Saturday, December 01, 2001

rant du jour: beware of darkness

[email composed 1 December 2001]

On the walk from the downtown office to the train, the first street I cross is actually a ramp leading from Hope St. down to Figueroa. While there is no traffic signal at this ramp, there is a crosswalk running across it. In over two years of making this trek I have seen many vehicles turn right from Hope onto the ramp without looking to see if there are pedestrians trying to cross; I expect them to not see me when walking. Along the street leading this corner are trees and parked cars, so admittedly it is difficult for drivers to spot individuals on the sidewalk much before they are almost at the curve. The corner could be better lit at night, but is not that dark.

I approach the crosswalk from a side exit of the building, hitting the crosswalk second line at a slight angle. After I've already stepped on the asphalt, I notice a car--one of the new BMW's, silver--on Hope St. clearly slowing for the turn. I continue, knowing that since I'm on the far side of the crosswalk from the car, and by the time it makes the turn I'll already be several steps out, well in the middle and clearly in view. I have dealt with this more times than I can remember; I know how to gage the situation (I have no desire to be struck even if I technically had the right-of-way). As absolutely no surprise to me, the car doesn't slow after beginning the turn, so I jog the last two steps to get out of its way, not the least bit panicked; I know I'll be clear either way, but I prefer to show I'm making an effort to get along with dalliance. As I'm doing this, the car's break squeal for a split second as the driver slows--not stops, but slows--suddenly. By this point I'm already out of the car's path, so even without this tiny skid there was no danger of it hitting me. I hop on to the curb at the other side of the ramp and continue walking. After I'm several steps further, from behind me I hear, "Kind of hard to see you, dude." I turn to see the BMW has stopped, and the driver--a Caucasian male ostensibly in his late 30s--has rolled down his window to give me this message.

I have many times in my travels witnessed cars turn right in front of me as I was about to cross this ramp and wished I could point out their dangerous ignorance to them. However, at this moment no clever retort springs immediately to mind. Sizing up the scenario very quickly, I conclude that the driver would be unreceptive to an explication of what transpired, and I have a train to catch, so I simply shake my head with slight exasperation for a second, then turn and continue walking. I may have considered walking back to point out that I was never in any danger, and that I was in the crosswalk well before he made the turn, and, in spite of the darkness, it was only because he clearly wasn't paying attention that when he did finally notice me he felt compelled to kind of brake hard, were it not for one overriding element to the whole moment.

He called me "dude".

Frankly, had he simply proceeded on his way down the ramp without saying anything--like every other car has--I would have dismissed him as just another downtown driver in a car that just screams, I'm a pretentious weenie with money--like I do with every other car. Since he knows on some unconscious level that he did not look before turning and panicked slightly when there was a pedestrian in the road (not one that he was about to hit, of course), he tries to mitigate his own feeling of guilt by dragging me into his little web with this "helpful" observation of his. He is the epitome of upscale American evil; I recognize this instinctively, and know that further interaction would be a waste of time--no one on foot could possibly convince him of anything (that he would ever admit).

And as I said, he used the term "dude". Apparently his vocabulary never progressed past junior high. This has not impeded his ability to scale the corporate ladder, of course.

I'm not envious in the slightest. You couldn't give me a BMW. I'm sure they're fine cars and all, and I know some of you like them, but it's just that I've never seen someone driving one who didn't drive it with this disdainful arrogance for the rest of us, an arrogance that they mistakenly believe financial success affords them. They may as well all come with license plates that just read ASSHOLE.

This driver, the representative of them in so many way, veils his arrogance with this veneer of concern, still ignorant of the fact I was the only one in any level of control of the situation between us, and I see through him like cheap curtains. He is a lost cause, and no matter what ever happens for the rest of my life, I shall sleep well knowing I'm not one of them, not him.

The pithy comeback that comes to me about 5 minutes later is this: "I'm pretty easy to spot if you pay attention." I'm sure next time, should one occur, my mind will be similarly dim witted. But I remain hopeful for myself nonetheless.

These are moments that move me closer to being convinced we need to step back and allow some other species on the planet to become the dominant one before it's absolutely too late. It won't be hard to find one that is more observant than us, and even amoeba are smart enough not to drive BMWs.

Watch out for yourselves, kids. There's not that many worthwhile souls around, and we can't afford to lose you. Especially to BMW drivers. 


"So glad you came here, won't be the same now, I'm telling you"
- "Old Brown Shoe", The Beatles (George Harrison), 1969

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