Photo by OCW staffThe other night, driving through Santa Ana, I found a signpost marking the slim territory between past and future, a seven-by-seven-inch black box on the dashboard of my friend Jaime's BMW 525i. It's called a MIRT—a mobile infrared transmitter—and Jaime says it has solved, for him, at least, the collapse of public and private transportation in Orange County.
Jaime's MIRT is plugged into his car's cigarette lighter. When he hits the button—a button that, significantly, glows comic-book-hero green—the MIRT shoots out infrared light, clicking as it does like a metal cicada, and changes red traffic lights to green.
"I can drive Jamboree from Tustin to Irvine at rush hour in under 10 minutes," he says, "and I won't have to stop for a single red light."
Jaime sounds like an alcoholic who just inherited his own bar. He's pleased he saves so much time each day, but also a bit satisfied that he is, as he says, "getting over: getting over on society, the system."
A traffic officer in Santa Ana said he'd heard "some talk" about the MIRT but hadn't seen any research. An officer at the CHP chuckled, repeated the words "mobile infrared transmitter" slowly, pronouncing each syllable—like he was writing them on an official notepad—and then said simply, "Doesn't sound legal to me, and this is the first I've heard of it."
Right near the Weekly's World HQ, Jaime gave me a demonstration. It was about 11 p.m. on a Thursday night, and we had just pulled off the 5 south at 17th in Santa Ana. He turned right onto 17th and headed into the city. Strip stores on either side of 17th were dark, traffic was light, and red lights stretched northwest toward the horizon line.
"Show time," Jaime said. He engaged the MIRT. It clicked happily. And the red lights switched to green—left-turn arrows, straight-ahead signals, all of them, greener than green, the green that makes you feel special, the green of cash, of the Republic of Ireland, of the winner's blazer at Augusta. Jaime cackled. "Watch this." He stopped about 100 yards short of the traffic light at 17th and Main—no cars ahead of us or behind—and turned off the MIRT. The signal burned green. Cars pointed north and south on Main waited; I wondered at dutiful Americans. The light went yellow, Jaime clicked on the MIRT, yellow turned to red turned back to green, and I momentarily shared Jaime's feeling that we had as kids when we believed we magically controlled the universe—that the moon followed us alone, that the sun came up because we wanted it to, like characters in Ayn Rand novels who bend the course of mighty rivers. "I am God!" Jaime roared a little diabolically.
And then Catholic shame set it, and I felt bad for the obedient Americans who, some of them, might have been excused for feeling just a little screwed, for waiting submissively, their lives ebbing while an apparently erratic machine ran through a chaotic computer code just before midnight. As we cruised through the intersection, I felt the impulse to duck beneath the window line; instead, I looked into a car, the driver like a Zen monk.
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Jaime isn't bothered that when he activates his MIRT near an intersection MIRT-less others who have patiently waited their turns through two or three signals will wait again while Jaime waits on no man.
The MIRT retails for $249, but Jaime got his free from a friend who bought 10 when he signed up to become a dealer at themirt.com; or not really free: he gave the friend an air ionizer (or maybe a de-ionizer; he's not sure which) that had been sitting uselessly in the trunk of his 1964 Cadillac. The website offers this wonderfully coy presentation, implying the MIRT is designed only for public servants—you know, "Volunteer First Responders, Private Investigators, Emergency Volunteers, City & State Highway Workers, Security Personnel, Community Services, Fire Fighters, Mass Transit, Doctors, Police, EMS . . . and MUCH MORE!"
Now, I fit into at least three of those categories: I'm certainly among "MUCH MORE"; I'm frequently investigating something, and I've always felt that much of my day, however invisibly, is about community service (I'm that kind of guy); and when themirt.com promises, "No more waiting at stoplights in emergency or urgent situations," well, I can't help feeling, like most Americans, that everything I'm doing is done with some sense of alarm. If the president of the United States can invade a sovereign nation on a hunch that turns out to be wrong, am I not right in merely screwing with the traffic system when I feel like I can't wait through another red light to get to a bar on time?
Jaime understands the MIRT works because so few have access to them for now—if two drivers approaching the same intersection hit their MIRTs, the signal will basically crap out. "But if only a select few have them," he says, "then, my friend, the doors of progress swing open." Wide as a green light.