Hell on Wheels

Driving in OC, in your own words


So I'm minding my own business driving up Harbor Boulevard on the way to work this morning. I spot you flicking your cigarette butt out the window of your car—one of my major pet peeves, but a common idiot move. Then I notice the tax-exempt license plate on your government-issue white Dodge Aries. As you accelerate away from the stoplight, blowing enough smoke out the exhaust to warrant a call to 1-800-CUT-SMOG, I pull close enough to read the logo on your car door. It gives you away as an employee of the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Cruising along to the next light, watching you blow your morning cigarette smoke out your window, I'm sure you're completely oblivious to the fact that your day's work will affect dozens of industries in this area that have to mind their manners much more carefully than you and that will be forced to jump through regulatory hoops about which you clearly don't give a shit—since you seem to feel you're exempt. While the rest of us are restricted now and in the future to the kinds of vehicles we can use, how we can barbecue, what kind of colognes and perfumes we'll be able to use, complying with the DMV's Nazi-like smog-check policies, etc., you perform the function of clueless bureaucrat—performing your daily duties enforcing these moronic rules. My blood boils. We roll along the street while I watch you in your own little government-buffered world on your way to work. As you drag on the next cigarette, I'm sure it'll wind up in the same place as the previous one —washed into the gutters, through the storm drains, into the Santa Ana River and into the ocean to wash up on our beaches with the next good rain. But you're not worried; that's not your department.


I love your company's television advertisements, the ones in which happy families gather for picnics to celebrate their common heritage: the purchase of your wondrous automobile. My wife and I had always been pretty fond of ours, too, but no longer. Not since the part you claimed to have inspected when I brought it in last week died an ugly and mysterious death a mere four days later—while I was in rush-hour traffic, just south of Los Angeles. Lights, hazards, blinkers, power steering, all of it was gone as I limped my car off the road, narrowly avoiding being hit. Eventually, we made it to an ARCO station off Inglewood, where my wife and I waited nearly four hours for a tow-truck. Sound bad? Then try this: we were on our way to the most important event of my nascent career, and then, after that, driving to northern California on our honeymoon, as my wife had never seen the redwoods. That's right. Your shoddy workmanship cost me and my wife our honeymoon. And what do you do? You call it an "unfortunate coincidence" that it died mere days after you looked at it. You've done nothing more than knock a few bucks off the cost for our "inconvenience." Well, I've filed official complaints with your corporate office, the Better Business Bureau and the Department of Consumer Affairs, and I'm not stopping there. I don't want this to come to a lawsuit—I want you to live up to your rep and do the decent, red-white-and-blue thing and pay the damages for lost wages. Or do you want people to think that despite your advertising, you really arejust another car company?


How does this happen? You hit me from behind on the 22, and we pull over, inspect the damage, agree that it's your fault and exchange numbers. Everything seems in order, and rather than make you wait out in the sweltering heat, rather than make thousands of drivers move slowly around us, I agree to contact you later. Within 48 hours, police are at my door, arresting me for a hit-and-run in which you have been injured. No matter what I say, the boys in blue say I'm going to the station house. There are no witnesses. I am released on a bond (which cost me $2,500; I am a "flight risk") and advised to get an attorney. Thank God this is a criminal case: because I cannot afford my own defense, the state will pay for one—but not, perhaps, before I am financially ruined. I used to think Satan wandered the Earth; now I know he's found a home: you.


I first caught sight of you in my rear-view mirror, your red Chevy Blazer weaving in and out of traffic at breakneck speed, passing the blue Honda, blowing by the white Toyota, spinning out the little red Corvette, and then—like the Space Shuttle hitching a ride on the back of a jumbo jet—tailgating my tail, tight as tight! You couldn't get around me—there was another utility vehicle on your right. You were sandwiched in! You had a menacing look on your face, shoveling stress hither and thither. There was a disturbance in the force. I tuned into the force and remembered what Yoda said about enlightment: to bend and not to break. We all came to a momentous stop at a red light. You didn't shoot anybody! The light turned green, and you, crazy boy, were hell-bent on getting in front of me—and you finally did! Accelerating past me with rage and blood in your eyes—only to pull into a 7-Eleven a half block later on Westminster Boulevard.

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