Daddy took the cover off the old car. They stood in the garage.
The first thing Davison and Lorelei noticed about the car was that it had a steering wheel.
“Wow, you drive that yourself?”
“Uh huh,” said Daddy.
“Are we going to drive it?”
“We have to,” said Daddy.
He opened the door and got in.
“It hasn’t run in a long time,” he said. He pulled out a metal and plastic key and put it into a slot next to the steering wheel. He turned the key and the engine turned on. It was loud.
Daddy pulled the car out of the garage. The car was bright yellow and low to the ground and kind of mean looking. Davison and Lorelei stood back, uncomfortable at the sight of the big, heavy car moving under the control of their father’s foot.
“How are you moving it?” Davison asked.
Daddy pointed at his feet.
“There’s a ‘go’ pedal and a ‘stop’ pedal. And you have to put it in gear with this.”
He pointed at a lever that came off the steering wheel.
“Come on, get in,” said Daddy.
Davison and Lorelei did as they were told. They climbed into the back seat, neither of them brave enough to take the front.
They pulled out of the driveway and down the road.
Daddy went kind of fast, almost as fast as the Ubers and Lyfts that the kids were used to riding in.
“Slow down, Daddy,” cried Lorelei.
“Don’t worry,” said Daddy. “I know what I’m doing. And the power will come back on. And mom will have dinner ready when we get back.”
Mommy was grilling some hamburgers over the fire grill. She’d had to burn wood and light a fire herself to cook the meat. Both Davison and Lorelei liked hamburgers and waffle fries and salad. They were looking forward to dinner.
“Did you used to drive this car?” Davison asked. Neither he nor his sister had ever seen it before. They weren’t allowed in the garage, and they’d never had much reason to explore it anyway. If they wanted to go somewhere, they used their Oculus Rifts.
“Your uncle used to,” said Daddy. “He spent years restoring this car. He took very good care of it, which is why it still runs.” He had to yell over the noise of the engine and the wind from the open windows. The old car wasn’t nearly as quiet as the Ubers and Lyfts.
“How old is it?” Davison asked.
“Almost one hundred years old,” said Daddy. Both the kids saw he had tears in his eyes.
“This is just how people used to live,” he told them. “They had to make their own food and drive their own cars and everything.”
“That sounds hard,” said Davison.
“It was, in some ways,” said Daddy. “But when the power went out, they didn’t lose their ability to go places or to make food. They just did it themselves.”
There were no Ubers of Lyfts on the road. All automatic cars were electric, and there wasn’t any electricity. There hadn’t been for almost a week, and the electric cars had all run out their batteries in the first few days. They still had back-up generators that kept the cars charged, but you were only allowed to get rides for emergencies or for work, and you had to fill out forms on your phone to sign up for one. Since it was the weekend, the road was empty.
“Where are we going?” Lorelei asked.
“Wait and see,” said Daddy.
They drove down the road. The sun was setting.
Davison and Lorelei watched the houses on the road fly by. They watched the old telephone lines and the trees and the fences.
Soon, their Daddy turned down another road, and then another one, and then he turned onto a dirt road.
Finally, he came to a stop on the dirt road, after they were far into the woods.
He turned and smiled at Davison and Lorelei.
“All right,” he said. “Who wants to drive first?”
Davison and Lorelei looked at each other. Neither of them really wanted to. They drove cars in their VR games all the time.
“Come on,” said Daddy. “This’ll be a great way to kill the time while your mom makes dinner. And maybe when we get back, the power will be on.”
Davison reluctantly got out. Daddy stepped out of the driver’s seat and Davison got in. The seat was warm from Daddy sitting in it. The car smelled very old.
“Here’s what you do,” said Daddy. He got back in on the passenger side and helped Davison adjust the seat and the pedals so he could reach them.
“What do I do?” said Davison.
“Put your foot on the brake,” said Daddy. “That’s the wider one on the left.”
Davison did so. He was quite nervous.
“K,” said Daddy. “Now put it in drive.”
“Pull the lever on the right,” said Daddy, tapping the knob at the end of the thin, metal bar sticking out of the steering wheel. “Until the little arrow is pointing to the ‘D’”
Davison did so. He felt the car start to move.
“Whoop,” said Daddy. “Foot on the brake, foot on the brake.”
Davison hit the brake and the car stopped hard.
“That’s all right,” said Daddy. “Everyone used to have to do this. Every kid learned to drive when they were 16. Your Grampy and I did this on this same road when I was your age.”
“But I’m not 16,” said Davison. “I’m not even 13.”
“Neither was I,” said Daddy.
“Are we going to get in trouble?” Lorelei asked. She was still in the back, clutching her seatbelt.
“No,” said Daddy. “The police won’t come out here. Now, Davison, gently take your foot off the brake…”
Davison did so. The car began to roll forward. Davison’s hands gripped the steering wheel hard. The rocks and dirt crunched under the wheels.
“Ok, good,” said Daddy. “Now, hit the gas, but not too much.”
Slowly, shakily, Davison took his foot off the brake pedal and lightly tapped the gas. The car’s loud engine revved and got louder for a second, and the car sped up.
“Watch your speedometer,” said Daddy, pointing to the arrow and dial above the steering wheel behind the clear plastic. “Don’t go above 25. We’ll stick with 25 to start off with.”
“I know what a speedometer is,” said Davison. “They have those in Ubers.”
“I know,” said Daddy. “But just keep it at 25 for now.”
They rolled down the road. Davison found the experience pleasurable. Daddy sat back in his seat and smiled at them. He looked happy.
Davison drove down the road. He felt very grown up.
“This is just like a video game,” he said.
“Yeah,” said Daddy. “But it isn’t. This is real life.”
Lorelei got comfortable once she saw that Davison wasn’t going to put them into a ditch or a tree. She leaned forward between Davison and Daddy, looking at the way Davison’s feet touched the gas and then touched the brake, the gas and then the brake.
“When’s my turn?” she asked.
“In a little bit,” said Daddy. “We’ll go to the end of the road, and then you can drive back.”
Davison drove them over rises and dips in the dirt road. They drove through meadows and woods and past ponds and fields. The car moved slow but it was nice to actually see everything around them instead of blowing past it like usual.
Then, up ahead, they saw a rusted old sign attached to a metal barricade. “Dead End”, it read. The road led right up to it, turning to grass and weeds just before it ended.
Davison stopped the car slowly and carefully. He was surprised at how easy it was to get comfortable with driving.
“K,” said Daddy. “Now put it in park. On the ‘P’”
Davison took ahold of the lever again and pulled it up. He felt the car’s wheels hold them solid again. He took his foot off the brake and the car stayed still. His fingers ached from holding the steering wheel too hard and he flexed them.
“Excellent job,” said Daddy. “Now your turn, Lorelei.”
Davison got out and so did Daddy and Lorelei.
“I’m going to have to work the pedals,” said Daddy to Lorelei. “Because your legs aren’t long enough to reach them. But you can sit on my lap and steer.”
Daddy got in and adjusted the seat again. Then he lifted Lorelei into his lap. Davison got back in, this time in the front seat on the passenger side.
Lorelei took ahold of the steering wheel and turned it twice, once all the way to the right and then all the way to the left.
“Hold up there,” said Daddy. He took the steering wheel and straightened it out.
“K, I’m gonna go now,” said Daddy. “Make sure we go straight ahead. We can’t get stuck out here. No one can come help us.”
Lorelei held the steering wheel stock straight. Her hands didn’t move.
The car began to roll forward. Lorelei continued to hold the steering wheel straight.
They started to coast a wee bit too much to the right.
Daddy grabbed the steering wheel over Lorelei’s hands and corrected it.
“Straight down the road now,” he said. “You’re doing great.”
Lorelei found this exhilarating. When they’d pulled out of the driveway she had been terrifically nervous at how fast they were going. Now she wanted to go fast.
They rode all the way back to where they came in, past the meadows and woods and fields and ponds.
Daddy hit the brake.
“Well done, Lorelei,” he said. “I think you two had a great introduction today.”
“Too bad we’ll never need to learn this,” said Davison.
“You never know,” said Daddy.
Lorelei got out and got back in the back seat. She stuck her head between the two front seats as Daddy put the car back in drive.
“You can go fast,” she said.
“Ok,” he said.
They felt the engine roar and the car surge forward and they held on and watched the world go by.
They raced down the road toward home.