Remember the good old days, when we couldn't wait for the future to get here? What a future! At least according to the short musical film The key to the futureproduced by General Motors for the 1956 Motorama and depicting the Wizarding World of 1976.
Let's set the scene…
There they are, an adorable family of four, father and son in the front, mother and sister sweating in the back, their convertible stuck in traffic on a summer day. In unison, they all shrugged, looked at each other, and then broke into song:
We have to slow down. Slow down.
Lots of traffic interrupting the flow.
Take it, Dad: Until they modernize the highways,
You can bet that your high blood pressure will be delayed.
While we wait we sing the blues
Turn on the radio for highway news.
Junior, riding shotgun, obliges, only to learn that there's traffic, nonstop, everywhere!
“I wonder what we'd hear if you turned the key and we were driving at nineteen seventy-six,” Junior says.
Sincerely, he turned the dial. Hello boy! Just like that, it's 1976. But not the 1976 you might remember, all splendid and shag-carpeted and sick to death in Vietnam. In this imagined future, our family is suddenly cruising across the desert in a cartoonish Firebird II, arguably the silliest of all Motorama show cars.
The boy calls the tower for a traffic update, then asks the way to Chicago, only a few thousand miles away. The friendly officer on the other end gives him two options: the scenic route or the direct route. These people are on vacation! The scenic route it is.
The tower man orders them to check the fuel and engine. The center display shows that they have a range of 662 miles and that the Whirlfire GT-304 gas turbine spins at 31,000 rpm. All systems go in 1976.
“We're all set for automatic control!” My father says. The tower man orders them to shift to the “center track electronic control bar,” then synchronize the engine. Dad sets the pace. Dad sets the direction.
“We're coming on the beam, Daddy,” the boy says, as a mysterious glowing dot on the center screen approaches a wavy glowing line. Gorgeous high-pitched futuristic radio tuning sounds ensue: Wee-yoo-ah-ah-oo-oo-wee. After just 30 seconds of twisting some knobs and not looking at the road, Dad got that autopilot set.
“Well done, Firebird II,” says the man in the tower. “You are now under automatic control. Hands off the wheel.” Now he just has to give that kind of individual attention to the millions of other motorists who pass his way that day. Who needed automation in 1976 when there was so much time for individual productivity!
They pass the control tower, and there's not another car in sight, for some reason. “Here we are in the high-speed safety lane,” Dad says, except they're only going about 30 miles per hour and have been that way the whole time. But once you're in that fast lane, the bubble windows firmly shut, it's time to play trickster. Puff away, dad! Not for little ones; He'll have some ice cream. Mom and sister will get some delicious orange juice, thank you – all neatly dispensed into the futuristic metal cups of this patent-pending orange juice and ice cream machine. Oddly enough, no one coughed, grimaced, vomited, or said, “Really, Dad?” Of the possibility of getting trapped in the cabin of the Firebird's aquarium with that damned cigar.
They soon passed the single-seat Firebird I, “the original gas turbine car,” Junior says. The whole family stares at the remnants of the past. “It runs pretty smooth for an old timer,” Junior says.
Time passes as they cross what turns out to be an endless desert, only now they are on an elevated road. Extravagant!
Eventually, the highway in front of them curves to the left, as highways sometimes do. They've reached “the intersection between the east and the north,” according to Junior. Dad scans the road ahead. “It's the safe and easy way to turn,” he says, knowing his car will do it for him, because by 1976, you remember, turning the steering wheel 30 degrees to follow the road had become too dangerous. . However, my mother and sister give each other a nod, because my father is right. Both are safe And easy.
They obviously won't make it to Chicago today, and from the way they're all yawning at once, it's clear that our future family has been defeated. Cue abstinence…
We have to slow down. Slow down.
Mr. Sun is about to collapse.
Once again they call out to “Mr. Tower Man” to find them a place to lay their weary heads. This time he sings too. The Sunset Inn is honeyhe suggests, And the hostess is a dream.
And do you know why the Sunset Inn is such a great hotel, reader? Because their digested food is cooked by infrared radiation, that's why.
In hindsight, it's hard not to want to pet this short trailer on its adorable little head. In 1956, what we wanted—indeed, we expected—since 1976 were self-driving cars, elevated roads, ice cream in the glove boxes, and not having to chew our food at the end of a long day. What we got instead was the Dodge Aspen, the inkjet printer, the Big Gulp, VHS, Ebola, the Bicentennial, and no more American convertibles – ever!
What a steal.
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