The mystery of the self-driving car - the story I'm scared to tell
Prior to publishing my ramblings on DriveTribe, I made people’s ears ache with music. College in particular was a constant challenge. There I was, a classical pianist amongst death metal bands, thumbing the keys with sledgehammer force just to be heard above the thrashing racket of overdriven guitars.
Despite such noise never standing a chance at becoming music, we were still required to attend practice sessions at a nearby recording and rehearsal studio. While visits to this place often resulted in a migraine, had I not needed to go there, I would never have seen the unbelievable sight that’s resulted in me telling this story.
The studios sat at the bottom of a moderately steep hill adjacent to a canal. Along the same stretch of road, on the hilly section, was a small hardware facility and car park for its customers. It wasn’t uncommon to see people coming and going as I made my way from college to the studios - but one day, I saw something so baffling, that it challenged the boundaries of reality.
As I was making my way passed, I heard the traditional clattering of a diesel engine coming to life on the car park. After hearing the driver rev the nuts off it before reversing up the hill and onto the road, the noise suddenly evaporated as the engine died. I immediately looked over to see the Vauxhall Vectra sitting stationary. I expected to see someone in the cabin cursing at how their car had broken down - but instead, where normally you’d find a driver, there was nobody.
I stood still, watching with intrigue. Reason told me that the driver would be leaning over, trying to reach something from the other side of the car. But after waiting, staring for a good while, no driver appeared. It was time to surrender to my curiosity and approach.
I proceeded towards the car, fully expecting to eventually zone in on a pair of eyes angrily staring back at me through the glass. One step after the other - with each the probability of discovering an occupant becoming stronger. The thought even crossed my mind that I would find a dwarf in the driver’s seat, because that would be infinitely more likely than the scenario that was panning out. But after reaching the car, I peered in, and found nobody.
There was simply no way in which somebody could’ve gotten out of the car and sprinted out of sight in the time between the engine dying and me looking. It revved so loudly as it pulled off the carpark, that the silence that came when it stopped resulted in me turning my head instantaneously. No one got out. Not to mention that if they did need to go back to where they had just come from, they would’ve pulled back into the car park, rather than leaving their car on a hill in the middle of a road.
I waited, just in case the mystery would resolve. The doors were open and the keys were in the ignition. Anybody could’ve driven off in it, and any owner would look at an acne-riddled 16 year old as a certain thief. At this thought, I continued on my way, constantly looking back to see if anyone was going to walk out to it.
I arrived at the studios to be greeted by my friends who were waiting outside, and had seen me approach the car. After telling them, they found themselves unable to resist the urge to go and have a look. I followed them back to the scene of the mystery.
Amusing as they all found it, we eventually decided it would be a good idea to go into the hardware store to see if anyone owned it. A couple of people stayed out by the car, and a friend and I went inside.
The store in question was the sort that didn’t allow customers to proceed beyond the counter. You went in, asked for what you wanted, and somebody else fetched it for you. As we opened the door, we found no customers; just an old lady sitting behind the counter. Rather than the sweet and innocent type that makes a good stew however, she was the sort with cigarette stained fingers that looked upon the world with eyes that honed in on any negative stereotype your appearance may radiate. At the sight of two scruffily dressed teenagers, she greeted us with a short, stern, and dismissive “what do you want?”.
Never one to be intimidated by such a tone, I answered: “does anyone at this store own a silver Vauxhall Vectra?”. “DAVE”, she yelled to the back of the store, “DO YOU OWN A SILVER VAUXHALL VECTRA?!”. “NOPE”, was the answer shouted back. “Have you had any customers come and go in the past 10 or 15 minutes?” I asked. “No”, she said, “no one’s been in for an hour”. My friend and I locked gazes, realising we were no closer to solving this mystery. This resulted in the lady asking us why we had come in asking such seemingly random questions. We owed her an explanation - which went well.
After informing her of what had happened, we were greeted by the reassuring sound of her laughter - accompanied by the cackle of phlegm tumbling in the back of her throat. The peace didn’t last long however, as she was quick to declare that I was quite obviously a drug addict - even having the cheek to claim that she could smell cannabis on me. I then told her that the only thing she could smell was the contents of her own incontinence pants, and the embalming fluid she’d bathed in before coming into work - which she loved me for (!) We left hastily.
As we walked out, the car was still parked right in the middle of the road, handbrake on, keys in ignition, doors open. Merely one car sat on the hardware store’s carpark - which presumably belonged to “DAVE”. We laughed and scratched our heads where they’d never itched before, and carried on to a day of having my eardrums impaled by thrash metal.
Five hours later, I left the recording studio. Before I’d exited their door, I’d already turned my head in the direction of where the car was to check to see if it had moved. But incredibly, it was still there, parked in the middle of the road.
To this day, I cannot fathom anything resembling a reasonable explanation as to how this happened. On the face of it, it appears the car started itself up, put itself into gear, reversed itself off a carpark, up a hill, onto a road, put its own handbrake on, and then turned itself off. Had someone got out of it, I would’ve seen them - and I’m pretty sure even the most absent-minded individual wouldn’t have left an unlocked car in the middle of a road with the keys in the ignition.
It’s a story akin to those you hear from people who claim to have been staring at a star in the night’s sky, only to see it zoom off into the vastness of space; you sit drowning in your own incredulity, chanting to yourself “no fucker’s ever gonna believe this!”.
If anybody thinks they can explain how this happened, I’d be genuinely fascinated to hear what you have to say. I know that’s an invitation for a stream of wild sarcasm, but for 8 years now, it has tormented me every time it’s passed through my mind.