“What’s for dinner?”
“I don’t know. What do you want?”
“Dunno. What do you want?”
“Looks like we’re going out.”
Seriously. Why I’m not picking up an Oscar for best original screenplay beats the hell out of me.
I live in Portland, Oregon, which mostly receives electrical power from Portland General Electric. Founded in 1888 the company was eventually owned by Enron Corporation from 1997 until 2006 until Enron went bankrupt.
See? I just used a writing technique known as foreshadowing.
Foreshadowing is a literary device by which an author hints what is to come.
By dropping the name Enron, you are now on notice that this story does not bode well. The portends are decidedly not in our favor. It’s time to omen up.
Yes, I’m being mysterious. I’m trying to leave you in the dark. Just like Portland General. Bazinga!
Being a major metropolitan area, the City of Portland is designed with security and reliability in mind. Power outages simply do not happen unless:
- The wind blows up to one (1) mph
- A squirrel gets hungry
- Water magically falls from the sky
- A drunk person, in a trillion-to-one event, rams their car into a pole
Such simple criteria means the city loses power about every 42 minutes. Who knew that cramming 625,000 people in the same area would make stuff happen? Yes, I live in a city where squirrels are frequently blamed for power outages.
At least Portland is safe. No one, not even a terrorist, could ever fuck with this city unless:
- A tweaked out kid needs to take a whiz in a city resevoir
- The wind blows and a branch falls and an entire power grid goes haywire
- Water magically falls from the sky
Portland has many names. The City of Roses. Bridgetown. Stumpdown. Rip City. Little Beirut. PDX. Cloud City. But, during autumn at least, it could also be known as The City of Leaves. (Leaves are the unpredictable byproduct of shitloads of trees.) And the city has a great strategy for dealing with them. “Clean ’em up your own damn self. You want your storm drains to work? Better get on it. By the way, we’re adding a street fee. You need to pay more taxes for this.”
So it rained on Sunday. We were out running errands. We had to retrace our steps. We drove through St. Johns. Then it started to rain. An hour later we went through the same area. It had already flooded the size of Lake Erie. It wasn’t even a heavy rain.
There had been a few brief gusts of wind. So, yeah, the power was already out. We pulled into a bar just as thunderous lightning spooked everyone in the place. They were amazed. Lightning? Wowwee. Perhaps Portland has exactly the power company it deserves?
We continued on our way and that’s when I noticed it. The traffic signals were are dark. None of them were red. None were yellow. None were green.
You know what that means, right? The entire city went Starman on steroids. Perhaps we can add “Starport City USA” to our lengthy list of nicknames?
[Starman is driving the car, and speeds across a recently turned red light, causing crashes for the other motorists]
Jenny Hayden: Okay? Are you crazy? You almost got us killed! You said you watched me, you said you knew the rules!
Starman: I do know the rules.
Jenny Hayden: Oh, for your information pal, that was a *yellow* light back there!
Starman: I watched you very carefully. Red light stop, green light go, yellow light go very fast.
Apparently the collective wisdom of the hipster lumbersexuals in PDX is this: No street light, go very fast.
That’s weird because the law says an unpowered traffic signal is to be treated as a four-way stop. It’s so weird that no one in Portland knew that. Keep Portland weird.
So we sat at an intersection watching an endless stream of cars whiz by at top speed and we never got a turn. To pass the time we celebrated several birthdays. And I plotted revenge. Now I understand where Joker, Riddler and Penguin are coming from.
This may be my last blog post for a while. I’ve decided to keep my computer turned off when I think Portland General will be unable to keep the grid powered. By my calculations that means I’ll have a 42-minute window of electricity per day.
We drove from Portland to Spokane taking a route that paralleled the mighty Columbia River. If you’ve never been this way you’ve missed out on some amazing and breathtaking views. It’s an incredible drive. The Columbia Gorge was carved a few years ago, maybe more, leaving geological formations that have to be seen to be believed.
Meanwhile, somewhere along the trip, there’s a nice stretch of highway that was level and straight. So I put on the cruise control. We were in no particular hurry so I set a leisurely pace. Everyone was passing us, even the RVs and the pickup trucks hauling horse trailers.
We then had a couple Cruise Control Events that boggled my mind more than the Gorge itself.
One is called the Go and Stop. In this scenario you see a car in your rear view mirror. Gradually they gain on you. Eventually they ride your bumper with about six inches clearance. Finally they reach a decision point and make their signature move.
They pass and cut me off. Again, with six inches of clearance.
And then, somehow, the unthinkable. They slow down.
I’m forced to turn off the cruise control and wonder why my Ford Pinto didn’t come equipped with rocket launchers.
Stephen Hawking himself would be unable to explain this behavior.
The second event involved a car merging on the highway in the middle of nowhere. Again my cruise control was set and I was minding my own business. I became aware that someone was merging. I became aware it was a sheriff’s patrol car.
We were two cars converging on the same spot. Closer and closer he moved towards me. I could feel his hot and sticky breath on my neck. With amazing grace he matched our speed. This must be what docking in outer space is like.
Closer. Closer. Our cars were about to kiss.
Finally, I screamed out in anger and frustration. I hit the brake and he slid smoothly in front. The moment was lost. I had to admit it was a bit anti-climactic.
Bonus: During this trip I came up with my latest invention. It’s a holographic projector for your car that creates a three dimensional image of a vehicle exactly two car lengths in front. This causes other drivers to stay the fuck out of your personal space. I anticipate this invention will make me several trillion dollars.
This post was written on an iPad. I hope you appreciate my sacrifice.
Why do we tolerate? Why do we, as a society, utterly lack the spine to properly address the problem of drunk driving? Our inaction is basically a way of saying, “We accept the loss of innocent lives as an irrationality inherent in the system and one that we are powerless or unwilling to prevent.”
We are not powerless. More can and should be done. All we have to do is defeat the apathy that comes along with “it hasn’t affected me personally … yet.”
Some basic stats:
- Each day, people drive drunk almost 300,000 times, but fewer than 4,000 are arrested.1
- In 2011, 226 children were killed in drunk driving crashes. Of those, 122 (54% percent) were riding with the drunk driver.1
- Since 1982 fatalities have decreased by 51%. Since 1991 they’ve declined by 35%. However, fatalities increased from 2011 to 2012.2
- There are about 9,000 to 10,000 fatalities per year due to drunk driving in the United States.2
- Source: MADD – Statistics
- Source: The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility
The other day I was reading about a famous U.S. bicyclist who traveled the world and “supported the message of peace” and had been killed while bicycling in Russia. Ron McGerity, age 60, had visited 61 countries over the past 15 years and logged more than 75,000 miles on his bike. He was hit and killed by a truck driver who fled the scene and was later located and suspected by police of being drunk. (Source: RT.)
In a different case, a young mother was killed by a drunk driver leaving two young children behind. The drunk driver also survived.
Far too many innocent lives are lost. Far too many innocent lives are irrevocably affected.
So why is this still such a problem? I believe it’s because we don’t do enough to stop it.
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I don’t know much and what I do know seems to be shrinking on an almost daily basis. My existence is increasingly consumed by thoughts regarding my sanity.
For those keeping track the opening paragraph was “underwear” and the follow-up paragraph was “shrinkage.” This is known as a progression of ideas. I’m building up to something. You are wise to still be reading this.
Aside from all that, there seems to be something else going on.
My rate of “Rain Man” moments seems to be on the rise. There’s been an uptick in momentia, if you will.
No, we decidedly do not refer to them as “senior moments.” Despite being a grumpy grandpa and standing on my lawn and yelling at kids, I’m not ready for that schtick just yet. Not while I’m still young and in my prime.
Besides, I’m an excellent driver.
Then I was responsible for a car accident after going to the pharmacy to pick up my “meds.” Oh, shit. Did I just use the word “meds?” This is the end.
So yeah, that happened.
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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants you to know that “On average, a pedestrian was killed every two hours and injured every seven minutes in traffic crashes.” (Source: Traffic Safety Facts: Pedestrians, April 2014.)
And they’re doing something about it, too.
While other aspects of driving safety continue to improve, pedestrian fatalities due to traffic crashes are up eight percent since 2009.
Perhaps if pedestrians stopped placing themselves in front of objects with mass traveling at speed? I may not be as smart as the federal government but that seems like a big part of the problem to me.
Physics has got to physics, yo know? Physics has no desire to play nice, do what’s fair, be compassionate, take sides, or even attempt to adhere to the rules of good form. Like Dr. Momma used to say, “physics does what physics does.” It’s apolitical. Asexual, too, but if you disrespect physics it will fuck you over.
The NHTSA’s solution is one with real traction. Make $2 million in grant money available to cities with high rates of pedestrian deaths. Because, money can buy you love. The money is to be used to “influence the safety of pedestrians through public education and enforcement initiatives.”
Yeah, that’ll work.
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