Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Road Rage

You know, I never really understood 'Road Rage' until I moved to Los Angeles. It always seemed to me a very indulgent sort of reaction. I mean, you're sitting down, there is music, or maybe a talk show, playing on the radio. You're connected to people via your phone, hell, even the internet is available as you sit comfortably in your air-conditioned, plush seat, waiting for the traffic to clear or whatever. It's southern California, so the weather is usually very nice. Yes, sometimes people drive a bit foolishly and maybe you're cut off once or twice a month. But it's all part and parcel of the hazards of driving in the twenty first century.

Well, none of that matters or is true.

Having lived fifteen years in NYC and ten years in Chicago before coming here, I never really experienced traffic like what I've seen here. The simple, inescapable fact is this: there are too many cars here. In New York I would occasionally become irritated in the back of a cab because I needed to be somewhere at a certain time and Manhattan can get very backed up, particularly around five and six o'clock in the afternoon. And midtown can be a real headache once the theatre district lets out. But otherwise, nothing to really get too exasperated about.

In Chicago, my biggest peeve was the irregular bus schedules. I didn't, or rarely, anyway, drive much in Chicago, and found myself taking the bus fairly often. Unlike LA, it's quite socially acceptable to take the bus in Chicago. The problem is Chicago busses run on some alternate universe schedule, coming when they feel like it, and are always, ALWAYS, late just when you need them the most. I have been known to spew expletives at ne'er-do-well bus drivers, which is pretty much all of them, in Chicago. But I was never really surprised because Chicago is the most corrupt, mismanaged city in the world. Chicago spends all of its time trying to convince people who don't actually live in Chicago how great it is. It isn't.

But here in LA, it's a different ballgame altogether. Last week, Angie and I drove down to San Diego for the opening gala at The Old Globe Theatre. It was a Saturday afternoon, around 1:00, generally speaking a fairly good time to travel in LA, and we immediately ran into bumper to bumper traffic on the 101 and it stayed that way FOR THE ENTIRE TRIP. Now, normally, San Diego is about a two hour trip from LA. We did it in four and half hours. By the time we got there I was shaking with rage. Who were these people? Why were they all driving at the same time on Saturday? Why was there never more than one person in the car? There was no accident on the freeway that we could see, just a gillion people out driving on the highway with the sole intent of making my life miserable. It's as though they had planned it, called each other the day before in a massive conspiracy. You see, these are the nonsensical things that go through the mind after sitting in traffic, not moving more than a few inches, for hours at a time.

And another thing that happens is a complete lack of empathy for those who HAVE had an accident on the freeway. After being backed up in traffic for what seems like weeks, by the time you get to the actual accident that caused the back up, you just look over at the poor saps sitting by the side of the road, emergency blinkers on, chatting with some other schumck that back ended you, and you think to yourself, 'How could you be so STUPID to have an accident HERE?! What the *%#! were you THINKING?!'

Some road rage incidents are actually treated as landmarks of a sort. We were driving over in Burbank the other day when Angie said, "This is where Jack Nicholson got out of his car and beat somebody's car with a golf club." I slowed down and looked at the intersection with new respect, thinking Jack Nicholson was the greatest human being since Ghandi.

In Los Angeles, people get out of their cars all the time and have fist fights. Often, one will get out and the other will lock all the doors. Usually, I suspect, because that person was being an idiot and doesn't want to get beat up because he KNOWS he was being an idiot.

Personally, I don't see anything wrong with that. I think there ought to be exceptions in the laws for such behavior. You get out of your car and slap some 72 year old Asian woman silly for cutting you off, halting traffic, making an unauthorized left turn in front of you, slowing down to read a sign, turning on a blinker and then never actually turning, driving in two lanes at the same time thus not letting people pass her, stop in the middle of the street waiting for a possible parking place (in which she'd have to parallel park, something she couldn't do in her wildest dreams in the first place), drive while looking around like a monkey on crack wondering where the hell she is, or any other driving no-no's. So when you get the chance, you simply put your car in park, get out, stroll up to her car, which she has stopped in the middle of the road for no apparent reason whatsoever, and give her a good wallop upside the back of the head. Later, in front of the judge, you explain what happened. He says, "Well, I don't see the problem here. That old Asian woman had it coming, obviously."

Of course it doesn't happen that way. Poor Jack Nicholson got into all sorts of trouble beating that car with his golf club. All I can say is, if I had been the judge I'd have given him a heart-felt handshake and possibly a coupon for Bob's Big Boy.

Yesterday I had to drive over to Hollywood for some stupid commercial audition at four o'clock. Hollywood is no place to be in a car at four o'clock. By the time I'd gotten to the studio, having screamed myself hoarse at the thousands of nitwits jamming traffic, I barely had a voice left for the audition. And what voice I DID have left was tight and angry after what I'd just gone through. So I ended up talking about shampoo much the same way Jesse Ventura might. I was the angriest spokesperson in history. I looked straight into the camera and bellowed, red-faced and choking, about how soft and light your hair feels after using it.

Here's the solution: cops should pull people over at random. Just hit the lights and siren and pull them over. Go up to the car and ask them where they're going. If it's a stupid answer, something like, I'm driving over to Hollywood during rush hour to pick up a big bag of M and M's, just shoot them. Really. Oh, don't KILL them, just wing them. A shot to the arm or right into the thigh. A new LA ordinance. Or...if it's a dumb reason, but not a super dumb reason to be on the road, something like, 'I'm going to dinner at a restaurant and I'm trying to get there for the Early Bird Special,' taze them. A quick jolt. Just enough to make them realize they're an idiot.

Also, the moment anyone turns 65, take their driver's license. Just up and yank it away. No sir, it's the bus for you. Sorry. Call it the 'Soylent Green' law.

And Armenians in luxury cars. Have a special license for them. One that only allows them to drive between midnight and six a.m.

And mothers with babies in the back seat. No driving for them. Anytime, anywhere. Just stay at home. Sorry, but it's for everyone's good. That damned baby doesn't need to be anywhere.

And no motorcycles. In LA it's legal for a motorcycle driver to zip in and out of traffic, around stopped vehicles, on the white line, the highway shoulder, whatever. And they all grin smugly while doing so. Well, that's just detrimental for the general public's emotional well-being. So, no more motorcycles at all. You wanna drive your motorcycle? Go to Utah.

And no foreigners. They rarely know where they're going anyway, so it won't be a big deal for them to stay home.

I think this is a good start. As time passes, other rules should be considered, too, of course. Eventually, only people who have lived in LA at least three years, are between 30 and 50 years of age, speak only English, are male, have at least three other people in the car with them and no babies, and are on the road for an emergency, life and death reason, will be able to drive here. I see nothing wrong with that whatsoever. Anyone who doesn't like it can move to Chicago and stand on a streetcorner for two or three hours waiting for a bus.

See you tomorrow.