Tom blew his car horn as a squat, cube-shaped car switched lanes in front of him. “Self-driving HOOEY!” he muttered.
“You have self-driving cars?” said Kaylen. “We are just now getting that sort of technology in America. That is so cool!”
“Cool?” repeated Tom. “Yes, if that’s what you want to call it. Take a look, though!” Tom pointed to the car that had just cut in front of him.
The car had four wheels but otherwise looked alien to Kaylen’s eyes, unlike any automobile she had ever seen. It was a box-shaped car with vertical windows on all sides, akin to a gondola, and the wheels were small and appeared to be able to go in any direction, similar to the wheels of a dolly. Despite this modern design, the car seemed to trundle along in a very uncertain fashion. It moved a foot into Tom’s lane and then stopped and readjusted. On the top of the car was a reflective orb suspended like a bell from a small frame, and above this belfry was an antenna that pointed upward. The car continued moving very cautiously forward, stopping abruptly as a sheet of paper blew across the roadway.
Tom honked again. “These self-driving cars are so flighty. It’s amazing that they move at all. They are so sensitive to interruptions, that they can barely move above 5 miles per hour.”
“Well, new technology always has hiccups when it’s first introduced,” noted Kaylen.
“Spoken like someone who has witnessed the unveiling of many new technologies!” said Tom brightly. “You should have seen the first prototype of these cars. They were the opposite of now. They were forever bursting with energy, so they would routinely be bumping into cars in front of them. Just a sort of persistent tap in the rear as we were moving forward in stop-and-go traffic. Very annoying. So the manufacturer of the car reprogrammed them to be safer. Now, the cars of petrified of moving at all!”
Kaylen listened to all this, absorbing the sight of the timid car. It completed its lane change and seemed to settle down somewhat, having for the moment reached an equilibrium. “I’m sure they will work out the glitches before too long.”
Tom shrugged. “Maybe. Everyone is chattering about innovation, but innovation here always seem to hit some snags.”
“The point of purgatory,” continued Tom, “As you may have read in certain religious texts, is purification, or expiation. It’s not the fire of hell—it’s the fire of purification. And what better way to expiate and make someone suffer…than by making them sit in traffic.” Tom said this last part as his cab slowed to a complete stop. To the right, a giant billboard displayed a map of the traffic circles, with each circle colored brightly in either yellow or red colors. As Kaylen watched the billboard, the outer circle’s color turned from yellow to red.
“Hmm. Want to get a bite to eat?” said Tom. “There’s a pub not far from here that has exquisite Caribbean-inspired street tacos.”
Kaylen looked at the tightly interlocked cars all around them. “But, how will we get there?”
“Come with me!” said Tom, putting his car in park and opening his door to get out. “This jam will take at least an hour to sort out. We have the time.”
To be continued…