OnStar Trek

Where would you go today if you could afford to go there?

"Uh, no," I reply, suddenly blank, feeling strangely as though I'm blowing my meeting with the genie in the magic lamp. "Not right now, anyway."

Fortunately, only minutes after taking a perfunctory walk about Carmel Beach City Park, I'm back in the Cadillac, and the woman in the back seat is telling me to push the OnStar button again. Another operator at that office complex in Troy soon finds us on her screen and bounces her voice off the satellite and through the radio speakers. She wants to help me, too. This time, my script says to tell her somebody in the car has broken an ankle. The operator quickly locates the nearest hospital, spews directions, and alerts the emergency room that we're on our way. It all goes so smoothly it almost seems a shame that nobody's ankle is really broken.

And so it goes throughout the day. We drive the Cadillac all over the Carmel area, from Pebble Beach to Point Joe and along the 17-mile drive. Our script contrives a new dilemma at every stop, from keys locked in the car to a fender-bender to reporting the car stolen (we use a phone to dial a toll-free number). In response to every disaster, OnStar operators are there to make it better. At the end of the day, one of them talks us through the twists and turns in the roads that take us to the Pebble Beach Country Club. There we eat another multicourse gourmet meal in the picture-windowed clubhouse, our sated gaze meandering about our surroundings—from plates of seared ahi in ginger to lush putting greens to faintly fey pastel golfing togs to the distant, deep-blue sea.

As I eat food I could never afford in a place that would normally not allow me through the front door, I reflect on the near-magical powers of the OnStar system. I imagine how wonderful it would be to push a button on my car while it is stuck in traffic on the ugly 405 and suddenly be transported to the relaxing flow of the central California coast. Of course, I quickly realize I should have first imagined that OnStar could be installed on a 1987 Volkswagen Fox, instead of only on luxurious late-model GM cars (and now other high-end vehicles) So I go back and do that. Then I go on, imagining driving a car that tells me when I'm being paged—and allows me, just by speaking the request, to instruct my cellular phone to return the call. And enables me to buy and send flowers to my girlfriend. And tracks my favorite stocks through the Internet and announces how they're trading throughout the day. It sounds great. Especially the part about having a girlfriend—I think she'd be really pretty, but not stuck-up at all. But once I start imagining, it's hard to stop. So pretty soon, I'm envisioning a vehicular accessory that can supply the government with my every move, that can supply marketers with my every taste, and that can supply my ex-wife with the name of my new girlfriend. And eventually, I'm cringing at the thought of a vehicle in which the accessories become my incessant personal pollsters. I'm dreading pushing a button that sucks the adventure out of every move I make. And yet when I try to cancel my subscription to the OnStar system, I'm discovering that I'm somehow unable to—simultaneously overpowered and haunted by the words of that woman in the back seat, aspirating her consonants just behind my right ear: "Once you have it, you feel insecure when you don't have it."

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