Don Bauder 4:30 p.m., Dec. 12
Hang a Left into...what's that word that means you've suddenly realized something? Catharsis? I don't think that's it
I figured out why people out here in California are so freaking laid-back. It's really simple. It was likely a tactical move, a shrewd decision by our chosen deciders, an effort to accelerate our enstupidalization, a perfunctory plot to prevent the people from perusing the possibilities of palpable aggression and help turn us into the numb, ignorant apathetes we need to be to advance our wonderfully great nation's modern Manifest Destiny. Here it is: at busy intersections, it is illegal to make left turns until you see a green arrow pointing that way. Doesn't matter if there are no oncoming vehicles that would make it otherwise inadvisable to turn. They've taken all the intrigue and drama out of it. Back east, you've got to approach the end of the block on heightened alert, maintaining awareness of the status of the traffic light you're attempting to pass while applying bare minimum pressure on the brake pedal, salivating and trying not to blink as you anticipate the euphoric moment when opportunity knocks and you hit the gas, firmly and assuredly, and you turn that wheel with confidence, and then you're through, inviting the challenges of the next road, perhaps eying your rear-view to see how much time you had until a car came by so that you'd know how safe or reckless your decision to make a move was. Here it's nothing like that. You creep up to the light in your very own comfy left-turn-only lane, dozing off as you stare at the red arrow until it moves twelve inches closer to the Earth's core and becomes green, at which time you slowly and evenly depress the gas pedal and mozy along on your way to the next rigidly governed intersection. They even have machines to tell you when it's OK to walk across streets, and though unable to confirm through innumerable attempts at field research, I have been told by many natives that it is illegal to cross the street unless the electronic walking chalk outline is showing itself, even if there are no cars as far as you can see. I violate that law at every opportunity, aching to be apprehended so that my name can be made famous in textbooks: California v. Caraccio, the case that decided that properly trained human beings are actually smart enough creatures to cross a street unharmed without the aid of flashy light signals.
So it's hard to really get into a groove behind the wheel out here. All the decisions are made for you. I remember driving back home, the adrenaline constantly flowing, obliviously cognizant that you were in fact in control of your vehicular destiny. I'd reach my destination and emerge from my car with an emphatic burst of finality, readier than ever for anything, because I hadn't simply driven there, I had lived, I had experienced. I had expertly employed what I'd learned, the New York State DMV could be proud that they had endowed upon me the privilege of temporarily owning the roads, I felt more alive. Having no other choice but to think for myself kept me awake and moving. I miss it.
I just came up with a good title for a menagerie of my meandering monologues. "Anyway, my point is..." that since one can assume that having machines tell people what to do is probably a common theme out here, that that is a contributing factor to how generally laid-back these West Coasters tend to be. When you don't have to decide stuff, you don't have to think, and when you're not thinking, you're contemplating, and contemplation is a calm temptation. That's probably why so many non-Californians think we are weird and/or stupid. We have too much time to think about mindless meaningless crap that we are inevitably compelled to unleash on humanity such absurdities as man-purses and Scientology. When I first arrived here, you could drink on the beach but not smoke, yet on the other side of the wall, twelve inches away, you could smoke but not drink. (Now you can do neither anywhere near the beach.) That type of thing can only make sense to people who have been stripped of the right to make more important decisions. It sedates us because, unbeknownst to our outer self, our incorruptible human spirit is well aware that it should not be wasting time on such nonsense, and it is that spirit that is slowly dying, unnoticed. But I shouldn't blame the turn signals. I don't know how long it's been that those damn red and green arrows have been so finger-lickin' prevalent but the people were probably laid-back before then. Maybe it's just the weather.