I live in Portland, Oregon, which mostly receives electrical power from Portland General Electric. Founded in 1888 the company was eventually owned by Enron Corporation from 1997 until 2006 until Enron went bankrupt.
See? I just used a writing technique known as foreshadowing.
Foreshadowing is a literary device by which an author hints what is to come.
By dropping the name Enron, you are now on notice that this story does not bode well. The portends are decidedly not in our favor. It’s time to omen up.
Yes, I’m being mysterious. I’m trying to leave you in the dark. Just like Portland General. Bazinga!
Being a major metropolitan area, the City of Portland is designed with security and reliability in mind. Power outages simply do not happen unless:
- The wind blows up to one (1) mph
- A squirrel gets hungry
- Water magically falls from the sky
- A drunk person, in a trillion-to-one event, rams their car into a pole
Such simple criteria means the city loses power about every 42 minutes. Who knew that cramming 625,000 people in the same area would make stuff happen? Yes, I live in a city where squirrels are frequently blamed for power outages.
At least Portland is safe. No one, not even a terrorist, could ever fuck with this city unless:
- A tweaked out kid needs to take a whiz in a city resevoir
- The wind blows and a branch falls and an entire power grid goes haywire
- Water magically falls from the sky
Portland has many names. The City of Roses. Bridgetown. Stumpdown. Rip City. Little Beirut. PDX. Cloud City. But, during autumn at least, it could also be known as The City of Leaves. (Leaves are the unpredictable byproduct of shitloads of trees.) And the city has a great strategy for dealing with them. “Clean ’em up your own damn self. You want your storm drains to work? Better get on it. By the way, we’re adding a street fee. You need to pay more taxes for this.”
So it rained on Sunday. We were out running errands. We had to retrace our steps. We drove through St. Johns. Then it started to rain. An hour later we went through the same area. It had already flooded the size of Lake Erie. It wasn’t even a heavy rain.
There had been a few brief gusts of wind. So, yeah, the power was already out. We pulled into a bar just as thunderous lightning spooked everyone in the place. They were amazed. Lightning? Wowwee. Perhaps Portland has exactly the power company it deserves?
We continued on our way and that’s when I noticed it. The traffic signals were are dark. None of them were red. None were yellow. None were green.
You know what that means, right? The entire city went Starman on steroids. Perhaps we can add “Starport City USA” to our lengthy list of nicknames?
[Starman is driving the car, and speeds across a recently turned red light, causing crashes for the other motorists]
Jenny Hayden: Okay? Are you crazy? You almost got us killed! You said you watched me, you said you knew the rules!
Starman: I do know the rules.
Jenny Hayden: Oh, for your information pal, that was a *yellow* light back there!
Starman: I watched you very carefully. Red light stop, green light go, yellow light go very fast.
Apparently the collective wisdom of the hipster lumbersexuals in PDX is this: No street light, go very fast.
That’s weird because the law says an unpowered traffic signal is to be treated as a four-way stop. It’s so weird that no one in Portland knew that. Keep Portland weird.
So we sat at an intersection watching an endless stream of cars whiz by at top speed and we never got a turn. To pass the time we celebrated several birthdays. And I plotted revenge. Now I understand where Joker, Riddler and Penguin are coming from.
This may be my last blog post for a while. I’ve decided to keep my computer turned off when I think Portland General will be unable to keep the grid powered. By my calculations that means I’ll have a 42-minute window of electricity per day.
Neighbor kills neighbor. Don’t worry, though. They will pay for what they’ve done. Especially if they hate the inconvenience of annoying paperwork, attending a couple of hearings and paying a fine. That’s more than sufficient punishment for killing a fellow human being, right?
What is a society? My definition is a system where people make decisions that impact the safety of others. More and more it seems like that’s the only definition that matters.
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Do you have happy memories of Halloween nights when you were a kid? Counting and sorting your loot? Secretly getting away with eating too much until you got sick?
If yes, then congratulations. You lived through the experience.
I know of at least four young people from Halloween 2014 that will never get the same chance.
Why do we tolerate? Why do we, as a society, utterly lack the spine to properly address the problem of drunk driving? Our inaction is basically a way of saying, “We accept the loss of innocent lives as an irrationality inherent in the system and one that we are powerless or unwilling to prevent.”
We are not powerless. More can and should be done. All we have to do is defeat the apathy that comes along with “it hasn’t affected me personally … yet.”
Some basic stats:
- Each day, people drive drunk almost 300,000 times, but fewer than 4,000 are arrested.1
- In 2011, 226 children were killed in drunk driving crashes. Of those, 122 (54% percent) were riding with the drunk driver.1
- Since 1982 fatalities have decreased by 51%. Since 1991 they’ve declined by 35%. However, fatalities increased from 2011 to 2012.2
- There are about 9,000 to 10,000 fatalities per year due to drunk driving in the United States.2
- Source: MADD – Statistics
- Source: The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility
The other day I was reading about a famous U.S. bicyclist who traveled the world and “supported the message of peace” and had been killed while bicycling in Russia. Ron McGerity, age 60, had visited 61 countries over the past 15 years and logged more than 75,000 miles on his bike. He was hit and killed by a truck driver who fled the scene and was later located and suspected by police of being drunk. (Source: RT.)
In a different case, a young mother was killed by a drunk driver leaving two young children behind. The drunk driver also survived.
Far too many innocent lives are lost. Far too many innocent lives are irrevocably affected.
So why is this still such a problem? I believe it’s because we don’t do enough to stop it.
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Admittedly there is at least one major bummer about being an atheist. It’s a pretty big one, too. Quite simply: I’m deprived of a bunch of gods. Dammit. I guess that comes with the territory. So, in self defense, I learned to pray only to the Great Airlock.
“Oh, Great Airlock, please hear my humble plea.”
“I’m sorry, Tom. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
It’s easy to see how the Great Airlock could come in handy. Alas, it never quite works out that way. The Airlock is a cruel god. But you still gotta believe, right?
I’ve pontificated about The Great Airlock in the past. In theory, He represents immutable consequences to choice and action. The origin mythology is exceedingly simple: When the button is pushed the door opens. The door cares not what is on the Other Side. The door cares not if the occupant is ready. The door opens. The results are what they are. Nothing can change that. Nothing. Not even a god.
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“I’m sorry for what I did,” they sobbed. “Fleeing the scene of the accident is the biggest mistake of my life.”
I do not doubt the sincerity. The young person was just sentenced to more than three years in prison. Also a mother, the woman was losing her son. I do, however, doubt the judgment. I doubt the assessment that the decision to run was the mistake. Sadly it was only the tip of a titanic-sized iceberg and wasn’t the first or last lapse of judgement on her part.
Where did things go awry? It was hours before the accident when a totally sober person made the decision to embark on an evening of drink with no thought process to address simple questions like, “How will I get myself home?”
The person who made that decision, although fully conscious, uncompromised and presumably rational, didn’t stop to consider the possibility of fateful events. Such planning didn’t rise to the level of being important. There was fun to be had.
Of course, we all know decision-making skills hit the toilet as soon as strong drink hits the gullet. That’s the way it works. No big surprise there. That’s why it’s prudent to make such important decisions and plans well before the alcohol begins to flow.
The record shows the young person didn’t exercise much care when it came to driving. Her driver’s license had been suspended at least four times since 2009. She had at least 12 convictions on traffic offenses (none DUII related) since 2007. Offenses included speeding, not wearing a seat belt, driving with a suspended license, and use of a cell phone while driving.
Without a plan and legally intoxicated, the decision was made. The young person would operate a motor vehicle while drunk. It would be a fateful night.
Meanwhile, not too far away, a bicyclist had a flat tire. In the dark and on the side of the road, he was then hit from behind by the drunk driver. He was sent to the hospital ICU unit. He suffered several broken bones, including both legs, a ruptured spleen and other minor injuries.
The driver did not stop. She did not render assistance to her victim. Her alcohol-addled brain deduced (rightfully so) that she’d get in trouble. It was her choice to flee. Apparently what she was unable to deduce was that her very best option at that moment was to do the right thing. And that was something her hobbled mind was unable to fathom.
It didn’t end there, though.
Later, once she was sober and presumably had her normal decision-making abilities restored, her next move was to take her car to a body shop in a calculated attempt to conceal what she had done. Luckily someone tipped off police and, finally, once she was left with no other recourse, she made a decision to take responsibility and turn herself in. It was a long time coming and had little meaning by then.
Once again, I conclude things like this come down to a lack of empathy and an inability to reason consequences for our own actions. Young people, it seems to me, are especially prone to this of late. The news reports are rife with hit-and-run cases. It almost feels like hit-and-run is now standard procedure rather than an aberration.
In this case, in addition to jail, the judge also suspended her driver’s license for five years. That feels woefully insignificant to me. Without significant consequences, behavior will not change. She should have lost her driving privileges for life. Not merely because she drove drunk but because of all the choices she made.
Prison isn’t exactly known as a system that churns out improved persons. So, apparently, our future has the possibility of this woman back behind the wheel. I do not like the thought of that.
Braking Bad! The best part, though, is after the 49ers put him in the game, they still lost. That’s justice NFL style.
Presumably, you are aware that yesterday marked the final episode of Breaking Bad. The show first blipped onto my personal radar as one of AMC’s two flagship original programs (along with Mad Men, which I’ve been all overfor a while). Though I’ve never seen an episode, I am planning to watch the whole show some day (perhaps once it’s all up on Netflix). Remarkably, the finale has not yet been spoiled for me – and I’d like to keep it that way.
In the meantime, I couldn’t help but notice that those who have seen Breaking Bad just can’t get enough of it — to the extent that some have even found reason to make the pilgrimage out to Albuquerque. So for those of you suffering through symptoms of withdrawal in the wake of the finale, have no fear — the dream of the 90s may be…
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