Smart (Alec) Cards

Another of my articles is available. Business Edge has been kind enough to publish a piece I did on the loft development boom happening in Waterloo Region. This story is closer to my urban planning heart, and it highlights the interesting things that are happening to this city.

Just south of Uptown Waterloo, the Bauer factory at the corner of King and Allen is being converted into loft/retail space. A second floor of condominium apartments will sit above a market-style shopping development rather like the Village by the Grange in Toronto. And that’s just the latest in a long line of industrial conversions. It’s exciting times in this happening berg. :-)

Dalton McGuinty’s suggestion that Ontario’s drivers licenses should be adequate substitute for a passport in crossing the U.S. border seems to have caught Ontario’s transport minister off guard. When asked about McGuinty’s suggestions on improvements to the license cards’ security features, Harinder Takhar wasn’t able to describe what those additional features would be, save that the new cards should be smart.

How smart? Listening to the report, Dan and I wondered what sort of features Dalton might have had in mind.

This story is close to a first draft.

John Smith sat in his car in the parking lot outside Tim Hortons, staring at his drivers’ license.

The photograph looked back at him. “Now you’re double parked.”

It was strangely a relief that the picture moved. Or, rather, just moved its lips. It didn’t speak to him. The eyes didn’t shift and the head didn’t move. He wasn’t hallucinating. Instead, the mouth and lower lips of his photograph shifted in time to the voice, like those crazy Terry Gilliam animations from Monty Python. His face on his driver’s license. Modified so that the lips could move and mouth off at him.

It had arrived in the mail yesterday, and had started speaking to him that morning on his way to work.

“You’re speeding,” his pants had said to him.

He’d thought he was a little overtired, and took another swig of his coffee.

“You’re speeding!” There was no doubt about it. His pants were talking to him, with a voice like a New York cabbie.

“Is… er… somebody there?”

“You’re doing twenty clicks over the limit, bright eyes,” his pants squawked. “And you’re tailgating the guy in front of you. Slow up! He just put on his brakes!”

Smith looked up, blanched, and jammed on the brakes. His car slowed to within a foot of the pickup truck ahead.

“Who’s talking!” he shouted.

“Nobody. Now watch that lead foot. If you get caught at that speed again, that’s two demerit points off your record, and a $100 fine.”

He shoved his hand into his pocket, and struggled out its contents. His house keys went flying. He snagged his wallet and dropped it on his lap before diving his hand back in. There was nothing else there. No cell phone; nothing that could be used as a speaker.

“Hey! You changed lanes without signalling!”

Smith jerked the wheel to put him back on the road. That was when he realized the voice was in his wallet. He’d flipped it open, and on a hunch, pulled out his new Ontario Drivers License. Immediately, it squawked in his hand. “Hey, watch that truck!”

He swerved, got back into his lane, and stared at his license in bewilderment.

It stared back. “Now you’re talking to your license. That’s as bad as talking on your cell phone! Pull off, now! Or it’ll be two more demerit points!”

So he pulled off. What else was there to do? And that’s how he found himself in the parking lot of Tim Hortons, staring at his drivers license.

“Are you talking to me?” he asked at last.

His photograph rolled its eyes. “Hello! Do you think you’re hallucinating or something? Of course I’m talking to you!”

“But how?”

“Haven’t you heard of the new smart cards? Well I’m it, baby! I’ve got the IQ of Einstein, and I could drive circles around you, if I had any arms, or access to a remote control device. I gotta tell you, after seeing how you drive, I’m shocked the province even hands me to you.”

“What are you talking about?” Smith asked.

“That’s right, play dumb. Be dumb. You idiot drivers don’t know half the infractions you’ve made. Do you know how many people you’ve cut off in the past day? Or how much you’ve sped? And those lights you told yourself were yellow; were they really yellow, or were you just deceiving yourself to assuage your conscience? And how about those “stop” signs, eh? When did they rename them ‘slow down and roll into the intersection until you’re sure no one will crash into me’ signs?”

“How can you tell any of this? You’re stuck in my wallet!”

“Think that’s gonna stop me? I have a GPS locator tucked under my chin. I’m hooked up wirelessly to every diagnostic computer in your car. You’re about a thousand miles away from needing a new transmission, by the way. I can even monitor your cell phone calls! Don’t mess with me, buddy! I know where you live! Your address is printed right on me! There’s nothing I can’t find out about you, baby, so you’d better behave yourself on these roads.”

“Oh?” said Smith. “Or you’ll do what? Talk to me stern?”

“You think I just receive information dimwit? There’s three police agencies that I can call with a flick of a microscopic switch. I can access your driving records directly. I can add fines and demerit points less than a minute after the infraction takes place. You want to get smart with me? I can say that you took all night joy-rides on the 407, or I can report your car stolen. I can even make your rear taillights flash in morse code: “cops, kiss my butt! cops, kiss my butt!”

There was a long wait while Smith got his breathing under control.

“I have to go to work,” said Smith. “I’m going to put you in my wallet. I’m going back onto the highway. And I would appreciate it if you don’t speak to me during the trip. Or at all today, if possible.”

“Drive carefully,” said Smith’s license as it slipped back into his wallet. “Tonight, store me next to your wife’s health card. She is one hot mamma!”

The next day, Smith became a regular user of the Toronto Transit Commission. All his Metropass did other than alert him to any service delays enroute and alternates he could take, was remind him to eat his granola and buy fair trade coffee.

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