Never Stop Driving #4: Road trip

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Hello Drivers,

John L. Stein desperately missed the Pontiac GTO convertible he sold 40 years ago. He somehow located the actual car, convinced the owner to sell it, and then flew to Calgary to drive it 2000 miles home to California. Sounds like a dream, right? I won’t spoil his very fun story, except to say you’ll hanker to do something similar after reading it, even though there were some, ahh, issues.

Where’s the adventure if everything goes perfectly? I’ve broken down repeatedly and only failed once to get back on the road (Thank you, Hagerty Drivers Club® roadside assistance). Nearly every time, I’ve had to lean on strangers for help and the interactions inevitably were my favorite parts of the journey.

1969 911E
That’s a 1969 911E I restored on the street in Marion, Virginia, during a road trip from Michigan to Atlanta. Unfamiliar with the fine points of Porsche mechanicals, I had not properly tightened the wheel bearings, and the front end started vibrating after a few hundred miles on the road. The tools were borrowed from the shop in the background. In return, the mechanics got to watch my clown show. Larry Webster

Don’t let my experiences dissuade you, as I am my own unprofessional mechanic and am okay with the considerable risks of inconvenient breakdowns and delays that I assume when I set off on a multi-state road trip with a 50-year-old car. Remember that there is no road-trip formula. They’re personal, so create your own. I find time behind the wheel a tonic to a hectic life, a reset button. Judging by the number of movies, books, and long-form magazine articles on the genre, hitting the road is clearly a universal need. Kevin Costner even created an app to enhance the experience. My favorite road-trip movie is Fandango. Released in 1985, the film uses a journey to help a group of graduating college students transition to the next phase of their lives. Interestingly, Kevin Costner is the star.

My go-to road trip inspiration is a book published 40 years ago called Blue Highways: A Journey into America . You’ll love the fast pace and insightful observations of the writer, William Least Heat-Moon. It’s a terrific summer read. Writing about road trips is actually a minefield, because it’s all too easy to fall into a daily journal trap. You know, “We started the second day with breakfast, gassed up, and hit the road.” ZZZZZZ. If I wrote that, even my mom wouldn’t read it. Another master at the craft is our own Sam Smith. With a tiny budget, he stitched together a rusty BMW 2002 and drove it, sans AC, cross-country in high summer. Also, perhaps I should hire him as my mechanic…

Lest I remove you from the fantasy you’re hopefully having about your next behind-the-wheel excursion, I do want to share the latest AV news. The battle for autonomous taxis is heating up. Waymo already offers driverless rides around the Phoenix area and now Cruise, a GM spinoff, received approval from California to offer autonomous robotaxi rides, and for actual money.

Is the robotaxi revolution upon us? Well, sort of. It’s a milestone to have a second major player, but there are also significant restrictions: the Cruise vehicles (modified Chevy Bolt EVs) will be limited to 30 miles per hour, to certain areas of San Francisco, and will only operate between 10PM and 6AM. I’m just fine with taking drivers off the San Fran streets during those hours. Naturally, Cruise expects to slowly expand the service. If this sounds predictable, consider that Tesla’s long promised taxi service has been delayed again.

In the “yeah, duh” department, researchers found that some autonomous car systems can be tricked into stopping in the middle of the road by something as benign as a cardboard box. Many of us have long wondered how AVs will mix with drivers who know the robots will cede a lane. They’ll have to back off, right? That’ll mean the other human drivers will have to show some courtesy if AVs are going to blend into heavy traffic. Good luck with that on the approach to the Lincoln Tunnel.

Meanwhile, China’s Geely (owner of Volvo, Polestar, and a number of other automakers) launched nine of its own satellites into space. The sats, which are the first of what will eventually be a constellation of 240, will provide both navigation assistance for self-driving cars and communications services.

I’ll leave you with this: A fully autonomous ship—yeah, every transportation sector is looking at robot drivers—named Mayflower had to divert from its Atlantic crossing for repairs in Canada.

Plan your road trip now. Summer doesn’t last forever.

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