Black Mustang 1.3 My Breaking In
I was now beginning to grow handsome; the sun and wind had worn the protective coating off my shell, now a shiny black. My interior had supple, tan leather, maple panels, and small dark screens glowing with electric green metrics. My engineer liked to look at me, and didn’t sell me until I was four years old; she said kids don’t need to work like adults.
When I was four, Mayor Gordon came to look at me. He examined my headlights, my glass, my tires; he ran his hands across them; then he watched me lap the track faster and faster. He seemed to like me, and said I’d do very well once I was broken in. My engineer said she’d do it herself, so I wouldn’t be frightened. She lost no time and began the next day.
Everyone may not know what breaking in is, so I’ll describe it. It means installing a car’s driving mechanism — steering wheel, pedals, and stick shift — so that a person can go the way they want. The car must allow the driver to turn the tires, change speed and gears, stop and start, all without complaint. The car must only act willfully when the driver is in great danger, and even then it can sometimes be too late. People don’t gather as much data as cars, they can’t make calculations as fast, and sometimes they misjudge how fast they can take a turn, or how sleepy they are, and end up hurting themselves, the car, or others. So you can see breaking in is a good and bad thing.
I already had a well-trained set of learning algorithms, from my engineer’s voice navigation though tracks in the meadows, but the new manual mechanisms were very uncomfortable! Those who have never had a steering column in their chassis cannot imagine how bad it feels; a great big rod pierced through the dashboard and rigged to the axle. It’s all bolted in so there is no way to get rid of the nasty hard thing, and I was angry at first! But I knew my mother had a manual mode our engineer would activate for their Sunday drives. All the cars got it when they were grown up, and so with my engineer humming along to the radio and weaving me gently though the wildflowers, I got used to my steering wheel.
Next came the stick shift, which wasn’t as bad. It attached to my transmission, which translates energy from the engine to motion in the tires. The stick shift allows the driver to choose which gear is engaged in the transmission, which means they are choosing how efficiently the engine delivers energy. Cars are much better at making efficiency calculations than people, but stick shifts make people really happy, so I got used to that too.
Once we got through the hard parts, my engineer installed a few more small things. There were rearview mirrors on my sides and at the top of my windshield, and seatbelts on every seat. There was a bright and brassy horn, activated by a big accordion button in the middle of the steering wheel, which I liked very much. On either side of the wheel were flippers for adjusting my lights and windshield wipers.
I can’t forget to mention one part of my training, which I have always considered a great advantage. My engineer sent me for a fortnight to a neighboring farmer’s, who had a meadow skirted on one side by a railroad. There were some sheep and cows, and I was parked among them.
I will never forget the first train that ran by. I heard a strange sound in the distance, and before I knew where it came from, there was a great rush and clatter and the loud blare of a powerful horn. A long black train of something flew by, and was gone almost before I could cluster its image in my vision matrix. I turned and zipped quickly across the meadow as fast as I could go, then stood revving in sensory overload. Throughout the day many other trains went by, some more slowly; these stopped at a station nearby, sometimes with an awful shriek and groan. I couldn’t stand it, but the cows went on eating quietly, hardly raising their heads.
For the first few days I couldn’t relax, but once I realized the terrible creatures never came into the field, or did me any harm, I began to ignore it. Very soon I cared as little about the passing of a train as the cows and sheep did.
Since then I have seen many cars jolt, alarmed at the sight or sound of a train; but thanks to my engineer’s care, I am as fearless at railroad stations as in my own garage.
Now if anyone wants to break in a young Mustang, well, that is the way.
My engineer often drove me in a wireless tether with my mother, because she was steady and could teach me how to go better than a strange car. My mother told me the better I behaved the better I’d be treated, and that it was always wise to please my owner. “But,” she said, “there are many kinds of people — thoughtful people like our engineer, that any car would be proud to obey, and bad, cruel people, who should never have a car, horse, or dog of their own. And there are foolish people, vain, ignorant, and careless, who even if they mean well, can sometimes be the worst of all. I hope you fall into good hands, but a car never knows who will be its owner or driver. It’s always up to chance, but still I say do your best wherever it is, and keep up your good name.”