Sic Transit

By Bill Mosley

When Lou Borenstein walked out of the door of his apartment building, he saw his car flying away. It soared over the building across the street and receded into the sky.

“Hey! My car!” Borenstein screeched, the cigarette dropping from his mouth. He ran across the street toward the disappearing car but soon realized the futility. The car was moving much faster than him, and there were buildings in the way.

He saw above the car the white helicopter with red markings, the latter too distant to make out clearly but which he knew were the stars and bars of the Douglass Commonwealth flag. It carried his car via a steel cable connected to a powerful magnet. Parking enforcement, Borensten grumped, or, as his friends with cars liked to call it, the Sky Nazis.

“Shit!” Borenstein screamed, and since that produced no effect, he repeated the epithet six times as a woman and her little son walking by gave him a wide berth.

His Cadillac. His dear old 2014 Cadillac DeVille, nearly two decades old, one of the last gasoline-powered cars on the street, was disappearing into the maw of the Washington impoundment system. A car made long before anyone had heard of AOC when the socialists were a tiny sect that nobody took seriously. And he’d just filled the tank at $30 a gallon, courtesy of a tank truck that drove up from Virginia from the last gasoline-supplying company on the East Coast. That was over $500 of gas down the drain.

He walked over to the space where it had been parked, a prominent sign above it reading ELECTRIC VEHICLES ONLY and beside it a charging station. Sure, I wasn’t supposed to park there, Borenstein fumed to himself, but where do I park? The whole block is either for electrics only or no parking altogether. I hadn’t gotten that many tickets. Two? Three? Okay, maybe six or seven. I was going to pay them.

Now what do I do? he wondered. He could go to the impound lot, pay his fines and get his car back. How much did he owe? He figured in his head. Probably four figures, and I ain’t got it.

The more pressing problem was his thirst. He was scheduled to meet his fellow Oldboys at Maria’s bar for happy hour in minutes and had no way to get there.

Well, that wasn’t exactly true. He could hail a city taxi but had never downloaded the app. That municipal service had run Uber out of business, not that he’d ever used that either. Until a few years ago, it was possible to drive a car around the city without being hassled by the parking cops. He could ride Metrorail, but it was three blocks to the nearest station.

Well, it looks like walking a mile or no booze, he grumbled quietly. Then he saw a bus whiz down 16th Street at the end of his block. In fact, several buses had rolled by since he saw his car flying away.

Hmm, take the bus? Borenstein mused. He shook his head. All those people packed like sardines. Probably filthy. I don’t know where they go, anyway.

He turned as if to return to his apartment but then smacked his lips. He could practically taste one of Maria’s margaritas. He reluctantly shuffled toward the bus stop, lighting a cigarette on the way, which drew an angry glare from a woman walking past. Yeah, everybody hates smokers today, he grouched silently.

The bus stop was at the corner. Now, “how do I ride this thing?” he wondered. It had been 20 years since he’d ridden a bus, and he’d vowed never to do that again. The riffraff, the trash, the smell, having to stand and hold the bar while being shaken like a martini. And how much does it cost these days?

He didn’t have much time to wonder, for, in barely a minute, a bus pulled up — taking him by surprise; he didn’t hear it coming. Damn electric motors, he griped. You could hear the old buses a soccer field away.

He boarded the bus, not sure what to do next. He figured he should ask the driver, but there wasn’t one. Damn, one of those driverless buses. He’d read they were developing them but didn’t know they were on the street already.

He hesitated at the front of the bus until a soft voice said, “Sir, can I help you?

Who said that? He looked around and soon saw the voice coming from a speaker above him. Great, an invisible robot.

He considered hopping off the bus, but the thought of tequila emboldened him. “Hey, R2,” he snapped, “I need to get to 13th and Penn.”

“First, sir, you’ll have to put out your cigarette,” the faceless voice said.

“Huh? Oh, yeah,” he said. It can see, too? Probably a hidden camera somewhere. He was about to fling it out the door when the voice said, “Please don’t litter, sir,” and a little ashtray pooped out of the dashboard, or more accurately, where a dashboard used to be. Borenstein got the idea and stubbed it out there.

The voice then said, “To reach 13th and Pennsylvania, you can take this bus to 16th and H and then transfer to the 33, which will take you to your destination,” it said in a businesslike manner.

“Oh, uh, thanks,” said Borenstein. “And what’s the fare?’

The voice didn’t respond.

“How much do I pay?” Borenstein said more loudly, becoming irritated.

“There is no cost,” the voice finally answered. “Transit in DC is free.”

“Oh, uh, okay,” Borenstein said in surprise. “Uh, thanks.” He immediately realized he’d thanked a nonentity, a hidden microchip somewhere, and cursed as he moved into the interior of the bus.

About half the seats were taken, and he dropped into the nearest empty one. He looked about him. The riders were a cross-section of the city — various races, various ages, some looking quite prosperous. Hmm, I remember when all the riders looked like they needed a shower and a hot meal, Borenstein thought. I wonder how much of my tax money goes for this? he wondered. Probably as much as it costs to maintain that Sky Nazi helicopter fleet. But not a cent to provide decent parking.

And the bus was clean. Must be a new one, he thought. No gum on the seas, no spilled soda on the floor, no bottles of soda rolling up and down the aisle. As the computer voice called out each stop in soothing tones, he began to relax and enjoy the ride. That is, until his mind wandered back to his kidnapped Cadillac. Got to figure out how to get it back, he thought. After a couple of margaritas …

Then the voice called out “16th and H,” and the same words flashed on the electronic monitor at the front. He quickly rose and hustled out the back door. Now, what’s that other bus I’m supposed to catch? Right, 33. And where is…. He glanced at the electronic sign affixed to the stop and realized he was already there.

Now I have to wait for another damn bus, Borenstein griped silently as electric cars glided by, their only noise being the displacement of air in a whoosh. Most of them were taxis. There were even more bicycles and hoverboards passing in their own lanes. I’m already late for happy hour, he thought. Will probably have to wait here for …

Just then, he looked up and saw a bus pulling up almost silently. The number 33 flashed above the windshield.

Borenstein boarded, and the bus took off as he sat down. He looked out the window to track the bus’s progress, and in a few minutes, it was pulling up to a stop next to Maria’s.

He hopped off and walked toward the bar. If I’d driven, I’d be circling the block looking for parking, he thought.

He walked into the dark bar where he saw Damian Brooks and Carlton Vandergraft, his fellow members of the Oldboys Club, sitting in their favorite booth.

“Hey, it’s Lou,” Vandergraft called out. “And right on time. We just got the pitcher.”

“How’s it going?” Brooks asked, pouring Borenstein a margarita.

“Terrible,” grouched Borenstein. “My Cadillac got sky-towed. I had to ride the bus.”

“Poor fellow,” Vandergraft said. “Must have been a traumatic experience.”

“Yeah, riding that bus was no fun,” Borenstein said, realizing he said that less than convincingly.

“You have an old gas Cadillac, right?” Brooks said.

“Had one,” Borenstein said glumly.

“I’d love to have a gas car, but fuel prices are insane,” Brooks said. “Driving my electric is hard enough with the cost of parking.”

“I had to give up owning a car altogether,” Vandergraft said sourly, staring into his glass. “No place to keep it in the city. I use taxis and transit. They’re a lot cheaper, but . . .” He didn’t seem to know how to finish that sentence.

“But they’re the kind of transportation that AOC and her totalitarian state have foisted upon us!” Brooks, sensing an opening, chimed in. “When everyone drove their own car, we didn’t need to depend on anyone else to get around.”

Borenstein savored the iciness of the margarita and said, “With these buses, no one drives at all. They’re operated by robots.”

“Yeah, what about the poor drivers?” Brooks said. “All out of work. They all have to live on their universal incomes, like us, or get public works jobs.”

“There’s a guy in my building who used to be a driver,” Vandergraft said. “Now he’s a sculptor. All his statues are scrap welded together from old buses. He just had a museum show.”

“See what idleness is driving people to?” Brooks snarled. “Making statues out of junk instead of being useful.” He then held up his glass. “Well, now that we’re all together, how about our chant?”

‘To us, the Oldboys!” they intoned in unison. “May the future belong to us! And forever after!’”

“Lou, you’ve given us a new cause to take up,” Brooks grinned. “Bring back cars. And gasoline! Enough of this commie transportation.”

“Yeah, sure,” Borenstein muttered, sipping his margarita as outside, another bus whirred past. He thought wistfully about his Cadillac until the balm of the alcohol worked its calming magic.






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