01 August 2012

The Barchetta prophecy

You know the Rush song "Red Barchetta"? Of course you do. And if you don't, I hereby proclaim you to be a philistine and order you to buy "Moving Pictures", the greatest album of like forever, and burn several Lady Gaga CDs as an offering to Geddy Lee. By that I mean really burn with lighter fluid, not burn them onto a physical CD. Then again Lady Gaga probably never sells CDs anymore anyway, just MP3s, so, er, burn your hard drive containing the Lady Gaga MP3s. And if you just buy an MP3 of "Red Barchetta" and not the whole album, I will personally hunt you down and...well, do something you really really wouldn't like but for which you couldn't press charges. But I digress.

The song is a kind of sci-fi geek's ballad, telling the story of a guy in some unspecified future where cars are banned who visits his uncle to race an (illegal) red barchetta (that being a type of Italian sports car for those not aware). He is soon hunted down by the cops for doing so. I always knew it was based on a sci-fi story, but could never remember which one, then stumbled across a site which has the linked story at the end of this post.

The reason I link it: OK, it says it takes place in 1982 – which is about as (sadly) hilarious as "Blade Runner" with its flying cars and deep-space colonies taking place in 2019 – but the story is otherwise eerily prescient, especially considering it was written in 1973. I quote:

The valley roads were no longer used very much: the small farms were all owned by doctors and the roads were somewhat narrow for the MSVs (Modern Safety Vehicles). (Note: Or, as we say today, SUVs.)

The safety crusade had been well done at first. The few harebrained schemes were quickly ruled out and a sense of rationality developed. But in the late Seventies (Note: or maybe late Nineties...), with no major wars, cancer cured and social welfare straightened out, the politicians needed a new cause and once again they turned toward the automobile. The regulations concerning safety became tougher. Cars became larger, heavier, less efficient. They consumed gasoline so voraciously that the United States had had to become a major ally with the Arabian countries. The new cars were hard to stop or maneuver quickly, but they would save your life (usually) in a 50-mph crash.

[...U]nforeseen complications had arisen. People became accustomed to cars which went undamaged in 10-mph collisions. [...] But the damages and injuries actually decreased, so the government was happy, the insurance industry was happy and most of the car owners were happy. Most of the car owners – the owners of the non-MSV cars – were kept busy dodging the less careful MSV drivers, and the result of this mismatch left very few of the older cars in existence. If they weren't crushed between two 6000-pound sleds on the highway they were quietly priced into the junkyard by the insurance peddlers...

That, my friends, is downright spooky, especially for 1973 in the midst of the OPEC oil shocks and the Cold War – allies of the Arab nations in exchange for oil? Naw, it'll never happen. And trade MSV for SUV and whaddya got? Ford Exhibitions driven by soccer moms with iPhones plastered to their ears, driving 'till they tip over then blaming Firestone, ¡olé!

You can read the (fairly short) story, A Nice Morning Drive by Richard S. Foster (along with the story of how Rush was inspired by it to write "Red Barchetta") at the Rush fan resource site 2112.net. And tell them I sent you.

My uncle has a country place / that no one knows about / He says it used to be a farm / Before the Motor Law...