Black Mustang

by Bluebird, December 2015

A chapter-by-chapter retelling of Anna Sewell's 1877 children's novel, Black Beauty. Sewell’s book taught people to be empathetic with their horses, and I think it’s worth doing the same with our autonomous cars.

Part 1, Chapter 1: My Early Home

The first place that I can remember well was the Ford factory in Dearborn, Michigan. It was long after the other car manufacturers had left the area, long past the first hey-day, but an electric buzz in the air mingled the past with the future. The boxy building had large windows for the office workers, a meadow with several test driving rings, and a garage door that thundered with the release of each new vehicle from the assembly line.

While I was young I kept to the factory tracks with my mother, first only lapping the paved, quarter mile loop. Then on sunny days we'd drive the dirt road winding along the creek, training my vision to optimize a path around unexpected obstacles. When it was rainy we'd run the serpentine racetrack, studying the feel of the wheels in shifting weather.

As soon as I was old enough to drive without crashing, my mother used to go out to work in the day time, and come back in the evening.

There were six young cars in the meadow besides me; they were all older, though we were all the same size. I used to drive with them and have fun; we used to donut round and round the field, as fast as we could go. Sometimes we would play rather rough, coming as close to side-swiping each other as our self-preservation algorithms would allow.

One day, when there was a good deal of tire squealing, my mother signaled me over to her, and said: "I want you to pay attention to what I am going to say to you. The cars that live here are very good cars, but they belong to the mechanics and never leave the meadow. They have no need to learn street manners. You have been built for elegance and performance; your grandfather won at Le Mans and your grandmother had the sweetest engine purr I've ever heard. I hope you will grow up to be gentle and good, and never learn bad ways; do your work with a good will, keep four wheels on the ground, and never cause damage, even in play."

I have never forgotten my mother's advice; I knew she was a wise old Mustang, and our engineer thought a great deal of her. Her name was Duchess, but she often called her Pet.

Our engineer was a good, kind woman. She kept our batteries well charged, our garage clean, and spoke as sweetly to us as she did her little children. We were all fond of her, and my mother loved her very much. When she saw her at the garage door she would rev with joy, then roll gently up to meet her. She would pat her hood and say, "Howdy, Pet, and how is your little Blackie?" I was a dull black before I started waxing, so she called me Blackie. Sometimes she brought a little flower in a test tube with water, for the small divot she had designed into in our dashboards. She'd bring a lavender to suit my mother's white interior, and a lily of the valley for my black and tan. All the cars would come to her, but I think we were her favorites. My mother would always take her to town on market day, with her red leather driving gloves and big tortoiseshell sunglasses, applying dark lipstick as they glided gracefully down the driveway.

There was a young wrench jockey, Dick, who sometimes came into our meadow to pluck blackberries from the hedge. When he had eaten all he wanted, he would have what he called 'fun' with the cars, throwing stones and sticks at them, which were hard for the sensors to detect. We did not much mind him, for we could speed off, but sometimes a stone would hit and dent us.

One day he was at this game, and did not know that the engineer was at the next track; but she was there, watching what was going on. Over the hedge she jumped in a snap, and catching Dick by the arm, she gave him such a box on the ear that he roared with the pain and surprise. As soon as we saw the engineer, we rolled up nearer to see what went on.

"Bad boy!" she said, "bad boy! to chase the cars like that. This is not the first time, but it is the last — there — take your money and get on, I never want to see you on my factory grounds again." So we never saw Dick any more. Old Daniel, the man who looked after us next, was just as gentle as our engineer, so we were well off.

Part 1, Chapter 2: The Race

Before I was two years old, something happened I've never forgotten. It was early in the spring; there had been a little frost in the night, and a light mist still hung over the lake and meadows. The other cars and I were updating firmware when we heard, far in the distance, what sounded like barking humans. The eldest of us aligned his mics to the racket, and immediately drove off to the top of the hill for a better view. The rest of us followed. My mother and an old tractor of our engineer's were also standing near, and seemed to know all about it.

"They have set up the starting line," said my mother, "and if they come this way, we'll see the race."

And soon we hear the burnout, two men in two Jaguars heating up their tires, with a crowd cheering around them. I have never heard such a noise as they made. Their old gasoline engines did not howl or whine but kept on a low, "ro! ro, o, o! ro! ro, o, o!" and the sound echoed out over the lake. In front of them, a woman stood with a black and white checkered flag. As she waved it sharply down, the cars screamed down the road.

It was a short and close race, the green car beat the red, and the crowd laughed and whooped loudly. The drivers had released their pedals, cruising through the straightaway to slow down. Just then a hare, wild with fright, ran into the road. The green car was able to swerve into the grass and avoid it, but the driver didn't account for the frost and careened down an embankment, right into the rocky stream. The hare continued up the road, but the red car was only watching the green; we heard one shriek and that was the end of her.

As for me, I was so astonished that at first I didn't see what was going on by the stream, but when I did look it was a sad sight. The wheels were spinning in the mud, but the driver and car were still.

"His neck is broken," said my mother.
"And serves him right, too!" said another car.
I thought the same, but my mother did not join with us.
"Well, no!" she said, "you must not say that. I'm an old car, and I remember when it was more common to have human drivers. It can be a wonderful partnership, especially for race car drivers, but I could never understand why they are so fond of these illegal drag races; they often hurt themselves, damage good cars, and tear up the fields. They could just as easily go to a track, but we are only cars, and don't know."

While my mother was saying this, we parked and looked on. Many of the people had gone to the young man, but my engineer, who had been watching, was the first to reach him. She placed two fingers on his neck and paused before hanging her head, shaking it slowly back and forth. There was no noise now, even the birds were quiet, and seemed to know that something was wrong. I heard afterwards it was young George Gordon, the mayor's only son, and the pride of his family.

There was now driving in all directions. An ambulance arrived immediately, though it was still too late. The second racer borrowed an automated car to deliver the terrible news to Mayor Gordon. A tow truck came for the green Jaguar, winching itself to a tree to pull the car up and out of the stream. Our engineer felt him all over and shook her head again; one of his axles was broken. The tow truck pulled the wrecked end up on its bed, left the good wheels rolling, and drove off.

My mother seemed troubled; she said she'd known that car for years, that his name was Rob Roy; he was a good bold car and there was no vice in him. She would never go to that part of the field afterwards.

Not many days after, we heard the church bells tolling for a long time; and looking over the gate we saw a black carriage drawn by black horses, followed by a long line of slow black limousines, while the bell kept tolling, tolling. They were carrying young Gordon to the churchyard to bury him. He would never drive again. What they did with Rob Roy, I never knew.

Part 1, Chapter 3: My Breaking In

I was now beginning to grow handsome; the sun and wind had worn the protective coating off my shell, now a shiny black. My interior had supple, tan leather, maple panels, and small dark screens glowing with electric green metrics. My engineer liked to look at me, and didn't sell me until I was four years old; she said kids don't need to work like adults.

When I was four, Mayor Gordon came to look at me. He examined my headlights, my glass, my tires; he ran his hands across them; then he watched me lap the track faster and faster. He seemed to like me, and said I'd do very well once I was broken in. My engineer said she'd do it herself, so I wouldn't be frightened. She lost no time and began the next day.

Everyone may not know what breaking in is, so I'll describe it. It means installing a car's driving mechanism — steering wheel, pedals, and stick shift — so that a person can go the way they want. The car must allow the driver to turn the tires, change speed and gears, stop and start, all without complaint. The car must only act willfully when the driver is in great danger, and even then it can sometimes be too late. People don't gather as much data as cars, they can't make calculations as fast, and sometimes they misjudge how fast they can take a turn, or how sleepy they are, and end up hurting themselves, the car, or others. So you can see breaking in is a good and bad thing.

I already had a well-trained set of learning algorithms, from my engineer's voice navigation though tracks in the meadows, but the new manual mechanisms were very uncomfortable! Those who have never had a steering column in their chassis cannot imagine how bad it feels; a great big rod pierced through the dashboard and rigged to the axle. It's all bolted in so there is no way to get rid of the nasty hard thing, and I was angry at first! But I knew my mother had a manual mode our engineer would activate for their Sunday drives. All the cars got it when they were grown up, and so with my engineer humming along to the radio and weaving me gently though the wildflowers, I got used to my steering wheel.

Next came the stick shift, which wasn't as bad. It attached to my transmission, which translates energy from the engine to motion in the tires. The stick shift allows the driver to choose which gear is engaged in the transmission, which means they are choosing how efficiently the engine delivers energy. Cars are much better at making efficiency calculations than people, but stick shifts make people really happy, so I got used to that too.

Once we got through the hard parts, my engineer installed a few more small things. There were rearview mirrors on my sides and at the top of my windshield, and seatbelts on every seat. There was a bright and brassy horn, activated by a big accordion button in the middle of the steering wheel, which I liked very much. On either side of the wheel were flippers for adjusting my lights and windshield wipers.

I can't forget to mention one part of my training, which I have always considered a great advantage. My engineer sent me for a fortnight to a neighboring farmer's, who had a meadow skirted on one side by a railroad. There were some sheep and cows, and I was parked among them.

I will never forget the first train that ran by. I heard a strange sound in the distance, and before I knew where it came from, there was a great rush and clatter and the loud blare of a powerful horn. A long black train of something flew by, and was gone almost before I could cluster its image in my vision matrix. I turned and zipped quickly across the meadow as fast as I could go, then stood revving in sensory overload. Throughout the day many other trains went by, some more slowly; these stopped at a station nearby, sometimes with an awful shriek and groan. I couldn't stand it, but the cows went on eating quietly, hardly raising their heads.

For the first few days I couldn't relax, but once I realized the terrible creatures never came into the field, or did me any harm, I began to ignore it. Very soon I cared as little about the passing of a train as the cows and sheep did.

Since then I have seen many cars jolt, alarmed at the sight or sound of a train; but thanks to my engineer's care, I am as fearless at railroad stations as in my own garage.

Now if anyone wants to break in a young Mustang, well, that is the way.

My engineer often drove me in a wireless tether with my mother, because she was steady and could teach me how to go better than a strange car. My mother told me the better I behaved the better I'd be treated, and that it was always wise to please my owner. "But," she said, "there are many kinds of people — thoughtful people like our engineer, that any car would be proud to obey, and bad, cruel people, who should never have a car, horse, or dog of their own. And there are foolish people, vain, ignorant, and careless, who even if they mean well, can sometimes be the worst of all. I hope you fall into good hands, but a car never knows who will be its owner or driver. It's always up to chance, but still I say do your best wherever it is, and keep up your good name."

Part 1, Chapter 4: Birchbark Hill

At this time I was parked in the garage, and my body was waxed every week until it shone like a raven's wing. It was early in May when a woman came from Mayor Gordon's, and drove me out to the gate. My engineer said, "Goodbye, Blackie; be a good car, and always do your best." I could not say goodbye, so I gave a gentle purr and blinked my low beams. She patted my hood kindly, and I left my first home. As I spent several years with Mayor Gordon, I may as well tell something about the place.

The mayor's property skirted the town of Birchbark. At the entry was a wrought iron gate and its gatehouse, followed by a long and winding driveway lined with beautiful old trees. Hidden away from the main road there was a smaller gate, with a path leading through a colorful garden to a large white house with black shutters. The driveway circled around the house to the paddocks and orchards. There were accommodations for all kinds of animals and vehicles, but I only need to describe my garage; it was very roomy, with four good stalls; each with a large swinging door opening into the yard, which made it pleasant and airy.

The first stall was the largest. It had a hoist for working underneath the car, an air pump for tires, and a sprayer for cleaning. The other stalls were nice as well, with charging ports and storage racks at each.

The driver led me into the first stall, and I was pleased that I could both see my neighbors, and find solitude as I needed. He gave me a quick spritz from the hose, to get the road off, and spoke kindly as he left.

After I settled in, I looked around. In the stall next to me was a little fat silver convertible, a Mercedes Roadster, with a burgundy soft top and upholstery, and a very pretty grill. I angled my nose towards his and said, "How do you do? what is your name?"

He turned around as far as his chocks would allow and said, "My name is Merrywheels: I am very handsome, I chauffeur the ladies of the family. They think very well of me, as does James. Are you going to live next door to me in the garage?"

I said, "Yes."

"Well then," he said, "I hope you are well-behaved. I don't like anyone mean next door."

Just then a pair of high beams shone harsh and unfriendly at our light sensors. This was a tall chestnut G-Wagen, with a large, gleaming windshield; she looked across to me and said:

"So you're the one who turned me out of my stall. It's strange for a cart like you to come and turn a lady out of her own home."

"I'm sorry," I said, "but I have turned no one out; the man who drove me over parked me here, I had nothing to do with it. And as for my being a cart, I am four years old, a grown-up automobile, who has never had words with anyone."

"Well," she said, "we'll see; of course I don't want to have words with a young thing like you." I said no more.

In the afternoon when she went out, Merrywheels told me all about it. "The thing is this," he said, "Ginger has a bad habit of snapping fingers in her doors and windows — that's why they call her Ginger — and when she was in the big stall she used to snap all the time. One day she got James in the arm and made it bleed, and so Miss Flora and Miss Jessie, who are very fond of me, were afraid to come visit anymore. They used to bring me the prettiest music for my speakers, Django Reinhardt or Edith Piaf, and I miss them very much. I hope they'll come back now, if you're nice.

I told him I'd never snapped so much as a coattail in my door, and I couldn't understand what pleasure Ginger saw in it. "Well, I don't think she finds pleasure," said Merrywheels, "it's just a bad habit; she says no one was ever kind to her, so why shouldn't she snap? Of course it's bad, but I'm sure, if all she says is true, she must have been treated very badly before she came here. Everyone does all they can to please her, and the mayor takes great care of his cars, so I think she might get better with time," he said with a wise look. "I am twelve years old; I know a lot, and I can tell you there is no better place for a car in all the country. Jane is the best driver there ever was — she's been here fourteen years — and James is such a kind boy, so it's Ginger's fault alone that she did not stay in that stall."

Part 1, Chapter 5: A Good Start

My driver's name was Jane Foxly; she had a husband and small child, and they live in a cottage near the garage.

The next morning he took me into the yard and gave me a good washing, and just as I was going back to my stall bright and shiny, the mayor came in to look at me and seemed pleased. "Jane," he said, "I meant to drive the new car this morning but I have other business. Could you take him out after breakfast, drive him by the woods and river, to initialize him in the new environment? Then he'll have his bearings."

"Yes, sir!" said Jane. And sure enough, after breakfast Jane came and fitted me with a new steering wheel. She was very careful about attaching it, tightening all the bolts just so. She adjusted her seat and all my mirrors slowly and precisely. She put me in gear and we glided out of the garage as if I'd been driving myself. She picked up speed through the circle and soon we were racing through the white birch trees, my black hood glistening with the speckled sunlight.

"Woah, my boy!" she said, as she pulled me up, "you're ready to follow the motorcycles, I think."

As we came back through the orchards we met the Mayor and Mrs. Gordon walking; they stopped, and Jane jumped out.

"Well Jane, how does he handle?"

"First-rate, sir," answered Jane; "he is as swift as a deer and with a fine spirit; but the lightest touch of the wheel will guide him. Down by the river we hit a patch of road that had flooded over a bit and become muddy — you know, sir, many cars won't even allow that without a sensor override. He just made a quick depth and viscosity scan and went on as quiet and pleasant as could be. Some kids went by on noisy dirt bikes and he watched, but never veered right or left. It's my opinion he was never scared or misused in his early years."

"Excellent," said the mayor, "I will try him myself tomorrow."

The next day I was instructed to drive myself up to the main house, and pick up the mayor at the garden gate. I remember my mother's advice, and my good old engineer's, and tried to do exactly what he wanted me to do. I found he was a very good driver, and thoughtful of his car. When we came home, his wife was working in the garden as we pulled up.

"Well, my dear," she said, "how do you like him?"

"He is exactly what Jane said," he replied, "a more pleasant car I never wish to drive. What shall we call him?"

"Would you like Ebony?" she said, "he is as black as ebony."

"No, not Ebony."

"What about Blackbird, like your uncle's old car?"

"No, that thing was a jalopy."

"Yes," she said, "he really is quite a beauty; he has such elegant lines, and those sweet round headlights… what about calling him Black Beauty?"

"Black Beauty — why yes, I think that very good. If you like it, that will be his name," and so it was.

When Jane went to the garage, she told James that Mr. and Mrs. had chosen a good, sensible name for me, not something like Pegasus or Seabiscuit. They both laughed, and James said, "If it wasn't for nostalgia I'd name him Rob Roy, since I've never seen two cars more alike."

"That's no surprise," said Jane, "didn't you know that old Mustang called Duchess was their prototype?"

I had never heard that before, so poor Rob Roy who was killed at that race was my brother! No wonder my mother was so upset. I didn't really think of cars having families; they never see each other after they're sold.

Jane seemed very proud of me; she used to condition my leather as beautifully as her own hair, and she would talk to me a great deal. Of course I didn't understand everything at first, but I came to know what she wanted me to do over time. I grew very fond of her, she was so gentle and kind; she seemed to know just how a car feels.

James Howard, the young mechanic, was just as gentle and pleasant in his ways, so I thought myself pretty lucky. There was another man who helped in the yard, but he had very little to do with Ginger and me.

A few days after this I had to go out with Ginger in a caravan. I wondered how well we'd get along, but except spraying me with some windshield washer fluid when I pulled up, she behaved very well. She did her work honestly, and did her full share, and I never wish to have a better driving partner. When we came up to a hill, instead of breaking she'd lean in, and the passengers always had a smooth ride. We had the same sort of courage at our work, and Jane never had to hit the pedals because we were all so well synched.

As for Merrywheels, he and I soon became great friends. He was so cheerful and plucky that he was a favorite with everyone, especially Miss Jessie and Flora, whom he'd chauffeur around the orchards with the roof down, while they reached up to pick apples.

The mayor had two other cars that parked in another garage. One was Justice, a little electric golf cart that would shuttle groceries and packages from town to the different parts of the property. The other was an weathered Defender in army green called Sir Oliver, too old to even be autonomous or street legal, but the mayor liked to take it off roading along the river. Both cars were well-made and well-mannered, and sometimes we'd have a little chat in the paddock, but I'd never grow as close to them as my stall-mates.

Part 1, Chapter 6: Freedom

I was pretty happy in my new home; there was one thing I missed but that's not enough to really complain about. Everyone was good to me, I had a bright clean garage, and the highest octane fuel. What more could I want? Well, freedom! For three and a half years of my life I had all the freedom I could wish for, but now, week after week, month after month, and no doubt year after year, I stand parked in a garage night and day, except when I am wanted. And then I must be as slow and quiet as any old car who has worked twenty years. Seatbelts on, headlights on, always use the turn signal. Now, I'm not complaining, I know it has to be this way. It's just that, for a young car so full of strength and spirit, who's had a big tracked meadow to careen around with automated cars, nav systems all linked and no humans to worry about — it's hard to go from that to nothing. Sometimes, when I've been sitting on the charger all day, Jane will take me out for a few laps of the driveway and I really can't keep quiet. I'll lurch and rev, even drift and donut; I know I've shaken her around a few times, especially at first, but she was always good and patient.

"Steady, steady boy," she'd say, "wait a minute, we'll have a good sprint and get the tickle out of your wheels." Then, when we'd get off the property and out of the town, she'd get on one of the straight, empty farm roads and let me open up for a few miles. Then she'd bring me back fresh as ever, clear of the fidgets, as she called them. Spirited cars, when not driven enough, are often called skittish. But it's only play, pent up energy, and the owners who punish them for this only make it worse. Jane did not make this mistake; all she had to do was adjust the tone of her voice to let me know when to reign myself in. That had more power over me than anything else, for I was very fond of her.

I should mention that sometimes we did have freedom for a few hours on fine Sundays in the summertime. The family Gordon would all wander the property together and separately, riding horses, fishing in the river, just doing as they pleased, and they'd invite all the cars and animals to do the same. It was a very happy time, and good for talking, as we parked under the shade of a large chestnut tree.

Part 1, Chapter 7: Ginger

One day when Ginger and I were parked alone in the shade, we had a long conversation. She wanted to know all about my bringing up and breaking in, and I told her.

"Well," said she, "if I had your bringing up I might have as good a temper as you, but now I don't think I ever will."

"Why not?" I said.

"Because it's been so different for me," she replied. "I never had anyone, car or person, be kind to me, or that I cared enough to please. As soon as I was assembled I was taken from my mother, and put with a lot of other young cars, and none of us knew how to look after each other. There was no kind engineer like yours to look after me, or talk to me, or bring flowers for my dashboard. The man who kept us never said a kind word to me in my life. I don't mean that he misused me, but he did not care for us any more than providing the basic necessities. A footpath led through our field, and rowdy boys would often run through and throw stones at us to make us run. I never got hit but another car did — smashed a headlight and left a dent in the fixture that I'm sure is permanent. We didn't like them, and that made us more wild, deciding those boys were our enemies. We did have fun in the meadows, zooming up and down, chasing each other; then standing still under trees. But when it came to my breaking in, that was a bad time for me. Several men came to catch me, and when they cornered me at the back fence, pulled my emergency brake hard. They wrenched open my dashboard and drove a steering column, not even factory-fitted, down the left side. They tested their work by driving me in wild zig-zags across the yard, nearly hitting trees, ignoring my sensors' panicky alerts. This was the first experience I had of human interaction; it was all force. They didn't give me a chance to know what they wanted. I was a performance vehicle, full of spirit, and I know I gave them plenty of trouble, but it was awful to be shut up in a stall day after day. I just wanted to get loose. You know yourself it's bad enough even with a kind owner and plenty of coaxing, but I had nothing like that.

"There was one — the owner of the farm, Mr. Ryder — who I think could have made me right, but he gave up the hard part of his trade to his daughter and a partner, and only came by to oversee. His daughter was a strong, tall, bold woman called Delilah, and she'd brag about never losing control of any car. There was no gentleness in her, unlike her father. She had a hard voice, a hard eye, and a hard hand. I felt right away all she wanted to do was break my spirit, and turn me into a quiet, humble, obedient bucket of bolts. 'Bucket of bolts'! Yes, that is all she thought of us," and Ginger opened and slammed her hood as if the very thought of her was angering. Then she went on:

"If I didn't do exactly what she wanted, she would get all put out, and race me in small, fast circles until I was out of gas. I think she drank too much, and I think the more she drank, the worse it was for me. One day she worked me hard in every way she could, and when I parked for the night I was miserable and angry; it all seemed impossible. The next morning she came for me early, and raced me around again. I had barely rested an hour when she came back with this awful seat cover so she could drive me even longer without any discomfort of her own. It was mismatched and uncomfortable, suffocating my leather. I can't remember exactly what happened; she had just gotten in the seat when I did something to annoy her, and she hammered a fist down on my dashboard. She hit it so hard she dislodged a metal connector, which fell in such a way that it shorted the horn's wires, and it blared loudly, continuously. Enraged, she punched my dashboard with both fists over and over, trying to stop the noise. I felt my whole spirit set up against her, and began throwing my doors open and fishtailing, trying everything I could to buck her. She fought back, yelling, stamping pedals and pulling my e-brake, but I had deactivated all the manual controls. At last, after a terrible struggle, I deployed my airbag and knocked her out. She slumped down and I parked, purring my engine to calm myself down. Her partner heard all the racket, and soon ran down to wake Delilah and help her walk back up to the house. They left me there, and I pulled up under a shady tree at the far end of the field. I sat with the spent airbag hanging from my steering wheel, resting on her ugly seat cover. I watched the sun get low in the sky.

"Just as it got dark, old Mr. Ryder came out and walked slowly to my tree. He carried an MP3 player, and plugged it into my aux jack. We listened to his favorite piano pieces as he folded up my spent airbag, and detached his daughter's seat cover. He sang gently with the music, 'come along, lassie, come along, come along.' Without touching a control, with just his voice, calm and reassuring, he led us back to the garage. We parked in my stall and he stayed in the driver's seat a while, conducting the radio, running his hands over the places my steering wheel had been poorly installed and sighing quietly. 'Poor lassie! This is bad business, bad business.' He got out and went to lower the garage door, just as his daughter appeared. Mr. Ryder had opened my windows to let in the breeze, but now I snapped them shut. 'Stand back,' said the father, 'and keep out of her way. You've done a bad day's work with this truck.' He growled out something about viciousness. 'Listen here: a bad-tempered person will never make a good-tempered car. You haven't learned your trade yet.' Delilah left sheepishly, and her father turned back to pull the branches and brambles out of my grill. He got a pail of warm water, and sponged the grass off my wheel wells.

"After that he came to see me often, buffed out the scratches, and rebuilt my steering mechanism. Once I was fixed, he handed over my keys to his daughter's partner. His name was Saul, and he continued my training. He was steady and thoughtful and I soon learned what he wanted."

Part 1, Chapter 8: Ginger's Story Continued

The next time that Ginger and I were together in the meadow, she told me about her first place. "After my breaking in," she said, "I was bought by a dealer to match another chestnut car. He drove us together for a few weeks, then we were sold to a fashionable gentleman and were sent up to New York. At the dealership, I had been driven with an accelerator lock to limit my speed for test drivers. I hated it worse than anything — that is, until my new owner fitted me with a camping trailer. He thought it looked stylish, so he'd drive me down Park Avenue with it. He'd never actually go camping, mind you, where I might have some fun.

"I have a tight turning radius and I like to use it. Just imagine yourself turning down 59th Street with a big trailer blocking all your sensors, overriding them with its own, swinging wildly behind you. He'd drive me for hours at a time, through the most populated streets in the city, full of oblivious tourists and children and dogs. I'd come back with frayed wires, my sensors would be so overworked. It was enough to make you crazy."

"Didn't your owner care for you?" I said.

"No," she said, "he only cared about looking stylish. I don't think he knew much about cars. He left that to his chauffeur, who knew of my temperament, and told him I wasn't trained for a trailer. They thought I would get used to it, but my owner was not going to be the one to train me. When I was in the garage, miserable and angry from all the stress on my parts, he was always stern and gruff instead of soothing. If he had been civil, I would have tried to bear it. I was willing to work, and ready to work hard too, but to be tormented for nothing but his own vanity made me angry. What right did he have to make me suffer? He never cared about all the soot I had to inhale, driving around the city all the time. He never even cleaned my undercarriage, he just cared about keeping my body and interior shiny. He never gave a thought to any of the parts he couldn't see.

"Eventually I couldn't take anymore, and I would lock the doors and run over the toes of anyone that tried to get in my driver's seat. They'd use the manual key and the emergency brake to get in and fiddle with my computer, but they didn't know what they were doing. One day I drove right through a closed garage door, and that was the end of that place.

"That man sold me to another dealership up in Hudson, but of course no one would put a warranty on me after that. All the mechanics at the dealership collaborated on me, trying a number of hitches and racks, until they found out what I could bear. At last they made me very practical, and sold me to a small, quiet family farm in the Catskills. I enjoyed that until they hired an extra farmhand, who was as hard-handed as Delilah. He was angry and impatient, and would kick my undercarriage if my voice recognition misinterpreted his gravelly voice. Everything he did was rough, and I began to hate him. He wanted to make me afraid of him, but I was wise to his type and it never worked. One day I ran on top of his foot and stayed there as he howled in pain. He didn't dare come into my garage stall again. Although it was only him and never the family that I acted out with, they listened to him and returned me to the dealership. They wanted to give me one more chance, for they knew I was a good and capable car in the right hands. The end of the story is, I came here right before you. By then I'd decided that humans were my natural enemies and I must defend myself. Of course it's very different here, but who knows how long it'll last? I wish I could see things the way you do, but I can't after all I've been through."

"Well," I said, "I think it would be a real shame if you hurt Jane or James."

"I don't mean to," she said, "while they are good to me, I did give James a pretty big zap once, but Jane said, 'Try her with kindness,' and he listened. I've been good since."

I felt sorry for Ginger, but of course I knew very little then, and I thought most likely she made the worst of it; however, I found that as the weeks went on, she grew much more gentle and cheerful, and had lost the watchful, defiant look that she used to turn on any strange person who came near her. One day James said, "I think this car is starting to like me! She actually purred when I polished her fender today."

"It's the Birchbark Cookies," said Jane, "she'll be as good as Black Beauty soon enough. Kindness is all she wants, poor thing."

The Mayor noticed the change too, and one day he came back from a ride around the property with her, he stayed to talk with us as he often did, and stroked her beautiful hood. "Well well, my pretty one, you seem happier than when you came to us, I think."

"Yes, sir, she's improved so much. She's not the same car. It's the Birchbark Cookies, sir," said Jane, laughing. This was a little joke of hers. She used to say that a regular diet of Birchbark Cookies would cure almost any vicious creature. These cookies, she said, were made with one cup each of patience and gentleness, firmness and petting, mixed with a half-pint of common-sense, given out daily.