Opinion Opinion L.A.

Why Google's self-driving car can't get here soon enough for me

Google self-driving cars: If this is the future, count this old driver in
After 45-plus years on the road, I'm ready to leave the driving to Google

Having returned from a lovely Memorial Day weekend trip to the Sierra, I have just one thing to say: Where can I buy one of those Google self-driving cars?

You know, the ones Google unveiled Tuesday, the ugly little critters that look a bit like someone cross-bred a Fiat 500 with a ’67 Beetle? The ones without a steering wheel or gas or brake pedals, just a button marked “go” and another one marked “stop.” (Note to Google: For California drivers, you may need a couple of more buttons, like “go faster,” “go really fast” and “go insanely fast.” And maybe even one marked “rain, crash now” — you know, just for old times' sake. Plus for New Yorkers, one marked “honk horn.”)

It pains me to say this, given that some of my happiest memories are of road trips with my family, but I’m kinda done with being behind the wheel.

Oh, I still like traveling. I like sightseeing. I even like driving my sports car on twisty mountain roads and the like.

But for getting from here to there, in comfort? Sorry, I’m ready to leave the driving to Google.

Sure, sure, the little imps’ top speed of 25 mph could be a problem; for example, it’s 300 miles or so from my shack in the foothills of L.A. to the spacious condo I rented in Mammoth Lakes. On the other hand, after three days of a 10-mile death march (a.k.a. hike, courtesy of my wife; her famous last words to me before we stopped speaking for the day: “No, really, I think the next lake is just a mile or so up the trail”), plus many hot, thirsty, carefree hours biking and fishing, a Connestoga wagon ride would’ve seemed better than the 5 1/2-hour drive home.

In fact, looking back on all of my driving trips, I realize one thing: I’ve missed a lot of scenery. That’s because I’ve been busy, you know, driving the stupid car. So, when we were in Montana’s Glacier National Park and my wife said, “Look at that view, will you!,” I had to reassure her that I was, in fact, not looking at that view but at the road ahead, lest we become a mangled, permanent part of that view.

But with a Google-Oyl (I just made that up; might work for a name; sounds kind of French, non?) I could’ve actually, well, enjoyed the view.

Most of the objections I’ve seen so far to the new Google car have been that it can’t be driven. And I’ll confess, that goes too far for this old-timer. But these are prototypes. Heck, the first Mercury space capsules didn’t have windows. That got fixed. I’m sure Google could throw in a few pedals and a steering wheel without too much trouble. (Plus some more buttons; see above.)

Meanwhile, I’m excited about this technology, in a way my young sons — just getting their feet wet in the wide, wild world of motoring — are not.

Too often today for me, driving is a chore, not a treat. Too often now, after four hours behind the wheel, I want a nap, not more of a driving experience. Oh, sure, I can call on a relief driver (a.k.a. sons). But as any parent knows, turning over the wheel to someone you used to give a bottle to and then change his diaper is not the easiest, most relaxing thing in the world.

Also — though thank God it’s not here yet — I am getting ever closer to the day when the dreaded DMV person is gonna look at me and say, “Aren’t you a little old to be out and about in that Miata, sir?”

Self-driving cars may not be as much fun. But if they can make some of my drives more relaxing — or if they can keep me mobile when I can’t do it on my own — then I say: Google me in, Scottie!

But please, hire some Italians to do the styling, OK?

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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