by RIP RENSE
MY FRIEND BARBARA
(Sept. 26, 2007)
I got a
letter from Senator Barbara Boxer the other day! She likes me, too.
She called me “friend,” you know, the way Frankenstein did to the old blind
Barbara was writing to me
about traffic problems in Los Angeles. That’s about all friends talk about
The obvious solution to
traffic problems in Los Angeles, of course, would be to confiscate
two-thirds of all vehicles for scrap (beginning with SUV’s), tear down the
freeways, and turn half of all major thoroughfares into parks. This would
decrease traffic, make the place quieter, prettier, and force people to work
closer to home. It would reinspire a sense of neighborhood.
This isn’t going to
happen, though, because people seem to prefer driving at ten miles per hour.
My friend Senator Barbara
told me that a study shows that we have the worst traffic in the nation
here. They use studies these days almost exclusively for proving things that
everyone already knows. This enables lots of “social scientists” and
politicians to throw money around and puff up and act authoritative.
Then they send out
millions of letters to people like me and call them, “friend.”
My friend Barbara also
told me that the “average resident” spends “only 72 extra hours” stuck
in rush-hour traffic. Being above average, I immediately began wondering
what an “extra hour” is. Is this an hour that does not count towards my
total hour accumulation? In other words, an hour that is not part of my
Hey, that would be great.
That would mean that I get 72 free hours to just sit in traffic, and I don’t
die any sooner than I would have anyway! I don’t know how Barbara engineered
this one, but it’s okay.
Barb further explained
that the traffic study was released by the Texas Transportation Institute,
and I knew then that the letter was authentic because only a politician
would be dumb enough tout a Texas study of California traffic.
| The number of L.A. residents who don’t
like to drive is exceeded only by the number of hot newscasters that
Mayor Villaraigosa would like to fornicate with.
Well, the study also
said that national traffic congestion results in a total of “4.2 billion
stuck in traffic” (people, presumably), is roughly equal to 105 million
weeks of vacation, and the use of an additional 2.9 billion gallons of fuel
at a cost of $78 billion. I don’t know about you, but when I read statistics
like these, I hear John Lennon singing “Now they know how many holes it
takes to fill the Albert Hall.”
Soon there will be a
study to tell us how much vacation we could save by not manufacturing
underpants. Or better yet, by stopping politicians from sending out millions
of letters to “friends.”
Anyhow, my friend Barb
also told me that her big study “concludes that there is no one magic
solution to America’s congestion problems.”
There were no statistics
or details this time, though, which was frustrating. I mean, how many magic
solutions were investigated before deciding that “no one of them” works? And
did the study consider that maybe a combination of magic solutions might do
the trick? Did they consult David Copperfield, Penn & Teller, Kreskin, or
just Harry Anderson?
I’ll never know.
But Barb assured me that
as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and
General Such Hoodoo, she is “working every day to find solutions to our
nation’s transportation woes.”
Every day? Wow. Just
think of how much vacation Barb is saving the country! Maybe that balances
out some of 105 million weeks lost to traffic congestion. Somebody should
break that down into fuel cost savings and other stats. Or wait a second. If
she’s working every day, then she might be driving to work every day. Hmm.
That’s a lot of fuel expenditure we can ill afford. Well, maybe she car
pools or walks. Probably.
(Incidentally, my friend
Barb the Chairman has set back all exponents of “chairperson,” but that
doesn’t bother me much. A chairperson sounds like a genetic mutation,
As for the “nation’s
transportation woes,” I wanted to tell Senator Barbara that, as a
Californian, I don’t care much about the nation’s transportation woes. I
really don’t. What I care about is the fact that everywhere I drive in L.A.,
people pay as much attention to stop signs and red lights as Dick Cheney
does to public opinion.
What I care about is that
drivers’ attitudes are “I’ll stop only if it prevents me from killing
someone, preferably myself.”
What I care about is that
when I wait for a break in traffic to make a right turn, the guy behind me
gets impatient after ten seconds, backs violently up, pulls violently next
to me, then makes a violent right turn right in violent front of me, and in
the violent process cuts off oncoming traffic and causes people to slam on
their brakes. All the time. (Except for the guy I cut off in return the
other day, and nearly drove across the yellow line into oncoming
traffic---which made my goddamn day!)
What I care about is the
fact that all the quiet side streets are choked with rats-lost-in-a-maze
commuters fleeing paralyzed main boulevards.
What I care about is the
fact that the freeways died decades ago and their rotting hulks can still be
found, festering and still, any time of day or night.
What I care about is that
at 5 p.m., it takes over an hour to drive two miles from my place to
|The Expo Line will indeed allow a lot of
access to Culver City, which is a lot like increasing access to
But I know that my
friend Barbara is working every day to find solutions, and let me tell
you, that gives me just as much confidence as Condoleezza Rice gives me that
she is finding peace in Iraq. Well, I shouldn’t be so cynical. After all,
Barb wrote that “one of the ways to help ease Los Angeles’ traffic
congestion is to make alternatives to single car travel more feasible.”
(Here’s a way: lobotomy.)
What a brilliant, canny,
incisive statement she makes here. Imagine: one way to solve automobile
congestion is to create alternatives to. . .automobiles. Re-elect
But here is the most
startling and magical statement in the Senatrix’s entire letter, one that is
so astounding, so kidney-flushingly shocking, that I can only print it
verbatim, then step back and admire:
“Progress is being made
in Los Angeles.”
Now let’s assume, from
context, that she refers to traffic progress, and not Mayor Villaraigosa’s
efforts to convince the public that chasing a little hot news, so to speak,
should not impact his baffling popularity. Yes, progress in Los Angeles.
Progress! And what, pray tell, is this progress, Barb?
Just this, and I quote:
“The Gold Line East Side
Extension will bring service to East Los Angeles. I secured a federal
appropriation of $70 million in the Senate funding bill to help this
The Expo Line construction that is now underway will extend service from USC
and the Crenshaw area to Culver City.
”And in the long term, I
am very excited that it may be possible to extend the Red Line from Union
Station, along Wilshire Boulevard, all the way to the ocean.”
I’m glad the Senatrix
is excited. I’m excited, too. I always get excited around elected
officials who say they are “very excited.” I get so excited that I want to
go visit them and show them how excited I am. But let me share my excitement
The Gold Line to East
L.A. will be very nice, yes---for East L.A. people who don’t have cars or
don’t like to drive---and that, incidentally, describes the majority of
riders of all public transit in L.A.. The number of L.A. residents who don’t
like to drive is exceeded only by the number of newscasters that Mayor
Villaraigosa would like to fornicate with.
The Expo Line will indeed
allow a lot of access to Culver City, which is a lot like increasing access
The mythical Red Line
holds out real promise---for spending countless billions of dollars that no
one has, turning Wilshire Boulevard into Baghdad for ten years, and in the
end, allowing all those students, Starbucks employees, and Salvadorean maids
to stop riding “Rapid Buses” that sometimes go as fast as 25 mph. For those
who point to the $300-million-per-mile subway (1980’s dollars) from downtown
to North Hollywood, and claim it has reduced traffic, I offer two words:
grid, and lock. On the Hollywood Freeway.
So you see, I am excited.
So excited I want to shout all this at my friend Barbara. But then the
Homeland Security would show up and I’d be dragged off, yelling “Don’t tase
Well, the Senatrix
capped off her friendly letter with nothing less than a command. (These
ladies in power really take to it.) Here it is:
“Think of the cars that
will be taken off the freeways when all of these projects are complete.”
Because I really, really
respect powerful women---maybe even more than powerful men---I took my friend Barbara’s order seriously. I
thought, and I thought.
And here is my thinking,
which is the same thinking, by the way, that I hear from waitresses, post
office workers, Borders clerks, the occasional homeless hustler, and smart
dogs and cats:
No cars will be taken
off freeways when these projects are completed, even if they are completed
by David Copperfield and a bunch of half-naked women assistants in the next
The problem cannot be
solved anymore, my friend Barbara. L.A. City and County governments have
greased the way for developers for so long that the density is permanently
beyond capacity. Filthy rich robberbarons like Alan Casden, hailed by the
likes of the L.A. Times for jamming this place with tens of thousands of
condos and apartments, should be brought up on charges of mayhem.
There are simply too
many people and too many cars, Barbara, my friend. I think you know it,
but if you didn’t write letters about “progress” and how “excited” you are,
then you couldn’t justify being paid to think about solutions that don’t
Just take the freeways
out. Put in light rail. Confiscate two-thirds of the cars, starting with
SUV’s, and replace them with Smart Cars.
Then we can talk about
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