Dusty’s Road Home
Can a wandering robot vacuum cleaner find his way home?
The real reason Dinosaurs are extinct
Dust to Dusty
“Father, can we set up the docking station for Dusty here at the new house, in case he comes back?"
Father looked down at Dylan, who would have to assimilate into a new school, make new friends, learn a new neighborhood, and be a supporting big brother to his little sister Lizzie.
He couldn’t say no. Dylan would forget about it after a time and then Father would pack Dusty’s docking station away in the garage. Even Father couldn’t discard the docking station. Dusty had meant so much to all of them.
Dusty had been the family’s automatic robotic vacuum cleaner back in Tampa, Florida. He joined the family when Mother’s arthritis got worse. Dusty kept their one story all-tile-floored house clean for 4 years.
Mother would smile and talk to Dusty from her favorite living room chair as he went about his work. Even with the increasing arthritis pain, she considered herself a lucky woman to have her children, a loving husband with a job, and a robotic vacuum cleaner.
The sunroom in the back never received quite enough attention from Dusty. He ran out of juice before he could finish that room. Father fashioned a small photovoltaic panel on Dusty’s back. Then Dusty could run all day in the sunroom.
When Mother died last year, Father packed away Dusty in the garage. Six months later, Father resurrected Dusty. The obedient robot spent a lot of time cleaning around Mother’s favorite chair.
Father’s job transferred him to New Smyrna Beach, Florida, an east coast town south of Daytona Beach and north of Cape Kennedy. Still in Florida, but a world away. The family was going to live in a home on the beach and Father could work from home.
There was a big surfing community in New Smyrna Beach with an annual surfing contest. When the waves were good, most of the high school students and the teachers were hitting the beach. “Spontaneous Field Trip.”
Dylan daydreamed of endless skateboarding down Flagler Avenue or straddling his surfboard out beyond the breakers, waiting for the next good wave. He had no doubt that he would learn to surf and become very, very good, just like all ten year old boys can do.
Lizzie daydreamed of new friends, tea parties, trips to the park, a new school, and ice cream with Father and Dylan on Saturday evenings. She still planned to cry for her Mommy every night. Some nights she could hear Dylan and Father crying in the kitchen.
Saturday, the moving truck was packed and on it’s way to New Smyrna Beach to be unloaded the following Monday. The family spent their last night in the old house.
Father inflated the new WalMart air beds. The family slept in the empty living room. Faithful Dusty whirled and dusted 4 cycles while they were sleeping. In the morning, Dusty was ensconced in his charging cradle, purring and enjoying the exciting 9 volt power flowing into his empty battery.
Everyone was eager to see New Smyrna Beach. It was going to take 4 hours. Father promised to stop in Lakeland for a fast food franchise treat of their choice.
The front door was open. Dusty was gone. Dusty had glided away from the old family home, to take on the cleaning chores for the neighborhood, Florida, and the entire North American Continent.
Father asked neighbor Mr. Hamilton to be on the look out for the Robot Vacuum. Mrs. Hamilton packed a picnic basket for the departing family: Skittles, soft drinks, homemade baked potato chips, and a card wishing them well in their new adventure.
Father stowed Dusty’s charging station in the car. Father, Dylan, and Lizzie waved good bye to the Hamilton’s. The Family was on their way to a new beach life. Dylan and Lizzie scanned the streets for 10 minutes as they rode toward New Smyrna Beach. Finally, they decided that Father was right. Mr. Hamilton was just the right man for the job of rescuing Dusty.
The new New Smyrna Beachers arrived at 4 PM. The new house overlooked the ocean. There were 4 bedrooms and 3 baths. Father had a jetted tub in his bathroom. Dylan and Lizzie ran down to the shore to play in the shallows while Father unloaded the car.
That Saturday afternoon, Mr. Hamilton searched the old neighborhood for Dusty. No sight of the little robot. All Mr. Hamilton found were some extremely clean street gutters leading out of the neighborhood.
The Hamilton’s planned to visit in August and they would bring a house warming gift, a new “Dusty”.
Off the Road Again
Tampa on Sunday morning. Dusty was wedged in a clump of weeds along Adamo Drive. The solar panel warmed with the first rays and Dusty whirred to life. He could now roll all day.
Wylie Wheeler, produce hauler, saw Dusty moving along the highway. He thought it was a turtle. He would have stopped to move it out off the road but the turtle seemed to be staying off the road, just hugging the shoulder.
When Mr. Wheeler passed Dusty, he saw what Dusty was. Wylie pulled off the road to retrieve his new found robotic vacuum cleaner. A week later, he sold Dusty to the highest EBay bidder from New York City for 65 dollars.
The following Wednesday morning, Dusty was riding in a UPS van, coursing toward Interstate 95 and then north toward Georgia.
Just south of Saint Augustine, a 90-year-old Florida licensed-enabled driver in a Lincoln Town Car with a fully functioning cruise control feature ran right through the rear of the UPS van. The unharmed UPS associate turned around to look square into the thick glasses of Mr. Town Car.
After the crash, Mr. Town Car turned on the windshield wipers. Really no reason at all, except to prove that he could still operate part of a motor vehicle.
Dusty’s package tumbled out of the van, broke open, and landed in a ditch. Two hours later, the damaged UPS van had been unloaded and re-stowed into a shiny new brown van.
Triple A carted Mr. Town Car to Ormond Beach for a medical check. The highway patrolman wrote him a 500 dollar ticket. Mr. Town Car’s estate would pay the ticket because, although he was unscathed, Mr. Town Car was 90 years old, had bad eyesight, and was sitting on 6 years of an inoperable prostate cancer.
Thursday’s morning sun poured rays over Dusty’s solar power panel and the robot whined to life. He plowed from behind some Purple Blazing Star Flowers; the tall flower spikes had been shielding the sun. Throughout the day, he vacuumed the shoulder of southbound Interstate 95. The sun set and Dusty stopped for the night beneath a Bob’s Barricades A-frame saw horse. The all-night yellow flasher aboard the barricade could not tease Dusty’s solar electric cells to life.
Dusty rested under the barricade while rain fell steadily the next day from Ft. Lauderdale to Jacksonville. Dusk settled in over Interstate 95 and the rain continued. There was a continuous stream of traffic northbound, cars filled with tired sunburned tourists or drug-laden 4-door sedans moving contraband north into the Mid-Atlantic states.
A zealous Volusia County Sheriff stopped 40 vehicles a day on Interstate 95. The cars “randomly” searched had all been traveling under the speed limit. It was still a numbers game because most of the illegal cargo made it past the Sheriff’s ambush.
Within 2 miles of the Daytona Speedway illegal drugs are flowing north. NASCAR founder William France Sr built the track in 1958. The uncles and fathers of NASCAR drivers had once transported their own brand of prohibited contraband a few decades earlier.
A Shopping Cart Nomad rolled up and spread a blue plastic tarp over the A-frame barricade. The road wanderer crawled under the tarp and slept soundly next to Dusty. They were in their own separate worlds, both oblivious to the dark rain. Dusty was out of a juice and the Nomad was out of wine.
The Nomad woke first, noticed Dusty, and introduced himself to the robot, “I'm pleasured to meet you and thank you for sharing your barricade with me."
If a fellow has had a fair amount of spirits coursing through his arteries over several years, then he can generally handle both sides of a conversation. That’s why Nomad was not fazed when Dusty did not reply.
Dusty wasn’t phased either because that would be an immature attempt at an electricity joke.
Nomad continued, “Well then, I bid you Adieu little feller.” He bowed low, pivoted on his right heel, and pushed his shopping cart south.
Nomad stopped and then returned, “I think maybe I’ll just take you with me. I might be able to swap you for something.” He placed Dusty in the shopping cart and covered him with the blue plastic tarp.
The next time Dusty saw light was when the blue plastic tarp blew off. Nomad and company were tramping down the exit ramp to Highway 44. Dusty was not going anywhere until he could get his wheels and brushes on something solid.
Nomad pushed his shopping buggy east on Highway 44. He stopped at a gas station at noon to give the dumpster out back a good search, maybe find a portion of a prepackaged turkey sandwich made by the gas station owner’s wife last night.
A bus load of Indiana church kids pulled into the gas station. They fell out of the bus onto each other, all trying to get to the restrooms first. The Church Bus Driver walked behind the station to smoke a secular cigarette out of sight from the devout heathens inside the restrooms.
Nomad was climbing out of the green dumpster with two half eaten sandwiches. The Church Bus Driver said, “Howdy. Dining out back are you?”
Nomad ignored him.
Church Bus Driver asked, “Hey is that one of those robot vacuum cleaner things? The Missus says she wants one of them to help with her housework. If he can clean the house and bring me a beer every once in a while, I might be willing to buy him from you. Make him do something”
Nomad said, “You’re gonna need to buy your own charging station for him because he won’t run inside a house without a good charge in him.”
“Make him do something.”
Nomad placed the robot on the pavement. The sun was blazing. Dusty took off cleaning and sucking up everything in his path.
“I’ll give you 20 dollars for it.”
Nomad nodded, took the 20 dollars, and handed Dusty over to the Church Bus Driver.
Church Bus Driver shoved Dusty under his driver’s seat. All the church kids, full of soft drinks, candy, and hidden stolen rubber alligator souvenirs, piled onto the bus. They counted off. All accounted for. The Indiana Church Bus bounced out of the parking lot and headed east toward New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Life is a Beach and Then You Fry
Father, Dylan and Lizzie were adjusting to the beach house. Father had become very protective since Mother had died. When they were out on the beach, every two hours was sunscreen time.
Lizzie had a big bedroom with a princess bed. She missed her Mother every day but there were some nights when she didn’t cry. Father bought a used surfboard for Dylan. Dylan’s 2 new buddies were teaching him to surf.
Father had a separate office at home for his computer, printer, and phone. There was a window overlooking the ocean. He fell into a work routine and he missed his wife every day.
He looked up from the computer, did some stretches, and watched Dylan and Lizzie out on the sand. He remembered his days as a boy in the surf snorkeling or on the sand making castles and intricate canals leading back to the water. The small caught-in-time melanoma scar on his arm reminded him how much his parents did not know about skin protection 25 years ago. He wondered what he didn’t know now that he should know now.
The Church Bus rode past the Welcome to New Smyrna Beach but no one noticed. The church kids were napping or playing with their cell phones. One more stop at the Burger King and then on to the beach.
The manager at the Burger King’s first thought when she saw the Indiana Church Bus pull into the parking lot was, “I’m going to lock the doors and hide in the kitchen with the rest of the employees.”
After slugging down enough calories for the rest of the week, the Church Bus Driver and the Indiana Righteous Teenagers were on their way to the beach. By 3 PM, the Church Bus turned into the Flagler Street beach parking lot. This was the ideal time for the very pale Indiana Church kids to hit the beach. There would be plenty of time tomorrow for the sunburned Holy Hoosiers to blister to the point of hallucinations.
The parked Church Bus faced the western sky. The late rays of the afternoon arced though the windshield and landed on Dusty’s solar panel. The brushes and wheels started moving. Before Dusty was fully functioning, he fell out of the open bus door onto the crushed oyster shell parking lot.
Dusty landed wheels side down. Within 15 minutes he was out of the parking lot and had had made his way to the surf shop across the street.
Home Swept Home
Lizzie and Dylan climbed the wooden stairs from the beach up to the house. It was supper time but there never really was a time when they were not hungry, living by the ocean.
Spaghetti and sauce were simmering on the stove. Garlic bread was toasting under the broiler. In 30 minutes the pasta, garlic bread, and tomato sauce would render them pleasantly paralyzed.
After supper the family sprawled lazily into patio chairs on the deck and watched the ocean churn. The clouds blazed orange and then pink as the sun set behind the house. The power lines popped and sizzled in the cooling salt-saturated air. Pelicans floated by in straight lines on their way to their night rookeries.
Sometime between January and March of next year, Dylan and Lizzie would see the Northern Right Whales giving birth to new calves just beyond the breakers. There were only about 400 left in the Atlantic Ocean. This might be the last generation to see them. The beach was a good place to live and mourn for Mother.
Dusty rested that night behind the Beacon Restaurant on Flagler St. He woke up with the sun. Surfers were huddled outside the convenience store next door. They were culling various unwanted ingredients from their prepackaged sandwiches onto the pavement. When the surfers departed, some vegetarian-for-the-moment sea gulls swooped down for the unwanted lettuce and tomatoes.
Dusty headed south and soon was crawling along the shoulder of Atlantic Blvd, A1A. He traveled all morning and into the afternoon. It was Dylan who saw Dusty first. Dusty was on the west side of Atlantic Blvd and it took him 10 minutes before it was safe to cross the highway.
He scooped Dusty up and 20 minutes later he was back on his side of the highway. Dylan ran up the steps and flung open the door. Lizzie was watching cartoons and Father was logging into his office computer.
Lizzie shrieked and they both ran to show Father. All three were sitting on the floor, laughing and crying at the same time. ‘I told you Father. I told you he would come back”
“So you did Dylan, So you did.”
Dylan and Lizzie set up the WalMart air beds in the living room. Dusty rested in his charging station and the children stayed with him all night.
Dusty took off cleaning the living room at 7 AM the next morning. The family watched him all day.
Dusty had been through some fairly rough times finding his way back but he seems to be performing almost perfectly in the new beach house. There’s no chance he will wander off again. A house on stilts, Dusty can’t navigate stairs.
Every so often Father will find the uncharged Dusty resting under Mother’s favorite old chair. It makes Father smile.