So I?m on the 55 at rush hour here in the OC. It’s sundown, and headlights are coming on. Swooping ribbons of freeways arc overhead. All around me, thousands and thousands of SUVs, each one inching forward a moment, then lurching as the owner hits the brakes. I look inside each truck. Back where I come from, you buy a truck if you need to haul firewood or sheep or something ? here, you buy a truck to haul yourself. All around me, thousands of secretaries and paralegals and financial services managers and creative arts directors and color print specialists not only drive trucks, they drive Trucks. They’re vast metal luxury tanks, leather-lined muscled workhorses that have been collared and placed into the merry-go-round of home to 405 to office to 405 to home. We have the middle-class Dodges and the Cruisers and the Tahoes and the Edges and the Santa Fes, but we have SUVs that are slumming from their upper-crust upbringing: Audis and BMWs and Hummers. A gentle brush against the accelerator, and a thick V-6 mutters underneath the hood, burning approximately one-quarter ounce of gasoline and converting it into carbon dioxide and trace emissions which fly past the catalytic converter and into the ever-darkening sky, and Mom and her four year old and four empty back seats all roll forward five feet, and another gentle brush on the brake pedal and the shock absorbers groan and wobble ever so slightly as the truck halts hard, while the 14 MPG engine continues to meditate, irreversibly sing subtle poisons into the sky. And each person in the county (which, the last time we checked, was around seventeen million) brushes the brake pedal and brushes the gas pedal approximately (the last time we checked) ninety-seven hours per year.
I squint into my rear view mirror. The black SUV behind me has his brights on. He flicks them a couple times at me. What the hell does he want me to do? The car in front of me rolls forward and stops, I roll forward and stop, perhaps with a little less vivacity than the SUVs around me, but I?m keeping pace with the slog nonetheless. Mr. SUV crawls forward, lights glaring upon my bumper.
The traffic shudders, rolls forward several hundred feet. A car on my right edges in front of me. The truck behind me jerks to a sudden stop, rolling like a tugboat on an unfriendly wave. He puts on his brights, leaves them there.
We sit there, all six thousand of us, waiting. The traffic has frozen like tree sap in hard winter. I flick the rear-view mirror up, get the glare out of my eyes.
In two minutes, the cars grudgingly roll forward, then roll forward again. The SUV behind me roars and swerves into the carpool lane, then sharply cuts in front of me. I hit the brakes. Traffic convulses, chokes, and dies again.
The driver of the SUV has improved his commuting time by approximately 173 milliseconds. I scowl at his bumper and fume impotently at it, and wish a silent posthumous curse upon all the 1950’s master planners of the greater Los Angeles area. And then ?-
Here I interject that I am driving a Toyota Prius. Two years ago, the California legislature passed a law saying that, if you pay $8 and fill out a lengthy form and if you’re one of the lucky eighty five thousand drawn from a very large hat, you qualify your Prius to wear an unsightly yellow sticker on its butt and its side. So we did, and we were drawn from that very large hat. And we got the Prius stickered.
I zoom out into the car pool lane, tapping the brakes beside the driver of the SUV just long enough to make eye contact, flip him a middle finger, and drive off at 70 miles per hour.
Meanwhile, back in heaven, two angels were watching. Their dialogue was as follows:
Oh man, did you see him flip that guy off? That was funny! Man, I gotta get me one of those Priuses.
No don’t do that, the service is really expensive on those.
Yeah I heard that. Anyway, point for or against?
Against. Look at that poor bastard in the SUV. He?s going to go yell at his wife and ignore his daughter when he gets home. Total karmic value to the world is negative.
But you gotta admit —
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.”
Matthew five forty-three.
Okay, one karma point off for John Byrd — what about SUV guy?
Leave him even on karma. He had a gun in the glove compartment that he didn’t use.
Bang bang. Okay, let’s take a look at the jam on the 5.