Pizza Overdrive: a Self Driving Nightmare
Is that BLOOD on my bumper?
I drop to my knees for a closer look at the sticky red mess.
Yup. That’s blood all right, along with a HUGE dent. Look at this damage! My car’s no longer perfect. My poor baby’s scarred. Ruined! Shit, shit, SHIT. Clementine musta HIT something—something big. But WHAT? A deer? A dog? A PERSON?!?
A hit and run? No, I don’t believe it. She couldn’t have.
But then I spot a long blond hair stuck in the bloody goop.
Wait… Is that—human hair? Yup. “Oh my God!” Scrambling to my feet, I back away horrified. “Clementine! What did you do?”
You see, Clementine’s not my girlfriend…
She’s my new car.
And get this—she can drive all by herself.
My Self Driving Car
This sporty orange SUV is the only new car I’ve ever owned in my entire life. Hell, this is the only new thing I’ve ever owned. When you’re the youngest of four siblings, hand-me-downs become a way of life, and we all know old habits die hard. My apartment? Nothing but secondhand furniture. My wardrobe? Chez thrift shop. My other car? A beater Olds that my brother gave me because it had no trade-in value. You get the picture.
So why’d I buy this particular self driving car?
I won’t lie. When I first found Clementine online, it was love at first site. Maybe something was missing from my life. Romance? Excitement? Adventure? Hard to say, but I just HAD to have her.
You might be wondering how a broke ass like me bought a brand-spanking-new car…
The Self Driving Deal
“You see,” the middle-aged salesman said, “this self driving car pays for itself.”
“Well, shit,” I said with a gigantic love-struck grin, “Tell me more!”
“First, we get you zero-down financing.”
“Oh, well, there’s the glitch.” My eager smile dissolved. “My credit sucks.”
“That’s no problem. No problem at all.”
“Really? Because it alway seems to be a problem.”
“Not any more,” the slick salesman said as he leaned back in his squeaky chair. “Just enroll in our Earning Wheels program.”
“It’s easy! You just ride-share your car during the hours of the day that you don’t need it.”
“Oh man, I don’t wanna be an Uber.”
“Nah. See? This is a SELF driving car. She’ll make money while you sleep. You enroll in the Earning Wheels program and list your car in the Overdrive database. Then at night, when people need rides, they just order her up with the handy-dandy app. Ta-DAH! You don’t have to do a thing. You don’t even have to talk to anyone. Later, when you wake up in the morning, she’ll be happily waiting for you in the garage.”
“I don’t have a garage,” I said, “and I work nights at a pizza joint.”
“Sure, sure. Same thing… This beauty’ll drive all day for you then. Vroom, VROOM. All those people who commute into the city—those people make money.” The smooth talker whipped out a futuristic lockbox from under his desk.
“This nifty gizmo mounts on the backseat hump. Bluetooth… Or Wi-Fi? Whichever. It connects wirelessly to the door locks. Then when the passenger arrives at their destination, they have to pay to get out. It works just like a automatic taximeter. Ca-CHING!”
“Whoa. The car collects ALL the money?”
The salesman emphatically nodded. “Even tips…”
“Tips?” That gave me an idea—I stroked my scruffy chin as I imagined this car delivering pizzas for me. “That’s brilliant!”
“Technology’s a wonderful thing! Passenger fares cover your car payments. Whatever’s left at the end of the month… That’s yours to keep. You’re really buying a second income. I’m telling you, this self driving car will work for you. Whiz-BANG! How do you like THAT?”
“Dude. Where do I sign?”
And it was a done deal. Clementine drove me home that same afternoon. She drove me! She even parallel parked better than I can. No hesitation. No curb scrapes. No bumper taps. It usually takes me two or three tries to get into a tight spot. I mean, who can compete with a computer? No one, that’s who. So why even try?
Okay, so back to the blood…
What the hell do I do about it? I wasn’t even in the car when she hit the—I got no idea WHAT Clementine hit. I stare down at the bumper. I don’t know… Maybe it wasn’t all that bad. I mean, why isn’t there more blood? Maybe she just clipped someone. Yup. That makes sense. Calm down. Take it easy. It’s not like anyone died.
But if I let this go, somebody might notice. Duh! Of course they’ll notice. There might as well be a big red neon sign pointing at her bumper that says HIT-N-RUN. I oughta clean this up, but I really don’t wanna touch it. I mean it IS blood. Still, if anyone sees this, they’re going to ask some tough questions. Questions I don’t know how to answer.
“I’m sure it was just an accident,” I whisper as I bend down and use the cuff of my black hoodie to wipe at the blood. “No one needs to know, girl.”
Out of nowhere, my roommate walks up, points at the rusty Olds parked behind Clementine and asks, “Have ya decided whatcha gonna do with the ole hooptie yet?”
“Oh. Hey, what’s up, Spliff?” I spin around and lean against the bumper to hide the evidence.
When I came home with a new car a few months ago, I explained the whole Earning Wheels arrangement to my friend. Spliff’s such a gearhead that I thought for sure he’d be excited about a self driving car, but he wasn’t impressed at all. And now he’s giving me the look. He’s standing there glaring at Clementine with his arms crossed. Shaking his head. Judging. Spliff’s a bit of a skeptic and somewhat of a luddite, but mostly he’s just a stoner. And right now, I’d love for him to go away.
“I dunno.” He points at my new car and whispers, “I still don’t wanna ride in that thing… It’s spooky.”
I chuckle nervously, “Spooky?”
“Seems to good to be true.” He inches closer, scoffing at my new car. “It’s just unnatural, ya know?”
I really need him to back off. “Tell you what, Spliff…”
I twist the old key off my ring and toss it to him. “The Oldsmobile’s ALL yours, bro.”
My distraction worked. He skips away and hugs the rusty hood of my old car.
“This is a rare machine, dude. A manual Olds… I love a floor-mounted stick.” Spliff gazes through the passenger window as if it’s the first time he’s ever seen the old beater. “I haven’t had my own car since my Mustang fastback.” Then he kicks one of the bald tires, and a wire hubcap falls off and rolls away.
As he chases down the sidewalk after the loose cap, I turn to look over my shoulder at the dinged bumper. Blood’s gone. I check my sleeves. All clear. Good thing too, because now I’m late for work. So, I hop into Clementine’s backseat, open the window, and shout back at my roommate, “Technology’s a wonderful thing, Spliff!”
“Yeah,” He yells back at me. “Until it bites you in the ass.”
I buckle my seatbelt and tell my car, “Take me to work, Clementine.”
The Drive Over
… Confirm destination: WORK …
… Driving to work …
Maybe I shouldn’t be letting her drive for me right now, but this little bumper blood thing. It’s just a hiccup.
You see, Clementine’s been driving for me a few months now. And she’s been one hell of an earner. The first month, she made enough to cover her entire car payment and most of her fuel. The second month, she paid the auto insurance too. Now she’s bringing in enough cash to cover Spliff’s half of the utilities, and that’s a big deal, because he always comes up short.
Last week, I finally worked up the nerve to have Clementine deliver pizzas for me. I really shouldn’t tell you what corporation I work for, because some people think double dipping’s kinda shady. But it’s one of the big three chains. And I promise, wherever you live, you’ve had one of our pies.
Anyway, having my self driving car do my deliveries falls into a moral gray area. Personally, I think it’s brilliant because I get all the tips AND get paid more per hour to make the pizzas. My boss called it innovative, but he thinks corporate would shitcan the whole thing if they knew. Some legal liability reason, he said.
But the customers love it. Sales are up! Tips are WAY up! Who wouldn’t want their pizza delivered by a self driving car? Everyone thinks it’s hella cool. Kinda makes drive-thrus seem obsolete, doesn’t it? I’m telling you, self driving cars are the wave of the future!
We can’t stop now, we’re just getting started.
Later, at work…
Aw shit, I got the pizza emoji from (555) 638-9901.
That’s hot Indian babe’s number! I memorized her digits, because, well… Okay, I’m in love with her. So what? Only, she doesn’t know it yet. Being a secret admirer sucks, but it’s better than a slap across the face. And unfortunately, I haven’t seen my hot Indian babe since Clementine started delivering last week. It’s been hell. You don’t understand. I’m NOT being dramatic. The hot Indian babe is a GODDESS. Supple dark skin. Long black hair. Deep brown eyes. She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.
And the hot Indian babe’s a vegetarian. At least I think so, since she never orders meat toppings. And well, she’s from India, so I’m assuming… And now that I’m stuck in the kitchen, I’ve been spelling out messages on top of her pies with veggies. Kinda like those tiny candy hearts with cute sayings at Valentine’s Day… Be mine. You’re cute. Hot stuff. But I’m not sure she’s getting my love notes because the words always shrivel up into nothingness in the oven. And tonight’s no exception.
It’s so hard to meet people these days. Dating apps, fleeting messages, and distant Internet connections are all we have sometimes. But tonight, I’m feeling bold. So I’m going to write a message on actual paper and tape it to the inside of her pizza box. Old school. Wait… Cheese grease. Yuck. I’ll just write directly on the box. But by the time her order comes out of the oven, I’ve only got:
Dear 244 Cherry Street:
Would you like to go out with me?
Text me (555) 638-7558
Your Pizza Delivery Specialist
P.S. That’s my orange car
Shit! Only seven minutes until the pizza’s late. I farted around too long trying to write the perfect message.
Hurry! I burn myself on the oven. OUCH! Shove the hot pizza in the box. Slice it. Tent it. Cram the lid shut. Read my note one last time. Good. Attach the receipt. Slide it all into the insulated carrier. Close the velcro flap. Done.
As I run outside to open my car door, I wonder if I should drive.
I can’t. I’m all alone in the kitchen tonight.
What if Clementine crashes into something? Somebody? What if she hits the hot Indian babe? I can’t let that happen!
I know what to do. I’ll use the dash cam to watch remotely.
So, I place the pizza carrier on the custom platform on the driver’s seat. Take a look at this doohickey that I carved out of styrofoam. Got the materials out of the dumpster. Didn’t cost a penny. And Clementine’s seatbelt holds the whole rig in place so the hot pies don’t slide onto the floor and make a mess.
I make sure it’s seated flat. Yup. Ready! Then I fiddle with the dash cam one last time to double check that it’s recording. Red light. It’s on. So, I slam the door shut, straighten her triangle pizza hat, pat her on the roof, and say, “I’m counting on you, Clementine.”
The Self Driving Pizza
Clementine will deliver the pizza on time. I just know it.
Her engine starts and revs. My car lurches backward, switches gears, and peels away. Squealing tires. Burnt rubber. Jesus, she just blew through a stop sign while speeding out of the parking lot. It’s almost like my car knows she’s late.
I open the dashcam app to watch the delivery in real time on my phone. This technology is so cool. The driver’s point of view seems like virtual reality in my hand, except there’s nothing virtual about it. This IS reality. What a great time to be alive!
Clementine makes all the correct turns. Left. Right. Right. Good. But even through the phone, I can tell that she’s going too fast.
Speeding? So what. I get it. I’ve done that plenty of times myself.
But then Clementine takes a bad turn and zooms the wrong way down a one-way street.
She just invented a short cut. She’s so smart. But that’s so dangerous! And shit, it’s also completely illegal. And I have no way to stop her.
Just then, my dashcam app crashes.
WTF! I smack my phone’s screen. The whole thing’s frozen. NO! Not now! I need to see my hot Indian babe’s face when she reads my note. GodDAMmit! I gotta do a cold reboot. This never happens. I fumble with my phone, because I don’t even remember what buttons to press…
When I finally reboot, I have a new text from (555) 638-9901:
I’d love 2.
Text the address.
I’ll C U later.
Holy shit! She texted me a kissy face! And it’s the best kissy face—the kiss-blowing face. This is getting serious. I can’t believe it! Now I finally know her name. Maya… Isn’t that beautiful? Perfect. My heart flutters as I save her contact info. I text back:
522 Main Street
Dinner tomorrow night?
Indian food? 7ish?
I ❤️ that place.
She’ll be so impressed when Clementine escorts us to the restaurant. Who wouldn’t be? OMG, I can’t wait. It’s going to be so magical and perfect and romantic. So I text back:
Pick you up @ 6:30PM
Instantly, she responds:
Can’t wait 2 C U
For those of you keeping track, that’s one HOT date and THREE kissy faces!
My Hot Date
Well, it’s Friday night—DATE night—and, just my luck, it’s raining.
I wonder if I should let Clementine drive.
My first impulse is no, I should take the wheel this time. Better safe than sorry. But a self driving car is so freaking cool, and it’s just rain. She’s done fine in the rain before. What’s the point of owning this awesome technology if I’m not going to use it.
And damn, I really want to impress Maya.
“Let’s do this,” I whisper in the backseat.
Clementine navigates the slippery roads like a pro.
So, I sit back, relax, and load my Romantic Favorites playlist.
Instantly, her windshield wipers sync with the rhythm of the first song.
It’s odd, yet comforting. But I wonder why we need wipers at all. I mean, it’s not like anyone needs to see out the windshield. Everything’s going according to plan, so I decide not to worry about the details.
Soon, we arrive at the hot Indian babe’s house. Clementine beeps twice, and I open the back door from inside. After a few minutes, Maya ducks into the backseat.
I beam with pride as I hand her a single red rose.
She smiles and inhales the fragrance. “How sweet.”
I pat the black leather seat next to me, and Maya slides in. She looks adorable. She smells fantastic. Right now, I’m the luckiest person in the world.
She shuts the door, buckles her seatbelt, and apologizes. “No offense.”
“Oh, none taken. Safety first.” Safety first? Did I just say that? God, I’m such a dork.
The Self Driving Date
… Your pizza is on the way …
Clementine speeds off and soon we’re going forty through the sleepy suburban neighborhood. We careen around a corner and slam into a speed bump. And Maya, who’s much taller than me, bonks her head on the ceiling. Hard.
“Clementine!” I yell from the backseat, “not now!”
“Who?” Maya asks.
“You named your car?”
“Yup, Clementine, because she’s orange like the fruit.”
My car flies through a four-way intersection.
… Say a command …
I shout, “STOP!”
… I’m sorry. I did not understand …
“S-T-O-P,” I spell it out for her. “STOP!”
Maya digs her nails into the leather seat. “What’s wrong with this thing?”
That’s when I realize my car’s got her wires crossed. “I switched shifts so I could have tonight off to be with you, and I forgot to update the Overdrive database.”
“Clementine thinks she’s delivering pizzas tonight.”
Earning Wheels musta kicked in at the same time we got to Maya’s house. That’s why Clementine’s ignoring me. When my car’s in service, her program disregards all voice commands so passengers can’t hijack her. It’s a nifty security feature, but I do feel a little hurt. I thought Clementine new my voice by now. I thought I was special.
We’re speeding down Main Street, pushing seventy now.
“Make it stop,” Maya cries. “Please!”
“Clementine, STOP!” My death grip on the door handle tightens. How the hell do I override conflicting programs? There ought to be an emergency kill switch or secret phrase or something—but NO… I’ve got nothing. Clementine’s on a mission, and I’m just a backseat driver at the mercy of a runaway car.
A red light! I brace myself. We catch a break as Clementine slows to a stop. Immediately, Maya unbuckles her seatbelt to escape. But the door’s locked.
“Oh, my GOD,” my date yells as she frantically wrestles with the door handle, but it won’t budge. “Let me OUT of here!”
It works just like a automatic taximeter. Ca-CHING! After the memory replays in my head, I say, “You have to pay to get out.”
Maya shoots me a look that could kill.
I whip out my wallet and feed a ten dollar bill into the fare collector, then her door pops open.
… Thank you, ride again …
“Screw you and your freaking car!” Maya screams as she jumps out into the pouring rain and swats the taillight with her purse. “Grrr! I’ll walk!” She hustles away in the opposite direction, her heels clacking and splashing on the sidewalk.
The hot Indian babe hates me now.
… Door ajar …
… Door ajar …
… Door ajar …
“All right!” I shout as I slam the door. “Damn!”
Should I go after Maya?
No. I don’t blame her for bailing. For a second, I consider walking away too. But I just can’t. Clementine’s my baby—my responsibility. My car’s confused, and I have to help her. From the backseat, I text Spliff.
The left turn signal starts blinking.
“What’s that?” I ask, “Clementine, what are you doing NOW!?!”
Suddenly, my car runs the light and lunges into the intersection. Peeling tires. Splashing water. Honking horns. We just miss plowing into a minivan. And as soon as we make it through, Clementine pulls a hard U-turn and darts back into the intersection again.
There’s no answer from my roommate, and I growl at my phone, “Come on, bro!”
… I’m sorry. I did not understand …
The accelerator smacks into the floorboard like a ghost driver just slammed his invisible foot against the gas pedal.
My stomach clenches. A sick feeling. Knots. Bile creeps up my throat. Burns. I hug the driver’s seat from behind and scream, “Now what?!?”
The steering wheel jerks hard to the left, and Clementine hops the center double yellow line. OMG! She’s going to run down Maya!
“NOOOooo!” I lunge between the bucket seats and grab the steering wheel. I pull right. I fight. “STOP! Halt! Freeze… God DAMMIT, Clementine, LISTEN to me. I said STOP!”
On target, Clementine locks her steering wheel.
I climb over the hump, and my knee bangs against the money box. Pain shoots up my leg. Then when I land in the driver’s seat, my ass splits the empty pizza platform in two. Immediately, I stomp on the break pedal. “NO, no, no, no, NO!”
We skid across the wet lane and narrowly avoid hitting two oncoming cars.
Well, actually, they avoid hitting us. Instinctively, I squeeze the gearshift knob and try to slam the transmission into park. But it won’t budge.
Clementine jumps the curb and lurches onto the side walk.
So, I yank the emergency break with everything I’ve got.
The whole car stutters. Breaks whine. Gears grind. The smell of hot metal fills the air.
Suddenly, the engine revs and falls off. Revs and falls off. Like a hungry animal. Revs and falls off. And each time, Clementine lurches forward. She’s burning up the brakes. She’s tearing up the sidewalk like a rabid pit bull on a flimsy leash. Revs and falls off and—Charges! Glaring headlights. Angry grill. Hungry tires…
Maya screams in terror as Clementine runs her down.
I feel a heavy thump against the undercarriage. Pure dread. A hard lump forms in my throat. She is hit! I check the rearview mirror. Oh my GOD!
I see a mangled pile on the ground. Blood everywhere. Twisted arms. A broken back. A smashed skull.
… Your pizza has arrived …
And I barf all over the dash.
Finally, Spliff texts back:
I think I’m gonna have to kill my car.
Automatically, the emergency break releases and falls back into place. The steering wheel unlocks and corrects. The accelerator relaxes and rises from the floorboard. Clementine adjusts course and cruises back onto the slick road. We’re back in the right lane. And at five miles under the speed limit, she’s cruising home like a good girl.
I call my roommate.
He answers on the first ring, “Yeah, dude?”
I’m so amped on adrenaline that I’m panting, “Spliff, I need your help. I’m stuck inside my car and something’s wrong with Clementine. Really WRONG! She got her wires crossed or something. I think she’s… She’s… I don’t know, angry. Confused, maybe. She won’t obey my commands. And—and you wouldn’t believe what she DID—“
“Dude, just turn it off.”
“There’s no key. No ignition.”
“You shoulda read the owner’s manual.”
“It’s three goddamned inches thick, Spliff There’s no time! All I have is a remote with a big red panic button…”
Maya’s dead, and Clementine’s cruising along at 30 mph like nothing ever happened.
… Your pizza is on the way …
“Shit, shit! It’s starting again!”
“Whaaaa?” he asks, high as a kite.
“My car killed the hot Indian babe.”
I swallow hard and take a deep breath. “Listen. Clementine’s gone crazy… I need you—” Wait… What do I expect Spliff to do? I mean hell, he’s high. I’m stone-cold sober, and I can’t do anything. How do I stop an out of control car? Then I get an idea, “Spliff! You there, Spliff?”
“I’m coming home.”
“I need you to get the Olds.”
“Meet me out front. I wanna play a game of chicken. You down?”
He laughs—one big, long exhaling laugh followed by a cough. “Duuude, I’m so wrecked.”
“Not yet, Spliff. Not yet.”
Clementine takes a curve too fast. Her tires squeal then hydroplane, but she makes an easy adjustment and recovers quickly. Then I notice the ghost accelerator pressing toward the floor again. Steadily. Slowly. I check the dash and the speedometer creeps past forty.
So, I say, “I’d like to drive now, Clementine.”
… I cannot disengage at this time …
I’m not surprised. Come to think of it, I’ve never driven this car. Hell, this is my first time in the driver’s seat. I always avoided sitting here because it made me feel so weird. Inferior. Obsolete. What am I supposed to do behind the wheel while she drives? Pick my nose? Read? Sleep? Wave to people like an idiot? Fart around on my phone? Play with myself? What? I was always content to take the backseat and let Clementine do all the work. Now I’m paying the price for never really getting to know her.
A Self Driving Game of Chicken
I spot the old-fashioned twin headlights of the Oldsmobile 442 in the distance. I know it’s the hooptie because the left side’s completely dark, and on the right, two misdirected headlamps cross like beaming eyes. Spliff’s in position. He’s ready to play.
A rush of raw nervous energy surges through me. My breathing quickens. My jaw clenches. Beads of sweat break out on my forehead. This is it! I need to tell him I’m ready. I fumble with my phone and drop it. Scrambling, I reach and feel around the floor. Did it tumble under the seat? I can’t FIND it! I’m running out of time, and I need to signal Spliff.
I yank on one of the levers sticking out of the steering column, and blue wiper fluid squirts across the windshield.
Shit. Wrong one.
I twist the end of the same lever, and wipers whip back and forth at full speed.
Damn. Wrong again.
Then Clementine signals Spliff on her own by flashing her high beams twice. She wants to play.
Oh, my god! This car has a mind of her own. Trembling, I grip the steering wheel in vain. My hands slide down to the ten and two position. Soon I’m squeezing so hard that my knuckles turn white. Before I know it, I’m hyperventilating. I try to take a deep breath—to calm myself, but my chest is too tight.
My old beater winks back at me—challenge accepted!
I release my death grip on the wheel to buckle my seatbelt, and tell my car, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.”
In the distance, Spliff revs the engine, pops the clutch, and peals out. The Olds spits out a black cloud of burnt oil and jumps into our lane.
He might be a stoner, but that man can drive.
We’re pushing past fifty now.
I wonder how fast the hooptie’s going.
I stomp the gas and our speedometer jumps to sixty.
Clementine’s okay with that.
She wants to go faster.
Spliff goes faster too.
He’s no coward.
Rain beats down hard—a downpour.
Wipers whip a frantic rhythm.
Headlights close in fast.
He’s coming right for us!
Clementine stays on course.
Neither car chickens out—
Breaking glass. Twisting metal. Hissing steam. Leaking fluids.
When I come to, I’m hunched over and gushing blood all over the deflated airbag. I’ve got a broken nose. My chest aches where the seatbelt grabbed me. I’m bruised. My kneecaps throb from hitting the dashboard. They’re cracked. My head pounds worse than anything I’ve ever felt before. I have a concussion. I try to lean back, but my skull weighs a ton. That’s whiplash.
I’m a wreck, but I’ll live.
Clementine took the worst of it. She’s totaled. Shattered glass is scattered everywhere. Her crumpled hood looks like a grotesque accordion. Her smashed radiator wheezes sweet steam. And her cracked engine block bleeds synthetic oil.
Clementine is dying.
The Olds escaped with minor cosmetic damage. It’s still drivable. Finally, Spliff opens the driver’s side and emerges like a victorious race car driver who just won the Grand Prix.
He pumps his fists in the air triumphantly. “The hooptie wins!”
“And…” I manage a thumbs up as I whimper, “Clementine lost.”
“It’s over, dude.” He pokes his head through the gaping hole in the windshield and studies the interior critically. “So never say this thing’s name again.”