The year was 1979 and I had just moved to Ann Arbor during the Christmas holidays to go to college. I was still in the process of moving into a dormitory on North Campus and I hadn’t met my roommates yet—they were still home for the holidays. Winter semester classes wouldn’t start for another week, I had just broken up with my girlfriend and I didn’t know anyone in town. In other words, I was bored and lonely, so I went to the bars alone.
If the university buses had been running, I would have taken the bus to central campus, but they weren’t, so I didn’t. I drove my Ford Pinto to downtown main campus to acquaint myself with my new hometown. It was a fun evening and the bars were packed. I decided to bar hop, by myself, and experience several spots I had heard about. I started at the Second Chance on Liberty, rounded the corner to Dooleys, hit Rick’s Cafe, the Brown Jug and closed the Full Moon Saloon at two in the morning. It was a great evening. I met a lot of different people and started an international beer card at the Full Moon. They have about 100 beers from around the world and as you order, your server checks off each country on your card. I remember I had my first Red Stripe from Jamaica that night.
In all honesty, I shouldn’t have driven back to the dorm. As I left the Full Moon Saloon on Main Street, I should have turned north, but being new to Ann Arbor, I drove south. About a mile later I stopped for a red traffic light at a fairly dark intersection, Main and Stadium. I looked to my left and saw the “Big House,” Michigan Stadium, for the first time in my life. “Wow,” I thought, “this is where the Wolverines play football and over 100,000 fans cheer them on.” Still, it didn’t look that big to me. I looked ahead. The light was still red and one single street light illuminated the intersection. I looked both ways and noticed a car approaching very fast—like 100 mph fast. I could see that the traffic light had turned yellow for that car, but it wasn’t stopping. My light turned green as the car literally flew by in front of me.
But—when the car blew past me, it appeared and disappeared in steps, like a strobe light. “What the hell?” I said. I was very confused. Like I said, I shouldn’t have been driving, but I knew what I just saw. The car appeared and disappeared in several stages right in front of my eyes.
Today, this type of street light is very common—it cycles 60 times every second. If there had been multiple street lights on the corner, you wouldn’t even notice the cycling lights. But this was single street light at the intersection. Not another light in sight. So, when that car flew past at a very high rate of speed, I saw the car every three feet in brief flashes.
It didn’t make any sense.
I tried to figure out what I had just witnessed. My mind was going crazy trying to sort it out. It was there, it was gone, it was there, it was gone… Jesus. What on earth just happened?
Let me remind you it was 1979. There were no personal computers and no VCRs or DVDs. The digital age was still a long way away. The closest thing we had to a glimpse of the future was the original Star Wars movie which had just been released the previous year. George Lucas had introduced us to incredible gadgets and characters. Remember R2D2 displaying the hologram of Princess Leia? “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” And the jump to light speed? And Luke’s video binoculars? And C3PO? I really loved that movie.
And, in my drunken state, I went there for answers.
It was obvious to me that my vision had just failed, but what could cause this? I quickly determined that I must have an artificial vision system installed in my head, but that didn’t make sense because I would remember having something like that installed in my head—unless—oh my God—unless it was there from the beginning.
I had an an epiphany. It made me gasp.
What if I was a robot? Just like C3PO? It made perfect sense at the time. I’m a robot. A robot would have a visual processor and mine just failed. Were other people robots? Did they know they were robots? Did C3PO know he was a robot? What if no one told him he was a robot? Would he know? I looked at my hands and moved them slowly while I watched. Wow. Incredible. That is so cool. I looked at my eyes in the rear view mirror. They were bloodshot. Really bloodshot. And that’s when I returned to reality.
But, for about 30 seconds, it all made perfect sense to me.