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Friday, April 3, 2009

38: What's Going On?

Unfortunately, I mean that in the most Marvin Gaye sense of the phrase. Yesterday the crockpot got as political as it is probably capable, discussing guns and the disturbing new trend of making a gun (or several) an acceptable weapon to use when one loses one's mind and decides to end it all, and take out a few people along the way. Then today the FIFTH American mass shooting in a month happened, killing 13. This occurred after a student was also killed on a college campus in the south by a shooter.
These are not an acceptable statistics to relate. But what happens now to change them? How does this get fixed? I do not know.

Tonight I went to see a play written by my friend in "the valley." If you are not familiar with Los Angeles, this may be meaningless to you, but it is an area north of L.A. that is in fact a valley between several mountains. The play was great - kudos to artists all around. I was alllll inspired to come home and really try knock one out of the crockpot park. But on the way home, as I traveled through windy darkened roads and seemingly endless merges at 11 p.m., I noticed how many exits had warning signs for 20 mile-per-hour, 360 degree turnarounds, or how many times 3 lanes became one in what seemed like 20 yards of space, and wondered exactly what the speed limit was when these roads were designed, or how far off the estimations of "numbers of cars on the road in 20 years" statistics must have been to move forward with construction of what seemed to be perilous turns and dangerous banking angles and absurd merges and exits for a city whose residents drive. A lot.

After nearly missing an exit lane and quickly swerving into a lane before I was stuck on a freeway that would have taken me away from home, I began my descent down a mountain and back toward the flat, beachy lands that spread on toward the southbay. Cars passed too fast. The hill curved.
L.A. traffic stops for no reason all the time. Lanes slow down. Brake lights appear. And then traffic goes again, and there IS no explanation or problem to be found.

But as I came down the hill tonight, dark in its mountain cut, things came to a screeching halt. Brake lights started, stopped, started and stayed lit. Turn signals appeared sporadically and desperately. The fast lane wanted out of the fast lane and cars were turning at jaunty angles in the middle of other lanes. Something was wrong. Something was actually and really wrong. Hazard lights came on.
As I came around a bend I saw a Ford Explorer flipped over, hugging the guard rail. I drove through the glitter of smashed glass on the road. Two other cars were pulled over in front of it, one was backing up. Girls dressed in club wear were running toward the overturned car, looking completely helpless, completely panicked, and rightfully so. The car was sitting on the side like a giant beige turtle, stuck on its back and unable to right itself.

An 18-wheeler passed slowly, as far away as it could, hazard lights flashing. The driver in front of me slowed to almost 15 miles per hour and all I could say was "Go go go go we're going to get hit from behind. And we don't want to see. Don't gawk. Go go go go. We cannot help them. We should get out of the way."
And somehow during this slow crawl, I saw the man with salt and pepper gray hair who seemed to be in his 60s crawl out of the passenger side of an upside-down car.
I looked away as fast as possible because I did not want to know. He looked ok. But I could not watch to find out. I only hoped my first glance was right. "GO!" I said out loud, demanding action from the car in front of me.
When I passed the driver in front of me finally, moving over to the lane farthest away from the accident, I saw she was probably trying to call for help on her cell phone. I assumed one of the cars that stopped already had. I assumed I should get the hell out of the way to be helpful. That there was nothing I could do in my car for those people other than pray for fast ambulances, safe bodies, life in tact.

"Young Turks" by Rod Stewart was on my radio as the tiny trickle of red tail lights flowed south down the freeway's lanes. We picked up more cars as we went, those who missed seeing the disaster in which we just missed participating. The lucky. The scared.
Young hearts, be free tonight. Time is on your side.

Rod Stewart's words seemed horribly out of place as I kept going, certain to signal and check mirrors before lane changes. Time was on my side, but what if it wasn't? What if something terrible happened at any minute? Then what? And what do you do if you're the family member of someone to whom something terrible happens? The guy crawling out of his car's upside-down window frame - looked like a dad, maybe even a grandpa. What do you do when something like that happens?
What happens with tragedy and crisis?
My instinct was to run. But what would I do if I got a terrible phone call? And there was no running to be done? The same with the shooting victims - what do you do when you hear your grandmother died in the place she moved to to stay alive, NOT from old age, but from someone deranged? How do you ever go back to normal life as usual when something so disruptive and devastating has occurred?

I worked in a risk management department once, and as part of that job, we executed a disaster drill to simulate emergency response. As I sat in what would be the simulated mission control room, I could not help thinking how absurd it was to expect any human being to be able to execute protocol in the middle of terror and chaos. I already knew I was not of the mettle to do so. "GO!" is my instinctual response, not "stay and call others on your phone tree to notify them of your safety, while keeping detailed notes." I admire the people who have the nerves of steel for such scenarios. The people with personalities that make them heads of Emergency Medicine departments, national guard units, nursing stations. I am far more wimpy, and I know it. I just don't understand how anyone isn't, I guess.

I wish the crockpot weren't so dreary these past two days, but MAN it's hard to be upbeat and full o' laughs after having an intense experience that makes me feel extra lucky to be alive and in one piece. And hard to imagine families and friends of those who were going about their days and lives as usual but had tragedy befall them without any warning. Or who have been exposed to terror and the sensation of fearing for their lives from which they may never fully recover.

What is going on here? And how does this trend change as fast as possible? And who can make this happen? And does anyone have their email address?

Sorry to be such a downer. But be safe and careful! And human and kind!

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