DO AS I SAY … A decidedly morbid sense of
solidarity compelled me to attend Tuesday evening’s gathering in
response to the death of Jake Boysel, the 12-year-old La Colina
Junior High School student who was knocked off his bike, out of his
shoes, and into the next world by a sun-blinded SUV driver last
week. I never knew Jake. I’ve never met his parents. But news of
his violent death compressed the proverbial six degrees of
separation that allegedly link us all down to just two or three. I
have a 12-year-old child. I have a son who attended La Colina. And
I’ve been commuting to work on my bicycle long before it was
ecologically fashionable. Jake’s death hit me hard. As it turns
out, it hit a lot of people hard. That the demise of one child in a
freak accident could cast such a pall is grim testament, I suppose,
to Santa Barbara’s down-home essence despite our eagerness to be
otherwise. And that, I guess, is the good news.

A few hours before the meeting started, I got a phone call from
a traffic engineer I’ve known for many moons. Once upon a time,
he’d written admiringly of how the freeway was the cathedral of
Southern California culture. Since then, however, he’s seen the
error of his ways and has become a card-carrying member of the
anti-car conspiracy. His righteousness is tempered by the practical
realities he confronts on the job. In other words, he’s not a
zealot. And that makes him effective. He was worried about the
meeting, he said. As a parent, he was concerned that the pro-car
and anti-car clans might seek to claim Jake as a gory icon for
their conflicting causes. Yes, it would be nice to have more bike
lanes, he acknowledged. Necessary even. The problem afflicting our
roads, he cautioned, transcends the quantifiable and the obvious.
Sure, there are more cars on the roads. And they’re so much bigger.
But the most significant change is the disposition of the people
behind the wheel. We’re mad, distracted, and in an awful hurry.

Write an investigative exposé on that, he urged. But on
reflection, I might not be the guy to write it. The fact is that as
a bicycle commuter I’m a cool-headed road warrior righteously wary
of all the four-wheeled nitwits out there, any one of whom could
steal my life in a simple moment of bone-crunching distraction. But
behind the wheel of a car, I become a gear-grinding, clutch-popping
man on a mission — a fuel-injected Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. It’s taken
me a while, but I finally figured out that all those people have
not been waving to me, but flipping me off. Like that father
holding the hand of his young daughter on Shoreline Drive who
stopped in the middle of the crosswalk to give me the one-finger
salute. Hey, I’d eased off the accelerator; what was his problem?
My affliction is not so much arrested adolescence; it’s having to
cram too many trips into too little time, mainly shuttling my kids
to and fro. At their age, you might think they could ride their
bikes. But with drivers like me out there, what kind of parent
would I be to allow that?

At the meeting itself, there was much talk of avenging Jake’s
death with practical and positive solutions. I heard many fine
ideas, more mundane. La Colina principal David Ortiz was very
intense about separating cars and bicycles on the road in what he
acknowledged would be a very expensive and ambitious public-works
undertaking. There was much talk in support of a bill that would
outlaw cell-phone use among motorists. Naturally, I think anyone
who talks and drives is a menace to society. But when my cell phone
rang on the way to the meeting, I took the call. I tried to get
off, but it was a News-Press worker who had to talk. There’d been
yet another wave of resignations and firings, and my source was too
distraught for me to hang up on. So I drove one-handed and
half-brained into a sunset rendered blood-red by the forest fires
to our south. Sometimes it’s hard not to be a hypocrite.

Two police officers in their dress blues were at the meeting,
but they took pains to spill no beans about the ongoing
investigation. Some La Colina parents wanted to know if more
enforcement would help. The cops acknowledged it might, but pointed
out there’s only one motorcycle cop on duty at any given time.
That’s down from two earlier this year, and that’s down from eight
not long before that. In recent enforcement efforts near La Colina,
the cops noted that the speed demons they’d ticketed were not
testosterone-fueled gearheads but La Colina parents running late
getting their kids to school. At least I wasn’t the only one.

Optometrist Larry Bickford was positively disdainful of
solutions that involved new bike lanes and road improvements. All
that’s way too slow, he argued. He was likewise dismissive of
efforts to pass new laws. We already have the means to make
immediate change, he said. It’s called the accelerator. Take your
foot off it. Drive slower. Pay attention. Focus on what you’re
doing. As the meeting broke up, another speaker chimed in, “Get
going five minutes sooner. Give yourself more time.” None of this
will bring Jake back. It might, however, prevent future Jakes from
happening. As I slipped my car into gear on the way out, I thought
of my friend the traffic engineer. I also thought of the old Pogo
adage: “We have met the enemy and it is us.” It’s a great line, but
Pogo got it wrong. The enemy is me. The bad news is that there are
a whole lot of me’s out there. The good news is that the solution
is simple. Slow down. There are worse things than being late. Like
being dead.


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