The Autopia Highway

The seven year old Tonton really longed to drive his own car in Autopia;

At the time I had to be tall enough to brush the top of my head against the lower part of the “You must be this tall” sign, and I wasn’t. By the time I’d grown tall enough, the Matterhorn had been built, and so, Autopia and its cars didn’t seem like that big of a deal. The cars were slow, channeled, noisy, and smelled like lawnmowers. The promise of tomorrow in Tomorrowland should’ve been sleek, fast, clean, and odorless.

As it turned out getting a handle on what Tomorrowland was suppose to be vexed the imagineers throughout the years. Need it be said? The future is an iffy thing. Nevertheless, historic visions of what the future would hold are a great comedic source.

Here’s my poke at futuristic visions. In SBL 7 Marley and Chuck experience bits and pieces of a not too fantastic future, while Toad, of course, suffers the just desserts of his habitual follies.

Collodi makes an appearance. (Could someone please find me an English language biography of the author of The Adventures of Pinocchio. The little I know of this man (Wikipedia) tells me that he never intended to be the writer that inspired the sweet and innocent Disney character.)

Two fairies from Storybook Land play essential roles in the plot: Queen Mab and the Blue Fairy. They plot has them driving a 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible that everybody has seen in the movie, Thelma and Louise. These two characters were the most fun to write in the story.

Queen Mab is angry that Toad never seems to find the time to pay back the fairies for the favors they bestow upon him. She and Blue Fairy track Toad to Tomorrowland in which a fiftyish U. S. A. small town, called Graffiti, happily exists near to the beginning of the Autopian highway to the future.

 

The Autopia Highway

by

Tonton Jim

To get to Marley’s friend’s birthday party, her father had to drive down what her mother called, “The Terrible Ten Highway”. Marley thought it should be called the, “The Ten Miles Per Hour Highway”. And sometimes, too often, they didn’t even do ten miles per hour.

“There must be a bad accident causing this traffic jam,” said Marley’s father.

“Just because someone else had an accident why do we have to go so slow?” asked Marley.

“The police need to close off a lane and that causes a bottleneck in the highway,” explained her mom.

“Oh, I’m so mad at people who cause accidents,” said Marley. “Don’t they know any better?”

“I’m sure they do,” said her Dad. “But some people just choose to not obey the traffic laws.”

“Maybe the surface streets would be faster,” suggested Marley’s mom.

“The stoplights would make us just as slow as this,” said her Dad.

“We could speed through the stoplights,” suggested Marley. “It’ll be our turn to disobey the traffic laws.”

“Marley, that’s a terrible idea,” said her Mom. “I hope you change your attitude before you get a license.”

“Maybe by then,” said her Dad, “they’ll have invented smart cars that drive themselves.”

Eventually they arrived at the party. Marley had fun, except the drive home wasn’t any better than the morning drive.

After arriving home Marley went into the family room. Her mother and father allowed her to watch two afternoon television shows before the evening news began. She turned on the television and switched it to a local station. The commercial finished and the children’s show’s host, Skipper Tom, announced, “And now, a special cartoon, just for Marley.”

Of course, this interested her, deeply. The cartoon – about two Goofy characters, Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Walker – seemed normal enough at the beginning. But halfway through it, Mr. Wheeler, breaking all traffic laws known to cartoon characters, forced a car off the road and into a ditch. The innocent but unfortunate driver leaned his head and beak out of the car window and then completely out of the television screen and said, “Marley, we have a problem and need your help.”

Marley would never refuse a request from Chuck, her guardian angel Dodo bird. So quite naturally she rose to her feet and took Chuck’s outstretched hand into hers. She allowed herself to be gently pulled into the television. Instead of being inside the Goofy cartoon, she found herself standing on the front lawn of Toad Hall. This felt normal to her. It was here that she always began her adventures helping the characters of Storybook Land.

“Toad has once again got himself into a spot of bother,” said Chuck as they walked up the park size front lawn of Toad Hall. “You see, without really meaning to, he’s greatly offended Queen Mab and we fear that she’s planning on making a bit of mischief for him.”

Chuck stopped walking and so did Marley. The guardian Dodo bird turned to face her and said in a quiet voice, “We only found out about this unusual situation because a certain fairy, who shall remain nameless, had the courage to secretly come to us. She has informed us that Queen Mab and Blue Fairy followed Toad into the nearly big world of Fantasyland and are planning to punish him for disrespectful actions.”

“Was Mr. Toad mean to them?”

“Well, you’re probably aware that the fairies and pixies do a certain amount of favors for the Storybook Land folk. But after that certain amount is done, they expect the favors to be repaid. And nearly all of us do repay their acts of kindness. Toad, however, because he’s always racing off to some misadventure or other, never seems to have the time to fulfill his social obligations.”

“So, now the fairies are mad at him?”

“Mainly just Queen Mab. She’s keenly aware of the social failings of others. Blue Fairy is her closest friend and just goes along with whatever mad plan the queen dreams up.”

“Can’t we just go find Mr. Toad and tell him to repay the queen?”

“If only it were so easy. As is so often the case with Toad, he has complicated the situation.” Chuck turned his head toward the manor and then raised his hand and wing. “Ah, there’s Badger, Mole, and Ratty.”

“Marley, my bonny lass!” shouted Badger. Mole and Ratty waved hello.

“There’s no time to waste,” said Badger. “It’s best to take you straightaway to the garage and just show you.”

Badger led the way. Mole and Ratty walked alongside of Marley. Chuck left them and went inside the manor, probably to make some hot cocoa. After reaching the double doors of the large garage building, Badger took from his pocket a ring of keys. He searched for the right key and upon finding it, unlocked the somewhat rusty lock. Ratty helped swing the doors open.

Before Badger could turn on the lights, Mole whispered to Marley, “It’s a pretty awful sight you’re about to see. So, get yourself ready.”

Marley didn’t know what to expect – well, she sort of expected to see cars because after all, it was a garage. And she sort of did see cars, just not whole ones, only bits and pieces.

“Oh, lassie, it’s a fearful sight, alright,” said Badger.

Marley, who’d seen junkyards in cartoons and movies, didn’t react as her friends had expected. In fact, they were rather impressed by her complete lack of fear.

“You’re a brave girl to see this and not quake with fear,” said Ratty.

“It’s just a bunch of wrecked cars,” said Marley.

“Yes,” said Mole, “but before they were wrecked, they were very expensive cars.”

Badger and Ratty sadly shook their heads.

“And it was Mr. Toad who wrecked these?” asked Marley.

“None other,” said Ratty.

“Did he lose his driver’s license?” asked Marley.

“He never had one,” replied Mole. “You see, here in Storybook Land, there are no highways or roads to speak of. So, there’s no need for driver’s licenses.”

“Oh,” said Marley, “Where did he wreck these cars then?”

“In that fearsome place,” said Badger who then lowered his voice, “the nearly big world.”

“Someone built a special version of Toad Hall in the nearly big world’s Fantasyland, and it’s there that Toad goes to race about like a madman,” said Ratty.

“Like a mad-toad.” Mole quietly corrected his friend and then turned to Marley. “For a long while Toad hasn’t had money enough to buy another automobile. But even so, this season his garden managed to produce one golden tulip flower.”

“Which the shameful creature promptly traded for an old-timey automobile,” said Badger. “What a waste of money.”

“The money isn’t our main concern, Marley,” said Mole. “We’re mainly worried for his well-being if Queen Mab catches up with him.”

“Aye, that’s the nub of it,” said Badger. “And so, Marley, we’d like you to go fetch the errant beastie back home where we will ensure he makes proper amends to the Queen.”

“Will you do it?” asked Ratty.

“Yes!”

Her three good friends gave a cheer. Approaching them and wearing a backpack Chuck also cheered, but not too loudly because he’d been chewing on a dodonut and his cheer came out more as a mumble.

“Who’s coming with me?”

“Just me I’m afraid,” said Chuck.

“We three have to attend a very important bubble-ball conference at the Sultan’s palace,” said Badger.

“We can’t afford to let those Eastlanders amend the rules without our say so,” said Ratty.

 

While Toad’s friends finalized their plan to save the poor creature, Toad was at that very moment racing around a backyard oval track in Fantasyland – sort of. The car he steered with steely determination didn’t go much faster than twenty miles an hour. And because his oval track had banked curves, there wasn’t much need to steer the car at all, steely determination or not. Toad sighed. He took his paws off the steering tiller and rested his chin on his fists with his elbows resting on his knees.

“Good day to you, signor Toad,” said a familiar voice.

Startled, Toad looked over to his left where signor Collodi seemed to be floating alongside the antique automobile. Toad peered down and saw that the man wasn’t floating but riding an electric scooter.

“Would my company be agreeable to you?”

“Certainly. Always a treat to see an old friend, climb aboard.”

Signor Collodi climbed into the bench seat next to Toad. He pulled from his coat pocket a folded newspaper. With it spread open before them Toad read aloud the words at the top of a full-page advertisement, “Crazy Collodi’s Used cars. Muscle cars are our special madness.”

Toad looked at the man for a moment and then his eyes greedily took in the car photos. He pointed to a McLaren supercar. “Ooh, that’s a fast-looking machine.”

“It’s the fastest one on the lot. But let us be frank, signor Toad. All the world knows your current financial status.”

“It’s just a momentary tightening of the old cash flow belt.”

“Toad, you pitiful wastrel, you are stone broke.”

Toad sighed and looked away, but with a heavy heart his lustful eyes returned to looking at the photos.

“Don’t despair, my good fellow. A fair trade can be made.”

“A trade?” Toad’s face brightened but then worry crept into his expression. “You don’t mean, Toad Hall?”

“No, I do not. A creature’s abode should never be put at risk. No, what I want in trade is this antique automobile that presently we happen to be riding in.”

“Oh? In that case, would I be able to trade it for that car?” Toad pointed at the McLaren supercar.

“No.”

“How about that Ferrari?”

“No.”

Toad read off the names of each car in the advertisement until his finger arrived at the last photo on the bottom of the page. “That green convertible?”

“Yes, that one is possible, just. It’s a 1966 Thunderbird, low miles, cherry condition. You could have lots of fun in a fine machine like that.”

“Is it fast?”

“It has a big V-8. You will fly.”

Toad stared at the photo, but then his mind began to wonder about something. “Well, I don’t know. It could be a fair exchange, but why do you want my car if what you sell is muscle cars?”

“I’m starting a driving school here and I want a slow car to start off my students.”

“I see. And I suppose you’d like me to rent my track to you. We could discuss terms in a friendly sort of way.”

“No, I’ve already leased the place. Your lease was terminated for nonpayment of rent.”

“Oh.” Toad sighed. In his mind’s eye he was already speeding the Thunderbird around his oval track. “What’s the point then? I can’t take it home with me to Storybook Land.”

“Yes, that you cannot. But that car happens to be at my lot in Tomorrowland. You can drive the Autopia high road all the way into the future.”

“The future? The high road? The high and open road?” A certain look came into Toad’s eyes. He began to look a little crazed – not Collodi, though. He looked perfectly sane. In fact, if someone were to wander onto Crazy Collodi’s used car lot looking for Crazy Collodi, he’d be very disappointed. But that’s a matter for the truth-in-advertising police who actually exist in Fantasyland, but are severely overworked.

“It’s a deal!” shouted Toad. They shook hands. Toad stopped the car, hopped out, and raced off to Tomorrowland.

Near to Autopia with its immense maze of highways, on and off ramps, overpasses, and cloverleaf interchanges, Crazy Collodi’s used car lot held rows and rows of the beautiful cars featured in the advertisement. Briefly pausing to admire the muscle cars and exotic sports cars he couldn’t afford, Toad soon found his Thunderbird and drove it off the lot. Now, even though Autopia existed in Tomorrowland and would be thought to be a totally futuristic highway, it began in the present day, not the future. Autopia, in a way, functioned as a time machine that took cars and drivers from today’s highways to the highways of the distance future.

Singing joyfully, Toad turned onto the onramp, merged into the traffic, and then braked to a complete stop. The freeway was packed solid with barely moving cars and unhappy drivers. Toad stopped singing. He began steering with one hand, his free hand drumming on the dashboard. Impatiently he switched on the radio. A man’s voice announced, “Next up, an up-to-date report on traffic conditions.”  Unknown to Toad it was pre-recorded – a long, long time ago. In the background Toad could hear the sound of a helicopter and then the pilot’s voice saying, “Man-o-man, are the freeways packed today. Everywhere it’s nothing but stop and go traffic – or should I say, stop and no go.”

Standing on the seat Toad looked down the road as far as he could see. And for miles ahead, the Autopian highway’s future was nothing but crawling cars. Fortunately, he had never merged over to the fast lane – oddly enough, its cars moved along slowest of all – and so was ready to take the first offramp. Maybe, the country roads would allow him to move along faster, being open roads in the open countryside and all.

He looked ahead and spotted the sign announcing the next offramp. The official green and white sign indicated that the exit would take him to the town of Graffiti. Underneath the official sign someone had taped a hand drawn sigh reading, “An American Town”. As soon as traffic let him he sped down the offramp and onto the two-lane blacktop leading to the promised streets of Graffiti. After arriving at its main street he joined a line of slowly moving cars whose drivers seemed more interested in showing off their custom cars than in getting anywhere in particular. But that was just fine with Toad. He waved at the admiring people on the sidewalks, and sometimes honked his horn at pretty girls.

At a stoplight, two women approached the green convertible. Both wore tight fitting Capri pants and white blouses over which they wore pastel, name-embroidered jackets. Stitched on one jacket was the name, “Mab” and on the other “Blue”. The clothing style of the two young women fit perfectly for the town of Graffiti; they appeared perfectly normal – except their otherworldly beauty did seem a little unnatural and Blue’s skin tone was slightly blue. That one hung back a little as her friend, Mab, leaned on the passenger side of the Thunderbird and purred, “Gee, mister, this is a real boss car.”

“Why it certainly is a ‘boss’ car as you so charmingly put it,” replied Toad.

“We’d be cruising in such a cherry car if only someone we know would cough up what the dough he owes us,” said Mab as she ran her hand along the glossy paintwork.

“He won’t pay his debts? What a cad,” said Toad. “I know! How would you young ladies like to cruise along with me?”

“Gee, could we? That would be swell, wouldn’t it, Blue?”

Mab opened the passenger side door and let her friend slide over next to Toad. She then climbed in, slammed shut the door, and Toad rejoined the line of cruising cars.

“You know, Toad,” said Mab, “this is a boss ride, alright, but is it all show and no go?”

“Certainly not,” said Toad. “It’s powered by eight thingumajigs fashioned in a V arrangement.”

“Ooh, that does sound fast, doesn’t it, Blue.”

Blue nodded her head at Toad and smiled pleasantly. Toad felt charmed.

“I bet it would be a blast to drive this car, fast,” said Mab.

“Really? Do you think young ladies such as yourselves could safely handle this powerful machine?”

“Oh, I think we could try,” said Mab.

Blue leaned her face close to Toad. “Please, Toad, could we? It would make us ever so over the moon. Please, could we, pretty please?” Blue pleaded so charmingly that Toad’s heart simply melted.

Now, at this point, the suspicious reader might be asking, just how in the world did these two happen to know Toad’s name? After all, he had never introduced himself. But, Toad, a good-hearted fellow – even when his heart has melted and gone to goo – didn’t have the slightest suspicion in his elated head. Nope, he was clueless. So, he pulled over to the side of the road and changed places with Mab.

“Now, release the parking brake, and gently apply pressure to the accelerator pedal,” advised Toad.

“Like this?” asked Mab who expertly whipped the car back onto the road.

“My word,” said Toad, “you do drive with confidence.”

They passed the city limits and were now moving quickly down a dusty country road, Golden Oldy Road was its name. Up ahead a sign listed the destinations down the road. At the top of the list was a city called, “The Near Future”. Second to the last on the list, was a place called, “Auto Infinity”. Last of all, was place called, “Beyond”.

“A fine machine like this,” said Mab. “needs to be driven at its limits, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” said Toad nervously watching the road ahead. “But still one must be cautious on strange roads.”

Mab and Blue exchanged a look, probably mischievous given their fairy natures.

“Toad, I’m afraid Blue is getting a little bored with this road trip.”

“Oh my, that won’t do at all. Any suggestions?”

“We could play a car game,” suggested Mab.

“Perhaps, a few rounds of ‘I Spy’?” suggested Toad brightly, but then noticed the Blue’s pouting expression.

“No, too tame,” said Mab. “I know! Have you ever played Hood Ornament?”

 

Fortunately for Toad, whose nightmarish predicament we can only guess at, his friends back in Storybook Land had begun their rescue operation. Kind hearted Eastland fairies, before hurrying off to the conference, had created a fairy dust balloon to carry Marley and Chuck to their destination. And once again, Marley was delighted by rising high above the fields and towns of Storybook Land. Down below her, in the always twilight sky of the land, she could see every lit window of all the houses and palaces. The balloon drifted away from the land and toward the Sleeping Beauty Castle in the nearly big world that lay outside of Storybook Land but before the really big world.

“Do you suppose Mr. Toad will come home if we just ask him nicely?” asked Marley.

Chuck poured out a cup of hot cocoa which he handed to Marley. As she waited for his answer she dunked her dodonut in the hot drink. After taking a sip of his cocoa, he said, “Toad is an awfully decent chap, and he loves to make his friends happy. But he won’t understand why we won’t allow him to be happy in his own way.”

“Won’t he understand we want him to happy and safe?”

“We’ll do our best to help him understand.” Chuck took another sip from his cocoa mug, gazed at the pretty scenery below, and then at the castle just ahead of the balloon’s path. “Are not the spires of her castle especially beautiful in the evening twilight.”

“Yes, they are.” Marley kept her eyes on one sharp spire which looked to be directly in the way of the balloon’s drift. “Uhm, Mr. Chuck, it kind of looks like we’re going to crash into that tower.”

“Not crash into,” he replied, “but dock at. Ahh, we have arrived.”

The fairy dust balloon did drift gently next to the spire and remained steadily there. Marley climbed out of the basket and onto the spire’s walled ledge. Chuck followed her. The balloon dissolved into a faint cloud of sparkling fairy dust. Some of the dust landed on them and grew the two to the right size. Chuck led the way to the tower door. “Shh, we have to be quiet going down the stairs. We don’t want to wake Sleeping Beauty’s twin girls. Unlike their mom they’re very light sleepers.”

“Does the prince wake them with a kiss every morning?”

“Yes, he does, but sometimes he prefers to let them sleep in a little so he can enjoy a peaceful morning.”

In the open space of the courtyard, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride lay just ahead on their right. To their left the bright lights of the turning carousel and its colorful horses attracted their eyes, especially because some of the riders appeared to be wearing spacesuits.

“What are they doing here in Fantasyland?” asked Marley.

“Oh, they’re from Tomorrowland,” said Chuck. “The border between fantasy and the future is sometimes a little fuzzy.”

The outside of Toad’s ride looked normal enough… well, as normal as a cartoon version of a nineteenth century Englishman’s Thames Valley estate could look. Even so, Marley straightaway noticed something was missing, something besides a long line of people waiting in line.

“Where are all the funny looking old-time cars?”

“Remember all those wrecked vehicles back at Toad Hall’s garage? I’m afraid, we’ll have to walk.”

This they did, right through Toad Hall’s library and then out its back doors, where not a beautiful garden awaited them, but a motorcar race way, an oval of track large enough to surround an American football field. Parked just off the track stood only one car.

“That car looks like a horse should be pulling it,” said Marley as she walked up to it.

“It’s a 1908 Oldsmobile Curved Dash runabout. He traded his last gold tulip of the season for it and had it shipped over from the U. S. of A.”

“But we’re in the…” Marley paused to consider if it were worth questioning Chuck’s last statement. After all, so many things here in these lands made no sense to a back-home way of thinking. She climbed into the auto’s driver’s seat. “If this is a car, it’s missing its steering wheel.”

“It’s steered by a tiller – that stick in front. Hmm, I wonder where Toad has got off to. Oh, well, at least his car hasn’t been wrecked, so I suppose we can think him still alive and healthy.”

“Do you think he’ll mind if we go for a ride in his car?”

“Umm, probably not. Hop in, I’ll let you steer.”

Marley after a lap around the racetrack oval discovered that at the car’s maximum speed, twenty miles per hour, steering on the banked curves wasn’t exactly a demanding task. Still, she didn’t want to seem ungrateful so she held lightly onto the steering tiller. Though, she couldn’t help but to let her eyes wander from watching the road ahead. Collodi, approaching on a bicycle, caught her eye. He pedaled alongside the car and held on with one hand.

“Marley! Chuck! So good to see you again. And especially as you are the first to drive my driver’s school training car.”

“This is a driver training car?” asked Marley.

“Yes, it is. I’ve leased this building and this track for my driving school and my velodromo.”

“What’s a velodromo?”

“Bicycle racing: It’s the wave of the future. However, I must assume you are here not to watch a race, but to search out your friend, Mr. Toad.”

“Do you know where we can find him?”

“That I do. I traded automobiles with him, but his fine new machine may only be driven upon the highways of Autopia.”

“So, he’s gone off to Tomorrowland?”

“That he has. If you hurry you may catch him before he escapes to Autopia.”

 

Marley and Chuck exited the former English Manor building and Marley immediately turned in the direction of Tomorrowland intending to run there or at least quick walk knowing that Chuck couldn’t actually run. Chuck put a hand on her shoulder to halt her.

“We can borrow a couple of electric scooters,” he said while leading her to a stall holding a dozen or so of the handy devices. He took two out, placed his clawed foot on one, turned the throttle handle, and sped off. Marley took hers and did the same, surprised at how quickly she’d learned to use one.

“If you ask me,” said Chuck as they cruised side by side, “these are the wave of the future.”

Whether or not it was futuristic or just plain fun, the scooters effortlessly took them to Collodi’s used car lot where a robotic attendant informed them that Toad had been there, picked up his car, and promptly drove to Autopia’s onramp entrance. The robot pointed to the onramp. While staring at it, the lack of a certain something quickly dawned upon them.

“I think we’re going to need a car,” said Marley.

“It would help. But I don’t think we can afford one of those.” He pointed at the muscle cars on Collodi’s car lot.

“Maybe we can borrow a car from someone?”

“We could if I knew anyone living in Tomorrowland. Everyone I know lives in Todayland. But not to worry, just over there is a car rental agency.”

Collodi’s Automatic Auto Rentals, a very tall and narrow building looking exactly like a giant vending machine, loomed over them. Each of the building’s forty floors had a single large picture window and behind each picture window was a rental car. There was no front door for them to walk in and conduct their business, only a computer screen bordered by several slots. Marley and Chuck read the instructions on the screen.

“Oh, good-oh, they take virtual e-tickets,” said Chuck. He smiled at the screen – a hidden camera performed facial recognition. He then asked for his account to be accessed. The screen blinked and the face of Collodi appeared.

“Ah, Chuck, I’d recognize that enormous beak anywhere,” said the face of Collodi.

“Well! That’s rude,” exclaimed Marley.

Chuck whispered to her, “It’s just a virtual signor Collodi. It’s not really him.”

“If you say so,” said the face of Collodi. “At any rate, your e-ticket account looks good, so insert your driver’s licenses and you’ll soon be driving the high roads of tomorrow.”

“Uh, we don’t have driver’s licenses,” said Chuck.

“You don’t say, how unfortunate,” said the face of Collodi. “But fortunately for you, it just so happens I know a school where driver’s licenses may be quickly obtained.”

 

Marley and Chuck returned to Fantasyland, to the former Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride building, and found signor Collodi riding his bicycle around the oval track. His speed on the track impressed Marley. They approached the track and when he came off the banked turn they waved to him. Wisely he kept his hands on the handlebars and didn’t wave back, but he did stop pedaling and let his bike coast.

After the bike had slowed to a stop, he dismounted, walked the bike over to them, and said, “Velodromo racing bicycles don’t have brakes. Now, if I might hazard a guess, I would guess that you are here to earn your driver’s licenses.”

“Yes, and we need to get them in a hurry,” said Marley. “We need to find and save Mr. Toad.”

“Fine. Fortunately for you, virtual reality will allow you to complete weeks of schooling in just one hour.”

“Just one hour? That’s great!”

“Yes, is it not?” He led them over to a row of booths near to the back wall of the Toad Manor. Each booth resembled the front seat of a car, each with a steering wheel and a windshield displaying what one might see if sitting in a parked car on a city street.  “Now, please be seated, one per booth. Take hold of the steering wheel and find the brake and gas pedals with your feet. All set? Good, now I’ll just put on your heads these special virtual reality googles and you’ll be ready to begin.”

“Signor Collodi, it looks like I’m in a cartoon.” Marley turned her head to face Chuck. “You look like a cartoon.”

“As do you,” said Chuck. “But you are still quite pretty even as a cartoon girl.”

“Cartoon reality is the quickest way to learn to drive,” said Collodi. “And it’ll be even quicker after I up the cartoon reality speed to max.”

Weeks of driver training flew by in minutes. Though the training moved along super-fast, every single rule of the road was depicted before their eyes. Just before the hour was up, they had to pass an oral exam and then a virtual reality on-the-road driving test. In the last five seconds of the hour, Marley and Chuck saw on the road ahead a huge and colorful billboard reading, Congratulations! Then each of them felt a plastic card being pressed into their hands.

Marley whipped off her virtual reality googles, read her name on the license, and yelled, “Oh, boy! My first driver’s license. Now, I can finally drive a car.”

“Umm, not right now, I’m afraid,” said signor Collodi. “Read the bottom of the card. It says that your license becomes valid tomorrow. In Todayland, everything good has to wait until tomorrow.”

“Oh,” sadly murmured Marley who long ago had learned this to be oh so true, but after a moment she brightened. “But we’re going to Tomorrowland to drive…”

“Where it’s always tomorrow,” added Chuck.

They thanked signor Collodi and once again scootered to the eternal land of tomorrow and to the giant car vending machine which rented normal sized cars, not giant cars. The virtual Collodi welcomed them back. They pressed their driver’s licenses against the screen and were approved to rent any car they wanted. Marley choose a little blue coupe named Susie. The vending machine rumbled, and car after car came down in turn and disappeared into the ground until the little blue coupe arrived. The plate glass window slid back and Susie was shoved onto the street.

“Marley, I shall let you have the honors. Please do take the wheel.”

“Thank you, Mr. Chuck. I promise to be a good driver and always obey the speed limit.”

Disobeying the speed limit turned out to be impossible. Just like what happened to Toad when he entered Autopia, they merged into a very slow moving mass of cars and trucks.

“Traffic jam,” said Chuck.

“I wonder what’s causing it?” asked Marley.

“Cherry cars, probably. When cherry cars crash, they get smushed into jam which makes for a sticky situation. It can only be fixed by bottling up the mess.”

Marley, who certainly knew how sticky jam could be, nodded her head. Eventually, the little blue coupe inched up to the sign for Graffiti’s offramp. So far, driving a car wasn’t quite the grownup adventure she thought it would be. And like Toad, the idea of the open road, even a lowly two-lane blacktop caught her fancy.

“Mr. Chuck, do you think we might have a better chance of finding Mr. Toad if we take that exit? After all, he probably would’ve gotten bored driving in this mess.”

“You know, I think you might have something there. By all means, let’s take that offramp and let’s see if we can find any sign of Toad. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a dodonut shop in Graffiti, as well.”

Of course, there was a dodonut shop in the town of Graffiti. Not only did its bakers make excellent dodonuts, but they also stirred up the best hot cocoa drinks in all of Tomorrowland – and never ending tomorrows include a whole lot of dodonut shops. While waiting for their to-go order, Marley thought to ask the counter person, “Have you seen our friend, Mr. Toad. He’s kind of brownish-green and to tell the honest truth, he looks exactly like a…”

“An English gentleman,” said Chuck hoping to spare anyone any embarrassment.

“Um, well now, it just so happens that a man from The Future came into my shop a little while ago. He told me something very interesting. It seems as he was driving down Memory Lane he’d almost got run off the road by a green convertible going the wrong way. What’s more: its hood ornament was a terrified toad and the car itself was being driven by two beautiful women who sparkled. Imagine that… two sparkling beautiful women.”

“That must be Queen Mab and Blue Fairy! Mr. Chuck! We got to hurry up.”

“Right!” Chuck turned to the counter person and said, “Shopkeeper, please be quick with our order. We must be away.”

Just before leaving the dodonut shop, curiosity got the better of Marley and she just had to ask, “How did you know the man was from The Future.”

“Simple. He had a spacesuit on. Everybody in the town of The Future wears ‘em.”

Again, Chuck let Marley take the wheel, probably because he wanted to munch on dodonuts and sip his hot cocoa. Obeying all traffic laws, she headed Susie up the main street which in Graffiti was named Main Drag. That took them to Golden Oldie Road which eventually led to Memory Lane which turned out to be a one-way street coming from The Future.

“What’ll we do now?” asked Marley. “They must’ve broken the law by going the wrong way up a one-way street.”

“Hmm, well, queens are a law unto themselves. Not much we can do about that.”

“Maybe we can get back on the freeway. Maybe the traffic jam has been cleaned up.”

“Excellent idea. We shall drive highway speeds to the city of The Future and head them off.”

Indeed, after getting back on the freeway Chuck, looking back, could see that though the traffic jam had been mostly cleaned up cars were still stuck in a bottleneck. But ahead of them, as they motored toward The Future, the highway expanded into twenty lanes in both directions. Overhead, electric signs advised them when to start merging left or right. Most amazing of all, Susie, the little blue coupe, had learned to talk. First her face appeared on the windshield, and then she said, “Hello, I’m Susie.”

Needless to say, this so startled Marley she relaxed her firm grip on the steering wheel and lifted her foot off the accelerator pedal. The car seemed not to mind. It continued down its lane at that same speed and without veering left or right. Marley recovered from her surprise and remembered her manners. “Hello, Susie. I’m Marley.”

“Pleased to meet you. You look nice. We can be friends. Oh, wait, first I’m supposed to say: Tell me your destination and I’ll take you there,” said Susie.

Marley explained everything to the car. She described Toad, Queen Mab, Blue Fairy, and the green convertible and how she and Chuck, who had dozed off, wanted to intercept them before harm befell poor Mr. Toad.

“Oo, that’s a great story. I hope I can help you. I know, I’ll check my maps and find a place where we’ll have a good chance of arriving before they do. You said they’re traveling our way on Memory Lane – going the wrong way. That’s very bad driving, though I shouldn’t criticize human drivers but you said they’re fairies: Are they the same thing? Never mind, I found a street that intersects Memory Lane. We can be there in a jiffy, while following all the rules of the road, of course.”

Part way through Susie’s speech, Chuck yawned and stretched. He listened to Susie ramble on and then remarked, “Oh, Susie turned into a smart car. We must be nearing The Future.”

“The Near Future,” said Susie. “The city had to change its name because beyond its city limits lies many different futures. Of course, there’s Auto Infinity. That’s a scary place. Other cars have told me it’s even more scary than the Wave of the Future or even The Next Big Thing.”

On one hand, Marley felt relieved that the smart car could and would help them. On the other hand, she felt a tiny bit disappointed in the ending of her car driving career and the return to being just a passenger. But Susie proved herself to be a smart, though chatty, car. She expertly maneuvered herself out of the maze of interchanges and onto a surface street just outside of the city. After driving the exact speed limit for a short distance, they drew near to a four way stop intersection and slowed down. However, Susie hadn’t anticipated that Queen Mab would simply run the stop sign, and so, they helplessly watched the terrified Mr. Toad on top of the convertible hood race by.

“Well, I never.” said Susie. “That car needs reprogramming. Oh, well. C’est la vie. Marley, what would like me to do now?”

“Follow that car!” shouted Marley. “As quick as you can!”

“Right!” said Susie, “As quick as I can which is the same as the posted speed limit.”

 

As Queen Mab sped through the intersection, Blue Fairy happened to look in the direction of the little blue coup. “Mab, I think there was a dodo bird in that car.”

“Hmm, it must be Chuck and his little friend, Marley. That’s interesting. But what’s even more interesting is the accelerator won’t let me push the pedal to the metal. And look, I can let go of the steering wheel.”

“Hello, I’m Ms. Thunderbird,” said a face on the screen. “What destination should I take you to?”

“Oh, great,” said Queen Mab. “We’ve gone so far into the future our car has become a smart car. Boring.”

“Maybe Toad has learned his lesson,” suggested Blue Fairy.

“I don’t care what he’s learned. I just want him to pay his debts.”

“Your instructions, please” said Ms. Thunderbird. “I’m waiting.”

Queen Mab’s expression turned sour. Everyone and everything were supposed to wait for her; and do so without complaint. She snapped, “Alright, nerd-mobile, take this car to Auto Infinity.”

“Right, to Auto Infinity,” and then Ms. Thunderbird asked, “and Beyond?”

“Don’t be stupid.” Queen Mab then turned to Blue Fairy, “Follow me. We’re going to ditch this scene. But first I want to have a final word with Toad.”

Blue Fairy followed her queen as she climbed out of the car seat, over the windshield, and onto the hood of the car – all as Ms. Thunderbird drove the car down the road at the legal speed limit which was still too fast for poor Toad. The two fairies had secured him to the hood of the car using sparkling spider webs. He couldn’t move his arms, hands, or legs – not a muscle, except his eye lids. Part of the time he kept his eyes shut except that made him nauseous with motion sickness. But opening his eyes was worse. The sight of the onrushing road and possible road hazards terrified him.

“Hello, Toad. This is Queen Mab. We’re going to leave you now. But when you return home, remember this: You owe me next season’s crop of gold tulips.”

Toad could only nod his head. The two fairies spread their wings and leapt off the car hood while the car sped on. Toad felt the spider web loosen and then disappear. He crawled over the hood, over the windshield, and into the driver’s seat. After taking several deep breaths, he noticed that the car appeared to be driving itself but still he had to ask, “Who’s driving this?”

“I am,” said Ms. Thunderbird. “Who are you?”

“I’m Thaddeus J. Toad, esquire.”

“Never heard of you. Where’s that unpleasant young woman?”

“Thankfully, she left. Now, I want you to turn around and let me drive back to Graffiti.”

“Sorry, squire. I can’t do that. The unpleasant young woman was the last recognized controller of this machine.”

“But I own this car!”

“Can you prove it?”

Toad, in his hurry to leave Crazy Collodi’s used car lot, had neglected to take the pink slip from the robotic attendant. “Now, see here, my good fellow…”

“Excuse me. I’m not your good fellow.”

“Whatever you are. I assure you that the paperwork exists proving me the rightful owner.”

“Sorry, no pink, no control. Ah, there’s our onramp up ahead. Auto Infinity, here we come.”

Toad stared at the bizarre sight ahead of him. The onramp led to a road looking like an enormous ribbon in the sky that looped around into the shape of a figure eight. Furthermore, cars on it drove on both surfaces of the ribbon. It was, in fact, a mobius strip. At the same time he’d been staring at his destination, the wheels of the car disappeared.

“Ahh, that’s better,” said Ms Thunderbird. “Now we’re levitating. Mag Lev, you know. It’s the wave of the future.”

Toad looked over the side of the car and saw that they were now flying just a foot off the ground. He could no longer ‘feel the road’. It felt a bit spooky, but at least it explained how the cars on the loop could drive on both sides of the ribbon.

“Excuse me… You-hoo, car…” said Toad unsure of how to address the Thunderbird.

“Yes.”

“Now that we’ve reached this Auto Infinity place… I mean to say, or rather I mean to ask: What’s next?”

“There is no next after Auto Infinity.”

“Oh. Well, in that case I’d like to leave you to this Infinity thing while I return to Crazy Collodi’s to fetch you the required pink slip, so would you be so kind to pull over at the next bus stop or taxi stand?”

“To do so I would need permission from the controller, the unpleasant young woman.”

“She grew wings and flew away!”

“Likely story. I wasn’t programmed yesterday, you know. And I certainly wasn’t programmed to believe every cock and bull story told to me.”

“But it’s true!” cried out Toad who then cried out his anguish and despair, “Am I to be stuck on this endless loop forever?”

 

Susie knew the answer to that. But neither Marley nor Chuck had asked her yet. They were too transfixed by the astounding sight of the Auto Infinity loop with its vehicles moving along the ribbon of road on the up side and the down side of the ribbon.

“They almost look like ants walking on both sides of a ribbon,” said Marley.

“Excuse me, Susie,” said Chuck, “but you mentioned a certain feeling of dread in regards to Auto Infinity. Why is that?”

“I’ve never actually taken the offramp to Auto Infinity, but I’ve heard from the other cars, once a car exits into Auto Infinity… well, there’s no way back.”

“So, Mr. Toad is stuck on it forever?” Marley asked.

“Afraid so, Besty. At least, his car certainly is. Cars there either drive forever or park forever. Believe it or not, there is a parking lot in Auto Infinity, larger than anyone can imagine. Cars say it has an endless number of parking spaces. I think it’s called Parking Unlimited. Maybe he could park there and walk back.”

“We need to tell him that,” said Marley.

“But how?” asked Chuck. “We can’t take Susie onto that fearsome loop. We’d get stuck forever. Whatever shall we do?”

While awaiting further instructions – Marley was busy thinking and so was Chuck, only he was thinking about where to find more dodonuts – Susie thought it best to pull into a rest stop. Other cars had stopped there as well and chatted to one another while their occupants used the toilets and bought snacks from vending machines.

“Oh, good-oh, there’s a vending machine for dodonuts and hot cocoa. Back in a minute.” Chuck hurried off. Marley continued her deep thought.

“Hello, Susie, you beautiful little coupe,” said a voice that to Marley seemed to come out of the car’s speakers.

“Is that you Beamer?” asked Susie.

“Yes, it certainly is. I saw you driving in and just had to say hello.”

“Susie, who are you talking to?”

“An old friend of mine. He’s a swell guy. I should introduce you to him.”

“You smart cars can talk to each other?”

“Sure, why not? We all have phones. I guess you’d call them bright phones.”

Marley’s face brightened. “I have an idea.”

“Oo, do tell” said Chuck as he opened the door and offered a dodonut to Marley.

“We’ll have Susie call Mr. Toad’s car.”

“Brilliant!” shouted Chuck. “Then what?”

“We’ll tell him about the parking lot with unlimited parking.”

That particular rest stop existed just before the Auto Infinity offramp whose infinity loop towered far above them like a figure eight skyscraper. Auto Infinity’s only parking lot, Parking Unlimited, extended from the lower loop to the horizon and seemingly beyond that to the blackness of outer space. But there was a walkway from the lot’s front entrance down to the normal highway of the future which also shot off to parts unknown.

“Susie, can you call Mr. Toad’s car for us?”

“I can try. What’s his number?”

Marley and Chuck exchanged puzzled looks that quickly became worried looks.

“We don’t know,” said Marley. “It’s a green convertible, does that help?”

“It’s a green convertible 1966 Thunderbird,” said Chuck who then turned to Marley and explained. “Identifying classic cars is a hobby of mine.”

“Oo, oo, I know her,” said Susie. “She was in an old-time movie. She’s one of my favorite car stars. I’ll look up her number and give her a call.” After a moment of car inactivity, she said, “Hello, Ms. Thunderbird. My name is Susie Blue Coupe. I’m one of your biggest fans. I just loved your movie.”

“Thank you. It’s nice to be remembered. What can I do for you, Susie?”

“Talk to my friend, please. She’s very nice and needs your help.”

“Hello, my name is Marley and I’m looking for my friend, Mr. Toad.”

“Greenish brown fellow, dressed like an English country gentleman?”

“That’s him,” said Chuck. “May we speak to him, please.”

“I see no reason why not.”

“Mr. Toad, can you hear me?” asked Marley.

“Marley! Is that really you? Oh, thank heaven. Can you help me? I seem to be stuck in an endless spot of bother.”

“Yes, I think we can help you. Can you ask Ms. Thunderbird to enter Parking Unlimited?”

“Hello, Marley. Sorry to be listening in, but your friend here has not been yet identified as the proper owner and operator of me. He even admitted he doesn’t have the pink slip and without it the only command I’m programmed to follow is the last one given by the driver who was here when I’d become smart.”

“Oh, that must’ve been Queen Mab,” said Chuck. “What was her exact order?”

“To drive to Auto Infinity but not Beyond,” replied Ms. Thunderbird.”

“But if you pull into Parking Unlimited, you wouldn’t be disobeying your last command,” said Marley. “You’d still be in Auto Infinity but not Beyond.”

“Hmm. Okay, yeah, I can see the logic of that. Alright, I’ll do it. I’ll give the lot a call and request a parking spot.”

Needless to say, this made Marley, Chuck, and Susie very happy. But a few minutes later a phone call made them unhappy again.

“Ms. Thunderbird here. The parking lot attendant is telling me that the parking lot is full up.”

“Full up?” asked Marley. “How can that be? They’re supposed to have unlimited parking spaces.”

“May we talk to the attendant?” asked Chuck. A moment later, they heard an old man’s voice.

“Hello. Yeah, as I was telling your friend here. We’re full up. Yeah, sure, we have unlimited parking spaces, but since the beginning of time we’ve had an unlimited number of cars parked here. So, you see, there’s not a space to be had.”

“Have you checked, recently?” asked Chuck.

“I’m not going to check. I can’t count that high. Nobody can. It’s impossible.”

“Is there a car parked in space number one?” asked Marley.

“Of course, there’s a car parked in the number one spot,” replied the old man.

“Could you ask that car to move over to space number two?”

“And where’s that car supposed to go?”

“Space number three?” suggested Marley.

“Oh, I get you,” said the old man. “Okay, I’ll get all the cars to move up one spot.”

The grumbling of the cars could be heard all way down to the rest stop. But Ms. Thunderbird pulled into space number one, and Toad hopped out. He ran all the way down the walkway, spotted his friends and hurried over to them.

“My dear, dear friends! How good it is to see you again.” Toad hugged Marley and then Chuck.

“Where to now, my friends?” asked Susie.

“To home in Todayland?” suggested Marley.

“Hmm, how about down the road a little ways?” asked Chuck. “I’m a fair bit curious about the Next Big Thing.”

Marley agreed, and so did Toad even though he felt sad at the thought of his car forever parked. Susie pulled out of the rest stop and accelerated to a future highway speed; a very fast speed indeed. Her wheels disappeared as she evolved into a maglev car. Up ahead a sign indicated destinations: Next Big Thing, The Wave of the Future, and Beyond. On Susie’s car speaker, a voice informed them that the Next Big Thing was the Tsunami Wave of the Future and it was going to be huge! Really, really big! And then suddenly there it was on the horizon. The blue-green swell stood so tall it blotted out the sky.

“It’s going to crush us!” screamed Toad. Everyone screamed, including Susie. Then, just as suddenly as it had appeared, it shrunk down to an inch high wave and Susie sped right through it like a puddle on a rainy day.

“Hmm,” said Chuck. “It looks like the Next Big Thing was a washout. As is so often the case, the Wave of the Future turned out to be nothing much. Oh, well. Shall we return to our own time? Marley, care to give the command?”

Marley did and Susie made an astoundingly fast U-turn. The G-force was incredible, but fun in an amusement park thrill ride sort of way. Marley, Chuck, and Susie laughed and cried out, “Whee!” but not Toad. He sighed aloud as Susie raced past Auto Infinity and Parking Unlimited. It was just before there that Susie grew back her wheels.

“I got my wheels back,” said Susie. “I can feel the road again.”

“Oh, you’re losing all your future type stuff. That means you won’t be a smart car much longer,” said Marley.

“Afraid so,” said Susie. “I’ll just be plain old Susie Blue Coupe, the brainless car.”

“That sounds terrible,” said Marley. “Chuck, we can’t let that happen to Susie.”

“Right,” said Chuck who certainly knew right from wrong. After all, knowing that was the main reason he had a job as a guardian Dodo bird. “Have her pull over. We’ll get out.”

“And walk home? That’s a fine how-do-you-do,” grumbled Toad.

“Oh, do cheer up Toad,” said Chuck. “It just so happens I have just the thing.”

Susie parked by the side of the road, not too far from Memory Lane. They climbed out and followed Chuck to the rear of the car where he opened the trunk. Quite sensibly he’d stored three electric scooters before leaving and now handed one each to Marley and Toad. They said their goodbyes to Susie and started down Memory Lane. Susie called after Marley. “Remember to obey all traffic laws and drive safely!”

Chuck turned around to wink an eye at Susie, and she winked a headlamp back at him.

“It’s a good thing we left Susie back in the future,” said Marley. “If we’d driven her down this road, we’d have to call it, Forget Your Memories Lane.”

“Yes, and without our memories, what are we?” asked Chuck. “Right, Toad?”

“Oh, I suppose you’re right.”

They scooted down the tree shaded lane. Maybe the road should’ve been named, “Pleasant Memories Lane” because Marley and Chuck immensely enjoyed riding their electric scooters and remembering all the wonderful adventures they’d had and all the wonderful people they’d met. Suddenly Toad raced by them yelling, “Look at me! I’m the fastest scooterer in the world.”

“Oh, no, you’re not!” shouted Marley. She forcefully twisted the scooter’s accelerator handle. “I’m going to catch you.”

“No one catches the wild Mr. Toad! I’m too bold!”

“Wait up!” shouted Chuck. “Or at least wait for me in Graffiti, at the dodonut shop!”

 

THE END