Category Archives: Distracted Driving

Those Blocking-The-Carl’s-Jr-DriveThru-Lane Blues

I was headed out to pick up dinner. A quick drive about a mile and a half to the Carl’s Jr drive through. Not a sign of trouble on my horizon.

I place the order, talking to the “Charlie Brown’s teacher” voiced machine in the driveway. We’ll see what we actually get.

I’m second in line, waiting my turn. No worries. The guy in front of me leaves and I drive up and stop at the window.

I have to get my wallet out, so just to be safe I put the car in “park,” keep my foot on the brakes. Do the minor league contortionist thing, get out the wallet, fish out the cash.

I get my change, a medium and a large drink, ask which is which. Later we’ll find out that he got it backwards, but maybe that was just a side effect of the timeline shift to the other, less friendly timeline…

It takes a bit because there’s a custom burger being ordered. There are several cars lined up behind me by the time my bag o’ food comes.

I get everything settled, reach over to go home…

…and the car won’t shift out of “park.”

What am I doing wrong?

Foot on the brake, it won’t go unless that’s depressed. No problem there.

I’m pushing the release button on the gear shift, right? Again, no problem. So why can’t I move the shift lever?

The honking starts. I have my food, the folks behind have been waiting a while, let’s go!

Try turning the car off, then back on. No problem. Foot on brake, gear shift button pushed, and … no joy. I’m stuck in “park.”

The guy in the Carl’s Jr wants to know if there’s a problem with my order. Nope, just a problem with my car.

The next five minutes or so are chaotic. There’s a lot of angst. Confusion abounds.

The Carls Jr folks finally send someone out to the parking lot to get the five or six cars stacked up there to back out, drive around to the parking lot, and come in to get their food in the lobby. One of them has an anatomically improbable suggestion for me. Creative, but unlikely.

Folks in the restaurant are coming to the window and trying to give me advice and suggestions. “Make sure that you have your foot on the brake!” Thank you, good one, I know that, learned it early in the ten years and 85,000+ miles I’ve had the car. Have I tried…? Yes, yes I have, but thanks!

It’s time for reinforcements. I can’t even get out of the car, since the driver’s door is up against the little shelf at the pickup window, and the passenger side door doesn’t have much more clearance on the other side, where there’s an automated car wash attached to the Shell station next door. I’m starting to wonder if I’ll have to try to see if I can put the top down (I’m driving a Volvo convertible) without hitting the roof of the drive-thru in order to get out.

Call AAA. They want to send a link to their app to deal with this. Sorry, that’s bullshit, I’m having a moment here and I want to talk to a human who can HELP!

I finally get someone, explain the situation. They’ll send someone. They have a whole list of places where I can be towed where I can get special AAA discounts on service, would I like one of them?

I haven’t had time to spend two seconds thinking about where I want to get towed to. It’s after 18:30 on a Friday night – who would be open? Let’s just get towed home, keep it simple for now, buy time to think about what to do next. Okay, they’ll be here in something like 45 minutes to an hour.

WHAT? Okay, I’m not going anywhere…

And through it all, I keep questioning myself. Why would the car just break like this? It hasn’t been acting up, nothing got spilled into the gear shift lever box, there wasn’t any big, nasty sound. Maybe it’s me just blindly and unconsciously doing something really simple and stupid wrong and I can’t see it?

User error located between the steering wheel and the bucket seats?

Then begins the routine of having the Carl’s Jr folks ask if I’m making any progress, turning the car off and on a few times, pumping the brakes (I know there’s an interlock switch on the brakes, maybe that’s gone flakey), smacking the shift lever a couple of times (percussive maintenance!), getting nowhere, turning off the car, and waiting for the Carl’s Jr folks to come back and ask if I’m making any progress.

What’s that saying about insanity being where you do the same things over and over and keep expecting a different outcome?

After a dozen or two rounds, nine minutes elapsed time according to my phone calls to AAA, no one is more surprised than I am when I start the car smoothly shifts out of park like there was never any problem at all.

There aren’t any of the Carl’s Jr folks at the window, so I’m not going to waste any time waiting for them to come back so that I can say goodbye. (I’m sure they’ll remember me, if not for the stupid broken car, then for the head-to-toe Chiefs clothing.)

I drive home, carefully, waiting for the next shoe to drop, while also desperately trying to call AAA back to wave off the scheduled tow truck. Fortunately, this must be a fairly common experience since there’s a relatively simple way to do this with just a couple of button pushes on the phone.

The mile and a half drive was uneventful. No sign that anything at all was so wrong just seconds ago.

Not for all of the tea in China would I shift out of “drive.”

I get home, park in the driveway, shift the car into “park,” set the brake, and shut down the car.

Out of curiosity, I turn it back on. Foot on the brake. Reach for the gear shift lever.

It’s locked in “park” like it was set in stone.

Whatever. I’ll mess around with it some time on Monday and if it starts, I’ll drive it off to my favorite repair shop. If not, well, I’ve got plenty of time to futz with it without blocking the Carl’s Jr drive-thru lane.

The food is cold.

And the guy did get it wrong. The Dr Pepper is in the small cup, the Diet Coke is in the big one.


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Filed under Distracted Driving, Paul

I’ll Reject A Little Help From My Friends

I was taking a stroll today in an unfamiliar area of town, having a couple of hours to kill and in need of some exercise.

Walking along a major boulevard (four lanes in each direction with an occasional center turn lane which was often replaced by a concrete center divider with plants & trees) I was approaching a driveway leading out of a small shopping center. A car was waiting to pull out of the parking lot onto the main boulevard.

It was obvious that this was a driveway in which a right-turn was the only legal turn. While there wasn’t a concrete center divider here, there was a broad painted divider that was painted in a cross-hatch pattern that indicated that crossing it was forbidden. This made sense since turning left involved crossing at least five lanes of traffic – very dangerous.

But the lady waiting to pull out was obviously waiting for an opportunity to turn left. I walked behind her car and checked just before the sidewalk – yep, two signs there that said “Right Turn Only.” I also saw something else across the street, in a church or school parking lot…

I waved at the lady and got her attention, pointed at the “Right Turn Only” signs. She flipped me off.

Okay, so much for counting on common sense or intelligence. So I waved again, got her attention, and pointed across the street. She once again indicated that she thought I was “number one.” Then she saw her opportunity and floored it, crossing four lanes of oncoming traffic, cutting left onto that painted center divider, almost hitting a car coming from the right in those lanes, and then continuing her illegal and dangerous left turn.

At which point the police officer in the black & white cruiser in the school or church driveway across the boulevard, who had been watching her the whole time just waiting for her to do something stupid and dangerous, lit up his siren and lights and pulled in behind her. She was pulled over within about fifty yards.

I understand that people make stupid, dangerous, illegal turns. I’m sure they do it in other cities, but it’s an artform in Los Angeles at times. But ignoring the cop that’s right there in plain sight and figuring that you can get away with something blatant? I don’t understand that at all.

Finally, a show of hands of who out there thinks that she learned anything from this? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Okay, who thinks she tried to blame me for distracting her or some other bullshit when she tried to talk her way out of the ticket after being pulled over?

Yep. Me too.

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Filed under Distracted Driving, Los Angeles

Things I Learned On My Morning Commute

If I’m fooled by the fact that it was relatively easy to get on the freeway… (Going past several schools and into a TERRIBLE intersection that gridlocks in a heartbeat means that a normal 6-7 minute drive to the freeway normally takes 12-15 on a good day and has taken as much as 25 minutes.)

And then I’m disappointed by the fact that the freeway was clogged and jammed and slow… (Once I get ON the freeway in the morning, it’s almost always been wide open, “maximum freeway speed” all the way to the office.)

And my head is distracted by a dozen different things… (There’s a lot going on!)

And the route to the new office is the same one as to the CAF hangars… (The old job was to the east, where the new job is to the west out on the 101 Freeway, just about half as far as Camarillo is.)

If I’m not paying attention it’s very easy to be sitting in the #1 lane, cruising along at 75 mph (“maximum freeway speed”, as opposed to the 65 mph speed limit) as I suddenly realize that the overpass I just went under was my exit to the office.


Fortunately, there are exits every mile and I know the area well, having run it all repeatedly when training for the 2011 LA Marathon with a Road Runners group. Take the next exit, double back, five minutes wasted, a lesson learned.

That should have been the biggest problem I had today!!

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Filed under ALSA Golden West, CAF, Distracted Driving, Freakin' Idiots!, Los Angeles

To The Driver Who Turned Left In Front Of Me

Yeah, that was way, WAAAAAAY too close, dude or dudette!

Yeah, I was turning right and had slowed down and was signalling, but there was no way any sane person would have gunned it through the intersection like that. It’s a good thing that neither of us had an extra coat of paint on our cars or we would have been swapping it.

And the way you then fishtailed your way back over into the left lane and gunned your mom-mobile SUV like NCC-1701 going to Warp Six – impressive.

So as I pulled up next to you on your right at that stop sign that you graciously deigned to honor, I was ready to use my “driving finger” to “signal” that I thought you were “number one,” if you know what I mean.

Who the hell drives like that?

But I didn’t, because it turned out you were just a kid, probably really early in your driving learning curve…

…and you Mom in the passenger seat was saying things to you at such a volume that my flipping you off and screaming would have just been pale and pathetic in comparison.

Good luck, Mom. I’ve been there.

Today was my turn to be a little bit more experienced, a little bit faster, a little bit smarter.

Tomorrow you’re on your own.

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Filed under Distracted Driving, Los Angeles

There Was A Bug

A ***BIG*** freaking bug!

Okay, so it wasn’t a huntsman spider from Australia or a camel spider. But it was far, Far, FAR bigger than I was expecting. Especially since I wasn’t expecting it at all.

I was driving at the time. I felt something on my left hand, on the steering wheel, and looked down to find SpiderZilla crawling across the back of my hand.

I used words my mother would not approve of at truly astonishing volume.

I did not lose control of the car. But not for lack of trying. My attention was definitely elsewhere, despite my speed and the number of cars and trucks surrounding me.

While screaming like a little girl expressing my dismay, since I couldn’t really use my right hand to swat at it, I shook my hand and it fell off.

Which is not necessarily better.

You see it, right?

SpiderZilla is now down on the floor. Or on the seat. Or on my leg. Or crawling up my pant leg. Or…

Should I pull over? Stop in the middle of traffic? While that would no doubt be my first move if it had been a rattlesnake, it wasn’t clear that blocking a lane in rush hour was called for. Not for a…

…a what? What kind of spider had it been, besides **BIG**? Was it actually a spider? It had looked…

I had only seen it for half a second as I was freaking out. Yeah, it was a bug, it might have been a spider – but it might have been a cricket or something else, I guess. Maybe.

It was brown. If it was a spider, was it a brown recluse, a “brown widow”? Did they get that big, and if so, why am I still living in this part of the world?

And then…

There it was, crawling up from below. Fortunately, not on me. It was coming up the side of the center console.

Yes, it was that big, probably at least four inches long. No, it probably wasn’t a spider. But no, I had no freaking idea what it was.

My best guess is some sort of mantis or “walking stick” bug. Not like anything I had ever seen before around these parts.

But now I wanted it dealt with. Permanently. Before I did lose control of the car and be without a decent excuse about why I caused the accident that was going to happen  if I didn’t deal with it.

So with a clear shot, while holding my lane and watching out for traffic ahead, I squished that little bugger into next week’s protoplasm.

Not what a good entomologist would do, but I was a physics major, so screw that!


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Filed under Critters, Distracted Driving

If I Were Her…

On the way home tonight I was deeply saddened to see how far the quality standards for BMW manufacturing have fallen.

A good chunk of my drive home coincided with a similar route by a woman driving a brand new (still has the paper plates!) BMW X6 M. It was deplorable how shoddy the construction was!

First of all, the vehicle was obviously built with no turn signals whatsoever. How can they get away with that? Aren’t there Department of Transportation standards that they have to adhere to?

Apparently not. Block after block she drove, weaving through traffic like Dale Earnhardt at Daytona, and no matter what, those turn signals never blinked.

And that’s not all! Being stuck behind her at a couple of red lights, I was horrified to see that her brand new, shiny, $100,000+ vehicle apparently also came without a gas pedal! The light would turn green and we would just sit there, waiting, going nowhere! She was obviously aware of the problem since she appeared to be texting a BMW service agent about the problem.

It’s sad that such a prestigious, luxury automobile could have such defects. But what other explanation could there possibly be?

Let’s just hope that the airbags aren’t defective when that freakin’ moron with the ten-cent brain driving the $100,000+ SUV wraps it around a bridge abutment…

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Filed under Distracted Driving, Los Angeles

No Right Turn

A few years back there was a dedicated bus lane built in the West San Fernando Valley. For the most part it runs parallel to some major streets, which causes some difficult traffic issues.

In particular, people travelling parallel to the bus lane and wanting to turn right to cross it had to get used to a new set of signals. “Right on red” is a California tradition, perfectly legal (for the most part). But all of a sudden it was illegal at these dozens of intersections.

The reason was safety. If you’re turning right onto a street crossing the bus lane, there may be a bus barreling along at 50 mph who has the right of way. The bus may be coming from behind you and you’ve never had to look in that direction when turning right on red in your life. Oops! You’re dead!

As a result, at dozens and dozens of these intersections they put in lots and lots of signage that indicates that there’s no “right on red” turn allowed. There are illuminated red arrows on the traffic lights. Some intersections even have additional, big, red, flashing neon signs indicating that a “right on red” is illegal.

This was a big deal back when this all got installed. It took a lot of people a couple of years to figure it out and get used to the new pattern. Accident rates were initially high, but fell steadily. Then stopped falling, while still being at a level that was too high.

In came the robot cop cameras.

Now if you turn “right on red” (or if you run the intersection from the left or right, or while turning left across the tracks but doing it just a little bit late after that yellow light has turned a really deep shade of orange, i.e., “red”) there are multiple flashes as the robot cop cameras take a series of pictures. Your car, your license plate, you – it’s a full set, and they’ll send you copies in about two weeks, along with a ticket for about $700.

The accident rate resumed falling.

So tonight as I’m driving home on De Soto, parallel to the bus lane, after dark, I’m startled by the lightning-like flashes as someone coming from the opposite direction tries to run through on that “deep orange” shade of yellow light and gets busted.

Someone did something stupid, and they’ll pay for it.

But how do you explain the guy going in my direction who, not two seconds after having seen all of the flashes when Moron #1 ran the light, and faced with an array of “NO RIGHT TURN ON RED” signs, goes and turns right on red right-turn arrows in about four different traffic lights at the intersection.

That’s a SPECIAL kind of stupid right there!

And the third guy… Words fail me.

With not one, but TWO displays in the previous ten seconds of what’s going to happen, with many signs, many traffic signals, how in Hell does the third guy not understand that turning right on red through that intersection is the stupidest thing done in Southern California today? How can you be that clueless and still be breathing without being hooked up to a machine?

Flash-flash! (Your car!) Flash! (Your face!) Flash-flash!! – (Your license plate!) – Flash-flash-flashflash! – (The whole intersection, including the bus that’s cruising in the dedicated bus lane and about to T-bone you into ICU!!)

People can be morons…

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Filed under Distracted Driving, Los Angeles

No Context For You – May 3rd

Be grateful for two out of focus pictures of a sunset and traffic. The thoughts I have to share are full of disgust, hatred, and outrage for the evil monstrosity that our government has become.


Filed under Distracted Driving, Photography

A Whole New Type Of Stop & Go Traffic

When we drove over to Pasadena on Tuesday night for the Scalzi & Doctrow event, we thought we would be late because of a massive traffic tie-up.

For those of you who are familiar with LA, we were going from Woodland Hills to Pasadena, a straight shot on the 101/134/210 Freeway. (You have to live here to understand.) However, on the 5 Freeway, just south of the 134, there had been a massive accident. Multiple fatalities, burning trucks, all lanes blocked.

For those of you who are not familiar with LA, just assume that every stereotype you’ve ever seen in film or on television about LA traffic was true that day. In spades.

But we could go in the carpool lane! Mile after mile we went at about 50 mph while to our right were four and five lanes of traffic that was moving at less than walking speed.

Eventually even the carpool lane bogged down, although we were at least moving with the usual 5 mph “stop and go” traffic.

The woman behind us caught my attention. Actually, what caught my attention was her white Lexus lurching forward time after time and stopping just inches away from our back bumper. What the hell was her problem?

Well, the first problem was that she wasn’t looking out the windshield. At all. EVER. She was obsessed with something in the back seat, twisting in her seat and reaching for it. For a good five minutes. She. NEVER. EVER. Looked. Up.

Yet a dozen, two dozen times or more, traffic would move, her car would accelerate and then brake HARD to stop about  0.01 microns from our back bumper. How were we so lucky? How was she spending all of that time turned backwards in her seat yet not hitting us?

The answer was obvious once I realized it. Her car was new, expensive, and no doubt had every bell and whistle on the market.

Including the automatic breaking system.

$100 says that she knew that and was deliberately dealing with things other than driving, assuming with deliberate forethought that the car would stop on its own.

I would feel better if I thought that it was a vehicle with an AI system built in that was specifically designed to be the next best thing to a self-driving car. A Tesla can do that – maybe Lexus was getting close to the same thing?

But I didn’t see any sign that the vehicle was anything other than a run-of-the-mill luxury sedan. Which tells me that, even though it might not have been designed that way, she was letting the car drive itself in that circumstance.

The Law of Unintended Consequences at work. And fortunately, our back bumper still intact. For today.

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Filed under Distracted Driving

Dodging Fate

Let it be stated from the beginning that I feel bad for the driver and people in the Escalade and I’m very glad that it looked like no one was injured.

Driving out to the hangar in Camarillo today, we weren’t in “stop and go” traffic. It was more like a hyperactive variant, something like “skid to a halt and peel out.”

Where your typical “stop and go” traffic has you stopping for several seconds to a minute or so, then speeding up to maybe a crawl or just above for a couple hundred feet (at best) before slowly stopping again, we were in a cycle of suddenly slamming on the brakes for no apparent reason, waiting a few seconds, then accelerating back up to “maximum freeway speed” for a mile or two, only to slam on the brakes again.

After the first time this happened, I had put a couple of extra car lengths between myself and the car in front of me. This helped a lot when it happened the second time, but I was quite alarmed to see the person driving behind me not only tailgating, but texting while driving. When we hit the brakes the second time, I was quite sure that the texting asshole in the little blue sports car was going to spread me all over the road.

Somehow he didn’t, missing me by about the amount of the layer of dirt that I had removed going through the car wash last week. Since I had no desire to be anywhere near this clown, when traffic sped up again, I took my sweet time about it and left a HUGE gap between me and the SUV in front of me. Predictably, the little blue clown car took the first opportunity to cut around me on the right (we were in the fast lane) and then cut back in front of me closely enough to make me brake in order to avoid getting clipped by him.

Of course, just as he went past me back into the fast lane, traffic shut down again and he skidded to a halt behind the SUV, barely stopping. And apparently still texting, doing everything possible except driving his car with any sort of sanity or responsibility.

We all took off again and when the brakes lights all suddenly came on again – his didn’t.

Luckily we had only sped up to about 35 or 40 and he was tailgating closely enough so that when the Escalade started breaking, it didn’t have much time to slow down before he smashed into the back of it. Their relative velocity was low enough so it didn’t even look like any of the air bags had deployed.

As I was stopping behind them (and wondering if I was now stuck with the lane ahead of me blocked) they both swung over onto the center divider, leaving me clear to go. Which I did.

As I said, I feel bad for the driver and people in the Escalade and I’m very glad that it looked like no one was injured. As for the texting clown in the little blue sports car, well, Karma’s a bitch.

As I crawled past through the glass from the busted out headlights and tail lights, it looked like the little blue sports car’s front end was chewed up pretty well. The back end of the Escalade had some damage to the rear bumper, but the Escalade was high enough (and big enough) while the little blue sports car was low enough (and small enough) so I doubt the Escalade even had any damage to the rear lift gate.

On the other hand, if the texting clown had still been behind me…

Hissy’s small and zippy, with an emphasis on small. If I had stopped quickly right behind the Escalade and then gotten rear-ended by the sports car, I would have been squished like a bug in between them. It probably wouldn’t have been enough to cause serious injuries, but it almost certainly would have totaled my little car that’s less than a year old and hasn’t even had its first oil change yet.

This brain dead dude was, as they say, “an accident looking for a place to happen.” I’m just as glad to see it happen in front of me and to someone else where minimal damage was caused to innocent bystanders.

Some days it’s better to be lucky than good.



Filed under Distracted Driving, Freakin' Idiots!, Los Angeles