The clothes and slippers on Wilshire Boulevard

I was sitting in a cafe on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica when, diagonally across the intersection, the firetrucks, police cars and ambulances pulled up from all sides, sirens ablaze.

Another accident, said a customer near me.

One of my children goes to a little school on Wilshire, not far.

Often, as I sit in this cafe, I look up from my book and just look at the drivers zipping by. About half of them, maybe more, seem to be on their phones as they propel their heavy metal killing machines through this human hive. It’s so booooring to have to drive. Must talk or text to pass the time.

Later I walked to the ATM, then home. The ambulances were gone now. Only some clothes and slippers and what looked like a pair of sunglasses were left in the intersection, now guarded by cops.

Why did they not clean it up? I don’t know. Evidence, perhaps. The paramedics had cut the clothes from the two bodies, the better to try to save the lives.

I learned that a driver, aged 28, had plowed through two people, a man aged 61 and a woman aged 62 — perhaps a couple — at a crosswalk. They were walking on the zebra stripes, and the driver simply did not stop.

Was he texting or on the phone? I asked the cop. He couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say.

Did that matter? I wondered. Perhaps only insofar as the answer might, just might, make others change their behavior (ie, put their phones away in the car) and save lives not yet lost or shattered.

More than two lives had just been lost or shattered right here, while I was drinking a double latte across the street. Not just the two whose clothes I was seeing. All the lives they had touched. I walked home to my kids.

15 thoughts on “The clothes and slippers on Wilshire Boulevard

  1. I think you may be getting fixated on the cell phone/texting thing. There are myriad reasons for accidents like this; the driver need only look away for a second or two, distracted by a reflection in a store window (or glare from the same) or watching for other traffic on his left or right or putting a new CD in his stereo or glancing at his GPS or… In any case, it’s a tragedy.

  2. I don’t know about the driving rules in CA, but here in Austria drivers are required to stop whenever they see passers-by waiting to cross zebra stripes.

    This is a stupid and dangerous law, because a driver may not be familiar with it and hence fail to stop, yet a passer-by may start to cross anyway, erroneously expecting the driver to stop.

    In unrelated news, I just happened upon this website. For some reason, it reminds me of yours. Can’t put my finger on it, though.

    • As I recall, the law in California says something to the effect that “pedestrians are an endangered species and injuring or killing one (or more) is absolutely forbidden.” I may be taking some liberties with that wording but I don’t think I am far off.

  3. Andreas,
    I share your tremendous concern about the dangers of distracted driving (includes women putting on make-up while they are driving…saw that one the other day…).

    Until using a phone in the car is illegal in California, this pattern will continue.

    Auto travel is now one of the most dangerous ways to go. Thanks for keeping your concerns in the spotlight.

    Were you to organize parents/students who have lost loved ones and put together a TED type multi-media show and then take it to high schools around the country, you might make a big difference.

    • Until using a phone in the car is illegal in California, this pattern will continue.

      It is illegal to drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Has that stopped?
      It is illegal to drive without insurance. Has that stopped?
      It is illegal to drive without a license. Has that stopped?

      Drivers are required to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk (or crossing even not in the crosswalk). Obviously, that did not happen in this case.

      Laws do not prevent illegal actions, they just make it possible to punish those who break them.

  4. It is more than ironic that as technology offers more possibilities of increased connection and relationship (ease of travel and communication) the sense of self-centered-ness and isolation seems to be increasing. If I choose to drive my car (heavy-metal killing machine), I have to, at some level, appreciate the power/destructive potential I hold in my hands, and the complex relationships I am entering: other cars, pedestrians, bicycles, weather, curb stones, my car radio/stereo etc. Or not. Add a cell phone and the problems multiply exponentially because my attention is continually taken away from the energy field of the car hurtling through space.

    How do we learn to balance our self-centered impulses with more self-aware recognition of the larger context of our actions? Lynne McTaggart has a new book just out, “The Bond: Connecting the Space Between Us” where she weaves quantum biology, astronomy, sociology, anthropology and more to offer an alternative to the highly pervasive modern mind set (promoted by much of contemporary science) that we as individuals are ‘discrete entities’ separate from and in competition with each other. Her main point is that ‘we live within a complex bond of interrelationships and constant flux and as we begin to realize this more and more deeply, our patterns of behavior can change quite quickly. Hopefully the message will get out more pervasively.

    ‘.

    • I always enjoy your thought process, and how you extend it, Yogarthur.

      This thesis by McTaggart (and, presumably, you) that we are NOT “discrete entities’ but interconnected made me think of … air vibrations. I clap over HERE and the vibration of all the air molecules around me makes you hear it THERE.

      I zip through Wilshire in my metal killing machine HERE and suddenly a child loses a parent THERE.

      You’re right. Nothing and nobody is a discrete entity.

    • That case continues to mystify me. There are three angles:

      1) traffic
      2) urban planning (that crossing is apparently a death trap, and the city does not want to put in a traffic light or crossing for fear that (!) doing so would mean admitting that it has been indeed dangerous) and
      3) America’s “justice” system

    • In most places, bus stops are close to intersections (where safer, and legal, crosswalks exist). (in fact, the existence of just such a bus stop in West Palm Beach contributed to my last accident) If her lawyer was clever, he would be suing the city for unsafe public transportation infrastructure. The lack of a safe crosswalk nearby encouraged her to jaywalk thereby creating an unsafe environment which resulted in the child’s death.

      Oddly, I understood the charges against the mother. I also understood the jury’s guilty verdict. They are bound by law and she did violate the law. While a jury might understand why (and agree with her), they are compelled to follow the law. Their only other option was what is called “jury nullification.”

  5. Someone randomly firing a shotgun in the air would be gunned down, but drivers who behave just as dangerously and carelessly are smiled upon (or at least tolerated) by American society. Support public transportation and robot cars!

  6. Well, let me respond generally to a few points above:

    @Douglas: On whether I am getting “fixated” on distracted driving.

    Yes, I think I am. But deliberately so. Here is how I discipline my mind, to make it as rigorous as it can be: I scan issues and dangers and risks and so forth. Over time, with feedback or research, I then try to correct myself, on the assumption (discussed elsewhere on this blog) that my human brain tricks me and lies to me by distorting different risks. But then, once I am satisfied that I have identified an issue, I make it “my issue”. That’s another way of saying “fixated”.

    So, yes, but overtly so.

    @Cheri and @Douglas:
    You two then get into the usual debate about laws. I’m with Cheri on this one (although I am usually in the libertarian camp). But I’d simply like to say to Douglas that my interest is changing MINDS, not LAWS. We may or may not have, or need, a law against, say, defecating in a restaurant. But we would all be horrified if somebody did that. Well, I’d like us to start being equally horrified when somebody hurtles in his heavy metal killing machine past human beings while on his cell phone.

    • Let me clarify that I am not opposed to your “fixation” and agree that cell phones are especially distracting. And I am sure your obsession (if I may use that word) is more about changing minds than laws. While I am not advocating giving up, I think we often place too much emphasis on laws. As I said, laws do not prevent such behavior, they simply facilitate punishing those who engage in it. And not all laws are strictly for that purpose but also to encourage better behavior (seat belt laws come to mind). I think that legislatures are caught in a bind when it comes to cellphones. To acknowledge that cell phone usage is a hazard while driving because it is a distraction acknowledges that any distraction is a hazard. What follows? the outlawing of clever billboards? The outlawing of Amber Alert signs? Anything which draws the attention of the driver is a, by definition, a distraction.

      So, like you, I think education may be the key to a reduction in distraction caused accidents.

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