured large in the discussions they would have when they spoke of their future together after the cancer had finally been beaten. But eventually, when the cancer’s progress finally outpaced medical science and when she was too tired and broken to wait for that one possible cure that always lay just out of reach, Josie succumbed and a part of the man died with her.
But time and medical science marched on, extending lives, improving health, and eventually even curing cancers like the one that had ravaged then killed the fair Josephine. The man benefited from these advances, everyone did, and his old age turned back into middle age as human life expectancy was stretched out beyond 200 years. New therapies gave the man back his hair and replaced his sagging gut with hard, fresh muscle. It restored his sight, hearing and memory and even increased his sexual desires, not that he had much real desire to use that bodily function with Josie gone.
Society advanced as well. Work hours were reduced and then virtually eliminated as new technologies came on-line. Huge factories shrank, then vanished as new production techniques replaced old ones. Energy exploration and development disappeared in less than a decade as new technologies brought cheap, clean renewable energy to the world and eventually even industrial scale food production ceased as genetic modification enabled food to grow virtually anywhere there was earth. The end result was a renaissance for humanity. With the need for manual labor gone, mankind turned its creative genius towards science, religion and the arts, and this paid off in the form of world peace and a level of general tolerance hitherto impossible.
Like everything else, cars also changed. Already being downsized and made more efficient when the Charger had been produced on 2016, cars continued to reduce their reliance on gasoline and within three more decades had forgone the substance altogether. Other advances allowed cars to run efficiently at ever higher speeds and this, in turn, had required ever more streamlined bodies. Like natural evolution, automotive evolution was drawn towards the most efficient forms and soon most cars looked and performed so much like one another that brands ceased to have any real meaning. Higher speed demanded more automation and soon the highways were completely taken over by auto drivers. Soon major routes and even city streets were added to the network as well. In less than 60 years humanity had been entirely removed from the driving equation. Now, most cars resembled traveling hotel rooms, equipped with all the comforts of home while antique “self drivers” as they were now called, were assigned ever more restrictive rules and routes.
The wash completed, the man returned to his garage and brought out a basket of fresh hi-tech towels to dry the car. He worked efficiently but slowly and gave every part of the car a thorough rub down. That step completed, he then brought out a special nanotech infused wax and gently began working on the car’s paint. Each application spread untold billions of microscopic living machines across the car’s surface and each individual machine worked in tandem with its counterparts to clean, restore and protect the paint. The effect was magnificent. Cleaned at the microscopic level, the car glowed in a way that would have been impossible even in the showroom when it was built. In less than an hour it was done.
Tomorrow would be the Charger’s 100th birthday and the man knew that, by law, on that date that the car would no longer be legal to own or operate. The rules had been an unexpected turn of events in this better, brighter future when they were first announced, but now they were largely accepted. Self drivers were a problem the government had decided, their presence on the road gummed up the system and slowed things down. At first they had tried to work with car hobbyists, but after enough incidents and accidents, it was decided that the best way to protect the public was to remove the vehicles from the hands of their owners altogether. In most cases the cars found homes in museums, and, in fact, the Charger, one of only six privately owned V8s left in the world, was slated to be added to the collections of the Smithsonian Institution. There, the man had been assured, it would be put on display for future generations. He would, of course, be compensated and in an amount that would have shocked Josie had she known back in the day. They had even promised him a lifetime pass and given permission to visit the car as often as he liked. It wouldn’t be the same as having the old Charger in his own garage, but he had decided it wouldn’t matter.
The cleaning done, the man slipped behind the wheel and fired the willing engine for a final run. His right foot pressed the throttle and a glorious burble erupted from the pipes and echoed up the street. Slipping the car into reverse he backed carefully out onto the small, empty residential street. The caution was an old habit, but not really necessary. When the car had slipped into gear its transponder had alerted every autocar in the state as to its whereabouts and already mainframes were calculating his possible route and rerouting other traffic away from the vicinity.
The computers would be right, he knew. He always took the same route out of town, and then onto a loop road around a local lake before heading back home. He would have enjoyed a blast up the freeway, but with autocars regularly running over 300mph it was totally out of the question. Rather than cause trouble, he followed his usual route and guided the car, with all the windows down, through town where it delighted everyone who took notice.
Less than an hour later, the man rolled up the driveway and into the garage, the automatic door sliding silently shut behind him and forming an airtight seal to lock out the elements. He pushed the car into park, set the brake and lingered behind the wheel, the V8 burble echoing off the walls of the tight confines of the small garage. He revved the engine once, then twice and then let the idle return to normal. Even now it sounded good and he enjoyed the noise as he thumbed the thick leather wheel, now worn smooth by so much use.
Somewhere inside the house an alarm trilled faintly. The man ignored it and reached over to turn on the radio. There would be nothing, he knew, terrestrial radio was long since dead and the only sound the old AM/FM receiver might pick up is the click or hum of some machine communicating with another in whatever coded language they used. Still, he slowly cycled around the dial, focusing on the various sounds at each wavelength as they came through the car’s 15 individual speakers.
There! In the distance he could hear the faint strains of a tune. As he listened, it grew louder and clearer, increasing in tempo and intensity and soon, the music filled the thickening atmosphere of the small garage its ever rising melody growing more jubilant with each new passage. The joyous noise wrapped around him, drowning out even the steady thrum of the car’s exhaust and lifted his spirit skyward.
The car surged suddenly beneath him and summer sun felt hot and clean on the man’s face. The road stretched out clear and endlessly ahead and Josie sat radiant and beautiful in the passenger seat, her green eyes gleaming and her long auburn tresses catching the wind that poured into the car through its open windows. In the rearview mirror, the man could see his son, his boyish face full of hope and promise. The young man caught his father’s eye and gave a sly smile. Turning slightly in her seat, Josie reached out her hand and the man grasped it, their fingers naturally intertwining. Together that sat, hand in hand, as the old Charger took them away from the future and accelerated into eternity.
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He writes for any car website that will have him and enjoys public speaking. According to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.