John Messeder

Messeder

Driving the 500 miles to my son’s home is almost half the fun of visiting. I enjoy driving, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike west of Breezewood is beautiful road – long uphills and down, plenty of curves and vistas where one can look across the mountains rounded from eons of wind and rain wearing them down. They say those mountains once were taller than the Alps.

Which makes me wonder: Why did the Appalachian Mountains wear down virtually to their nubs, while the Alps and the Rockies did not. I think I know, but still, I should ask a geologist.

Traveling through those mountains means holding firmly to the steering wheel to navigate around and through the hills, especially those holes men drilled through the high spots in four places between Blue Hill and New Stanton. I pass through them in a few minutes each, and can only imagine the men and equipment required to drill more than a mile through the hills.

One of the best parts of this road trip was trying out the newest photographic aid. Quick rewind:

A week or so ago came a story on the news about a fellow who fell asleep in his Tesla whilst it drove him down a California freeway.

The newscaster breathlessly notified us the driver lay back with his eyes closed while a driver alongside him shot video as he “plowed down the busy freeway for more than 30 miles.”

Apparently, the vehicle even turned off at the correct exit before the driver, uh, we suspect he awoke, because a later report said police were looking for him. The only information they had was that video of the apparently dozing guy behind the wheel.

While the TV anchor was trying to get us lathered over the potential danger, I sat there impressed that the car had navigated 30-plus miles without crashing.

This week, I got to try it out. Not in a Tesla, but in a 2019 Subaru Outback, loaned by the folks who are trying to figure out why the engine in my 2010 version keeps overheating.

Imagine engaging cruise control to set the speed at, say, 70, and suddenly traffic slows in front of you. In my 2010 model, were I to be paying attention to the roadside geology at the time, Miss Ellie would blissfully plow, at 70 mph, into the rear of the Big Truck suddenly stopped in front of her. This 2019 version slowed down to match the speed of the slowing rig.

I hit the turn signal and headed for the adjacent lane. As soon as the car discovered there was nothing slow-moving in front of it, we accelerated back to the previously designated 70 cruising velocity.

While traveling in a lane, the car would drift slowly to the dotted line. At the line, like a billiard ball hitting the cushion, the car steered itself back in lane.

It was pretty smooth on the straight-away, not so much in a curve. It clearly could not detect the curving line, so it veered away from the line and straightened out until it again ran into the line and veered again.

Though the technology is not yet ready to compete with flocks of murmurating starlings, it’s an achievable dream for young people who cannot put down their texting devices, or for photographers who want to take pictures of things they see along their route.

Backup cameras do nothing for me.

But a car that will allow me to photograph billboards and roadside coal mines without actually running into them or the trucks hauling their product? I could be into that.

Readers may contact John Messeder at john@JohnMesseder.com.

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