I live in Long Beach, the biggest suburb of Los Angeles, unless you count San Diego.
Whenever you get in your car here, you are making a leap of faith. You are agreeing that a mutual desire on the part of you and all other drivers to survive the day is going to be adequate to keep the chaos on the roads from bringing a messy early end to your life. Because there is no way way in hell you can drive defensively enough to stay out of trouble if you don’t have the cooperation of pretty much everyone you
run into encounter on the road. You’d have to stop every time you saw another car moving, so you’d get just about to the end of your driveway and that would be it for the day.
That would be OK with me – I could do about 75% of my job from home with a little planning. But I need food, so I have to go grocery shopping occasionally, and besides, The Man wouldn’t believe I was actually working if I didn’t show my pretty face around the office every day for eight hours or so. The notion that I must be involved in productive work just because they can see me couldn’t be farther from the truth, but hey – that’s what The Corporation wants to believe and who am I to say otherwise? Nobody, that’s who.
So I go out in my car and drive around places. A modest steel box with the power of 200 horses, hurtling down various streets and freeways within a few feet of other, usually bigger, steel boxes with even more horsepower, all of us assuming, hoping, sometimes praying, that all the rest of us will stay in our lanes, stop at the red lights and not try to merge into the exact same space that we are presently occupying.
Every now and then someone will execute a dangerous manuever right in front of me. I smile and offer a friendly gesture and a jaunty toot of my horn as I swerve violently to avoid disaster and the bloody mess that would ensue. Most of the time, these manuevers have some sort of reasoning behind them. Not smart thinking, exactly, but a clearly intended goal, like “Let’s make this left turn even though Jones is coming right at us and we will barely have time to get around the corner before he arrives – if he hits his brakes like right now.”
You see what I mean? Sure, it’s a stupid move and everyone could be killed, but at least you can see why the guy did it. Thus the friendly gesture.
But yesterday as I was driving home a woman drove her car out of a blind alley and despite my leaning on the horn and risking a head-on collision by pulling into the opposite lane, she just kept on coming and eventually there was nothing that could save us from bumping into each other.
Unlike in the example above, there didn’t seem to be any particular reason for her to do this. I would have been past her alley in another tenth of a second, and we both could have been on our ways. Oh, she could have stopped, if she’d been looking in front of her, where my bright red car was. In fact, for a second I thought she had stopped, in that way where you think the playground bully is only coming over to say hi, just before he punches you in the stomach and takes your lunch.
But instead of stopping, she just drove her car right into the side of my car and wrecked most of the right side of it. I know, you’re saying “My God, is Jones all right?” And yes, I’m fine. If you call paying my huge insurance deductible and renting a car for two weeks fine. Sure, I’m fine.
As my insurance agent said (because they all say this, don’t they?) “We can fix cars easily enough. People are a little harder.” And I suppose that’s true, but for about 24 hours I wished I were dead, instead of driving around in a wrecked car. I know what everybody’s thinking when they see me coming now: He was probably drunk. Pathetic loser. Look, he doesn’t even have the self-esteem to get his rattletrap repaired. Some people just shouldn’t be allowed to drive.
The shame. It makes me eager to spend all the rest of my money renting a nice new Chevy Lumina.