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  • Donald J. Bingle, Writer on Demand

Medicines Aren't The Only Things That Interact

I don't drive long-distance much anymore. Days are too precious and fuel too expensive to drive to Florida or Colorado, when I can just fly there. But every so often, I'll head off to a convention or a funeral five or six hours away and experience the limited joys of the open interstate. The last couple of times I've driven for that length of time, I developed a theory and I want to test it on you, gentle readers. This theory involves two inventions that affect cars and trucks. The first is cruise control. Yeah, I know. It's been around a long time. And my wife will never let me forget that I suggested she didn't need it for her Prius. (The thing about keeping a car for an average of 12 years is that any bad accessory decisions tend to linger ... but I can still play tapes in my car!) Cruise control lets you keep your speed at a relative constant at (or, let's be honest, a few mph above) the posted limit without having to constantly watch the speedometer and adjust and keep your foot pressing on the acclerator, unable to shift for anything less important than braking. No slowing as you go up grade, no speeding up when you go downhill. The second device is the electronic tracking device that records not only where a vehicle is, but various statistics about its history (top speed, average speed, hard braking, etc.). While long-haul trucking companies were early adopters, insurance companies are currently pushing these devices as a way to save money on your car insurance (assuming of course, you don't speed, drag race, stop and start suddenly, or pull more G-forces on a curve than the average roller-coaster). At this point, pretty much anybody with a fleet with wheels has these things (fleets with wings have orange-colored "black boxes"), and so do a fair number of average Janes and Joes. On the last long-distance highway trip I made, during one of my many long waits (in only moderate traffic) for a jam of vehicles to break up, I realized that these two devices had combined to make my highway travel a living hell. That's because when one big rig finally decides to take his turn at the head of the convoy by passing the big rig in front of him, or some yahoo decides to stop drafting off the car or truck inches from his bumper (cause risking death in the event of a sudden stop is a good trade-off for a bit better mileage) and move ahead, the act of passing seems to take forever. The passing vehicle swerves over to the left lane at 73.2 miles per hour to pass the slower vehicle doing 73.1 miles per hour. Now, of course, this simply could be the case of an idiot driver or an idiot driver with only one device, probably cruise control, being too lazy to use his foot to increase speed for an efficient pass (cause cruising in someone's blind spot for eternity is not really such a good idea). But, I would contend in some cases, perhaps most often with fleet vehicles, the driver knows it's a slow pass and that he could/should speed up to make it more efficient, but he doesn't want to bump his top speed, or edge up his average speed, and thus get called on it by his boss, his fleet manager, or the insurance company. Two rational, clever devices interact in such a way that trying to pass on an interstate highway has turned into a nightmare. Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts. So, what is the point of all of this, besides giving me a chance to test my theory on the collective consciousness of the world wide interwebs? It's this, that interactions can be tricky, even when both things are good and effective on their own. That beer can increase the effectiveness of those painkillers a lot. That ammonia cleaner isn't made better by adding bleach (the resulting gaseous compound can KILL you quickly). So why is it, in too much fiction, the bad gals and guys all cooperate and the good gals and guys all strive for the same things without ego or private agendas or feelings getting in the way? People are a lot more complicated emotionally than electro-mechanical devices (even the whiz-bang ones). There should be conflict and confrontation and repressed resentment and behind-the-back comments and cross-puposes and confusion and mayhem and stalled traffic all over your fiction when characters interact. At least, that's my opinion. And I had a lot of time to think while waiting for one friggin' truck to pass another on the Indiana Toll Road. Just a thought. Don

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