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Object Lesson

March 29, 2016 | by

Andreas Stolz.

I was in a cab with a radar detector. “Red light camera ahead,” droned the automated voice from the front seat. 

“Doesn’t the city mind those?” I said. “It’s great, but doesn’t the city lose a lot of revenue? Because they point out speed traps, too, right?”

“Yes, is very good,” said the driver.

“But on the other hand, I guess it does prevent speeding—which should be the real point anyway, right? Maybe that’s a better way to think about it.”

He smiled and made a polite but noncommittal noise. 

“Well, I think it’s great, anyway,” I said.

“Yes, it’s very good.”

We drove down the West Side Highway and exited onto Fourteenth Street. The robot woman’s voice sounded again.

“Caution—object ahead.” But she said it object, as if someone would soon pop into the middle of the road and interrupt a cross-examination. 

“What’s the object, usually?” I said. 

“I don’t know,” he said. Then we drove a little bit further. “Object is bus,” he said. 

There was indeed a big bus sitting in the middle of the street.

“I hope they can detect smaller objects than that,” I said. “Is that even an ‘object’? It’s funny, you don’t normally hear it used to refer to really big things, do you? When does something become too big to be an object? When you can’t move it around?”

“You can move a bus,” he pointed out. “That’s what they do—buses move.”

“That’s true,” I said. “And I guess UFOs are big, too.” 

He did not humor me in this, nor should he have. 

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.