Skip to content

The dystopian future arrives under a lovely Rocky Mountain sunset

And why not? The new climate is unlikely to be Blade-Runner-esque everywhere, so why shouldn’t it happen on an otherwise lovely day with high clouds, a rich sunset, and snow-capped mountains?

I hadn’t rented a car for work in a long time, as the place where I work no longer sees fit to send most anyone to any non-programmatic travel – conferences and such [1]. The cheap places I rent from for personal travel are all about the lines and agents.

But that’s another story. All that matters here is the fix is in and corporations and subcontractors with unexamined backroom deals are the only ones who still get their rental cars from corporations subsidized by rates somewhere between two and five times as much as anyone with access to Kayak would to rent the same Kia from the place one stop further on the shuttle bus [2]. Yet try to get reimbursed for taking a “car service” to the airport instead of a “taxi”, which costs more. We have to maintain appearances! But not actually lower costs.

They now have video rental kiosks [3] instead of, you know, people [4].

Tuttle?  Or Buttle?

Not someone in Indonesia (yet). DeWayne [5] in Oklahoma City was able to process my car rental over a blocky, over-compressed glorified Skype connection [6], at an ill-designed kiosk. With Max Headroom video compression, Brazil facilities [7], and Gattaca inspired colorization, it was a moment of Future Shock. Me trying to channel my inner Nick Haflinger [8].

The kiosk had a camera so that DeWayne could see me watching him. Surprisingly, neither of us could make eye contact. I’m not sure whether this was technological limitations or human response. I found it very uncomfortable. Amusing, but also subtly wrong [8]. No video or pix because of this. I started to pull out my camera and get evidence, but it just felt wrong. DeWayne didn’t have a choice about this, at least not a good one, I’m guessing. He didn’t look like he wanted to be there either.

The future happened at about 6:40 PM MDT Halloween 2012. Not via the Cray-equivalent communications device I carry in my pocket, or the skycrane-delivered Rover one of my friends drives around on Mars, but via a ruddy middle-aged man in Oklahoma City not making eye-contact with me in Denver.



[1] Why bother keeping your expensive and highly trained workforce up-to-date and motivated when you can just lay them off as their knowledge becomes outdated and bring in fresh meat with unemployment of their age group around 25%, happy to work 80 hours a week to get out of the parents basement? Or the smart ones get fed up and move on to someone not so penny-wise. The guys on ****Watch can cheer here, but eventually you’ll drive all the talented folks to better jobs. Then bemoan the fact that your tax-dollars no longer do bold and challenging things. In the same comment thread.

[2] Nevermind that the difference for a week’s rental would pay for a domestic conference. Or that taking a budget flight overseas instead of the mandated American-flagged (not owned, mind you, who knows who owns the airline these days? Corporations, unlike people, no longer have nationalities, if they ever did) carrier would pay for an overseas conference.

[3] Play buzzword bingo with that bit of corporate hackery. “Best-in-class software” is what they say when they foist the Microsoft IIS server on you. Another backroom deal.

[4] Normally I’m happy to not deal with people when traveling as, like medical appointments and police interactions, the best you can hope for is to break even. That is, to walk away no worse than you were before. While the other direction is everything from a worrying mole we’ll have to monitor downwards to tazed and beaten while left to die of internal injuries without food or water in an unmonitored cell.

[5] I’m not sure of the capitalization, because while Hertz has apparently mastered Skype, they have not gotten beyond the Compuserve all-caps stage yet.

[6] Not nearly as good as Skype actually.

[7] Complete with industrial grade payphone handsets scavenged from inner-city telephone booths [10] designed to withstand meth addict depradations, and just a little bit too short for anyone over six foot tall. But no flat surface to set a coffee cup, wallet, mobile, while you practice the long lost art of holding a black Ma Bell phone handset to your ear with your shoulder while pulling out your credit cards and drivers license and trying to keep your luggage in sight. Worse, I’m sure that it was consciously designed this way because dropping the phone and your important things is a better choice for the corporation than having to deal with people leaving stuff behind.

[8] I could link to all this stuff, but if you don’t get it, Wikipedia is not going to help.

[9] I’m sure I’ll get over it. Unless it really is Future Shock, and I don’t.

[10] How ironic that spellcheck no longer recognizes “payphone” as a word.