[Keep Trucking - flash story]
“I can’t believe it! The feds are withdrawing funding for broadening I-85.” Betty shifted her tablet to a better reading position. “Citing budgets issues and projected reduced truck volume, the House passed a bill to freeze all new interstate construction for two years. Funds not already committed will be diverted to increase maintenance on existing roads and to underwrite the overextended healthcare marketplace.”
She continued, “In response, North Carolina Department of Transportation has shelved plans to complete I-485 yet again. – Charlotte can’t win for losing.”
“At least they didn’t stop underwriting the airport upgrade.” Harlan responded as he finished merging onto Charlotte’s major artery.
“Only because we threaten them every time they do.” Betty stared out of the car as they passed a flatbed truck loaded with source modules. “Have to admit they’re right. I’m seeing fewer trucks on the roads.”
“Remember when we were kids and we would try and get trucks to blow their air horns?” Harlan teased his wife of forty years.
She took up the challenge. Since they hit sixty last year, they started a game of remember when. Remember your first color television, remember when you needed to soak pans overnight, and remember Disneyland before Hurricane Hermine hit?
“Then truckers slept in their cabs.”
Harlan nodded, not taking his eyes off the road. “But then came those caps to cut down on draft.”
“I loved looking at the tops trying to figure out if they were living quarters or hollow shells. The companies sometimes put fake windows on the shells, so you couldn’t always tell until you were right behind them.” Betty’s head craned. “There’s an old style now, and it is … cabin space. The truck even has the underhang thing-a-bob.”
“It’s called a side skirt, hon, though I suppose the word is going to leave the vocabulary as quickly as it was added. I can even remember when they started putting mud guards on the trucks.”
His wife laughed. “Yes, follow at your own risk. Stones were thrown back all the time. I lost a windshield following one in ’84. And now every dump truck and hauler has that net thing to cover so nothing flies out of the load, as well as the mud flaps protecting tailgating idiots like me from road debris.”
Harlan signaled as he moved into the middle lane to let other cars merge. “Debris is way down. Cars don’t drop as much stuff, less litter, and I don’t think I have seen truck rubber in a couple of years.”
“In the sixties, there was so much, my older siblings made sandals out of them. They were such hippies.”
“If you remember the sixties, you didn’t live through it.” Harlan quoted the ancient meme.
“Drugs, free love, and bra burning, what a legacy. I think we did much better as teenagers.” Betty said primly.
Loving his wife sarcasm, he responded in kind. “Because our gift of disco to prosperity outweighs getting man to the moon.”
“The disco beat still throbs today, shall I prove it?”
Harlan slapped her hand has she reached toward the console. It was set to his voice at the moment, though with her in the driver’s seat the car switches vocal controls to her voice as it adjusted the seat for her height and weight. “Nope, I’m good just listening to the woman who rocked low-riding bell bottoms.”
A few moments passed in companionship silence before Betty flipped over her tablet and finished going through the morning news. She had the speaker directed for personal acoustic transmission, so Harlan only heard a slight murmur from stray sound waves.
He merged onto Route 77 and stated “Exit 82, confirm 82.” The car connected to the DOT-Fi and took over driving. Harlan clasped and unclasped his hands a couple times. Arthritis made driving long distances difficult, but seeing the grandchildren was worth a little pain.
“So are you going to miss them?” Betty asked.
Harlan turned his head to look at his wife. “Who?”
“Well, they do more damage to the roads than normal cars, so we’ll have less potholes.”
“All the changes and testing on new formulas on the road have paid off too.” Betty commented. “I remember my parents had us do a reunion in ’76 to celebrate the bicentennial. Potholes abounded.”
“On the other hand, I don’t think we will be seeing the drop off the politicians think we are going to get as we go to a Source-and-Replicator manufacturing base.”
“Really? Why?” Betty still was surprised when her husband came up with opinions she hadn’t heard.
“The Replicators are a great technology - pizza has never been better, getting your car repaired and not waiting a week to get a part in is a dream come true. But most of the transport over the Interstates has been raw materials, and source modules are raw materials.” Harlan reached for his wife’s hand. One of the benefits of technology was being able to hold her hand on long car trips. “What we are going to see is a lot less of the small trucks darting around town taking parts here and there. Source modules store better and longer, and businesses are just flipping over their storage space for the new model.”
“I think the local book store has done away with storage all together. It got in two B&N Replicators and that new eBook browsing station last week; now they are knocking out the back wall that used to store all the magazines are setting up two small rooms. They already have several reading clubs and non-profit groups asking to set up regular meetings.”
Light beeping gave the ten minute warning. Harlan tapped the console. “Hadn’t heard about that. … They are getting rid of all the magazines? I thought print wasn’t dead … oh, right, magazines are prefect for Replicators. Need the latest Hunting magazine? Just tap the screen and wait five minutes.”
“We live in amazing times.” Betty concluded.
“I’m just glad I don’t have to work in amazing times. Manufacturing is going to die as Replicators take over that slot like electricity killed the wick trimming business. That is going to leave food preparation and retail sales at the low end of the spectrum, and then a huge leap to educated, complicated jobs working the knowledge industry. With nothing in between. Physically skilled jobs outside of sports is going to go away. Maybe some construction until we figure out a Replicator to kick out prefab rooms.”
Betty nodded sadly seeing a glimpse in the future for her grandchildren, trying to find something to challenge them and give them purpose. Welfare is going to have to increase as there just won’t be the jobs; humans had become too efficient at streamlining what they need to survive. Her retirement was going to be relaxing, but she wasn’t certain if Magnolia, Sawyer and Parker would ever understand the difference between work years and retirement years.
She let go of her husband’s hand and he took back control of the car to maneuver the turns from the exit to their daughter’s house. At the traffic light, Harlan slipped behind another flatbed delivering source modules, these were bright orange and marked with the Home Depot logo. She speculated if they destined for the personal Replications to make stuff like screws, or if they would be used for the main store’s inventory of larger items, table-saws and hammers.
As Harlan made the snaky turns into the mountains, Betty wondered how long it would take before the overcrowded cities start regulating weight limits or volume limits on personal Replicators; the throw-away society already filled most existing dumps. Being able to easily redecorate a house each major holiday could fill a dump with Halloween and Christmas paraphernalia in no time flat.
But, she remaindered herself, people used to scream about litter, and then about ocean dumping. Humans are clever. Something will be figured out. But not by her, not today, she thought as the car pulled to a stop. Opening the door to three screaming, welcoming, jumping grandchildren, Betty thought, today was the day to keep trucking through her life and enjoy both where she has been and where she was going.
(words 1,374 - first published 9/19/2013)