Tag Archives: cars

I saw a bunch of tourists having trouble crossing the street

I was in Midtown Manhattan the other day on a lunch break and I wanted some food from a place a few blocks away. I was crossing East 54rd Street, and there was this family of out-of-towners waiting at the corner, stuck. It looked they wanted to cross the street, but they couldn’t get their feet off of the sidewalk. While they hesitated, cars and cabs kept making the right turn from 3rd Avenue onto 54th.


As I got closer to the family, the mom looked toward me, clearly frustrated, and said, “You’d think these cars would let us cross!” And I was walking pretty fast. I’m tall, so I have a naturally long stride, but it’s also New York, so everybody walks kind of fast. I didn’t even break my pace, but I turned to look at the lady as I stepped into the intersection, telling her, “You just have to walk. You just have to go for it. The cars will stop.”

I kept going, I made it across the street all while the lady stood there holding hands with her family, that distressed look on her face, me on one of the street and her on the other, both of us now separated by a whole line of cabs already continuing their endless stream of right turns. This whole interaction took maybe ten seconds, and once I was safely across the street, I turned forward and marched on.

But I couldn’t help but thinking about this lady and her family, were they on vacation? How long were they planning their trip to the city? Now that they were here, were they having fun? Sure, it’s a lot of filling in the blanks based on the fraction of a moment that we were in each other’s lives, but there was something there, there was us, there was a street, there were pained facial expressions.

I spent the rest of my walk imagining that family making it back to their hotel room later in the evening, they’d be exhausted, all of that walking around, nobody behaving in traffic like they do back home. How many times had she stopped random pedestrians to complain about cars? Was she giving that same confused/pissed off look to every single driver that didn’t stop and wave her along with a smile?

In my head she went back home to wherever she was from, her friends and extended family members would ask stuff like, “So how was your vacation? How was New York?” and not wanting to give the impression that they had a bad time, she’d lie, “It was OK, but everyone is in such a hurry. Everyone is so rude!”

And yeah, I’m in my head here, but this isn’t that uncommon of a thing to imagine, right? New Yorkers have a reputation of being rude. On season five of True Blood, this guy’s about to get killed, so he starts crying, hysterical, he’s like, “I never got to go to New York, to see the Big Apple,” and Eric the vampire says, “New York smells like pee and everyone is rude.”

Are New Yorkers rude? I don’t think so. I’m going to fault the tourists in this situation, that lady and her family. I’m presuming that they took this vacation and found themselves on the streets unfamiliar with the pace of everyday life. Unable to cross the street on account of traffic not coming to a halt simply because they were waiting on the corner, they reached out for a little sympathy from a fellow pedestrian.

But I didn’t give any. Imagine if every single driver stopped at every corner where a group of people happened to be waiting for a light. Cars wouldn’t be able to move an inch. Traffic would remain at a permanent standstill. There are more people than cars, and with heavy foot traffic, the lights are necessary to keep people in line as much as they’re there to regulate the cars.

I try to reverse the situation in my head. I picture me going on vacation to some small town somewhere. I’m driving along and as I’m about to round a corner, I see a family waiting to cross the street. If I just kept going, like if I aggressively made that turn without their consideration, they could look at me, they could give me that, “What the hell?” face, and I’d clearly be in the wrong. But I wouldn’t do that, because I’m not rude, I’m not an asshole.

What I’m getting at is that I don’t travel to other places and walk around acting like the whole world is New York. People from out of town should come to New York and be prepared for things to be different than the way they are back home. It’s not rude. In fact, I think if anybody is rude, it’s the person that travels around and acts as if every social code and rule is somehow universally based on how people get along from where they’re from.

I’m being way too judgmental here myself. I hate it when New Yorkers talk down to everyone else, like we’re so enlightened. As a waiter, I can safely say that a good chunk of New Yorkers are indeed rude. In fact, a lot of them are assholes. At least when they’re hungry. Does this just contradict everything that I just wrote down? Whatever, I’m probably being a huge asshole myself. Yeah, I just reread this whole thing, definitely, big-time asshole. Still, I’m right about the street crossing thing.

Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6

I was a junior in high school when I went to see The Fast and the Furious in theaters. It’s been a while, but I remember something about an undercover cop joining an underground street racing gang in Los Angeles. People raced for each other’s cars. Honda Civics could drive right under the beds of sixteen-wheelers. And every vehicle came equipped with Nos, some sort of a magic gas that gave an extra speed boost, essential to coming from behind to win a drag race.


Fast forward ten years to Fast & Furious 6. Most of the original cast is still here, Vin Diesel, the other guy, the girl (although she has amnesia, which we’re reminded of every ten minutes or so.) The Rock’s part of the crew now. So is Ludacris. I don’t know, maybe I missed something during parts two through five. Aside from the familiar faces and the close-up shots of people shifting gears, I really don’t get how things could have connected from point A to point wherever we are now.

But it totally doesn’t matter. Fast 6 is a standalone movie. You don’t need to know anything about the franchise, I don’t even think you need to speak English. You just sit back and you watch cars go fast, you watch things blow up, you watch crazy fight scenes.

The plot has about as much to do with actual storytelling as iceberg lettuce has to do with being a vegetable. It’s green, yeah, and I guess it came from the ground, but it has zero in the way of nutritional value, it’s just a means to devour as much salad dressing as you want. The story has something to do with Vin Diesel’s racing gang trying to take down a criminal racing gang. The evil gang is trying to steal some sort of a military computer chip. They never really hone in on the specifics, but it’s a really valuable and powerful computer chip.

It just reminds me how far we’ve come from the first movie. I clearly remember a scene in part one where Vin Diesel and the other guy are standing around an old PC, bewildered as some hacker nerd guy explains that, “You can find anything on the net.” They’ve since caught up with the technology. Ludacris is constantly surrounded by at least a dozen computer screens. The bad guys have guns that fire computer chips onto cars, “chip-guns” I think they’re called. Again, I’m not certain about the specifics, but they can somehow disable any car’s computers.

Fast 6 is an action movie that has a very loose affiliation with cars and racing. The bad guy has a car. There are a lot of chase scenes. They do manage to squeeze in one underground drag race, but they never explain stuff like, where’s the course? How do the drivers know where they’re going as they swerve into oncoming traffic and try to lose the cops? Why can’t the racers ever figure out that whoever uses their Nos first always winds up losing?

But like I said, all of this stuff is unimportant. Pass me the salad dressing. I want to see more explosions. I want to see The Rock jump from one car to another. Anytime he tells someone else to, “Take the wheel!” it’s a sure sign that he’s seconds away from dramatically exiting the vehicle. As I’m sure you’ve seen from every preview and commercial, there’s a tank. It flattens every car that it comes into contact with. Except for the car being driven by a member of the good crew. This car gets slowly eaten, giving the good guys a fighting chance at survival.

Why is everybody so concerned with keeping this computer chip out of the hands of the bad guys? “It’s about family,” Vin Diesel tells us, I think. It’s hard to understand him, because he’s always talking in this barely audible baritone whisper. The director must have told him to take a handful of Nyquil before every shoot, because it’s all Diesel can do to spit his words out.

“It’s about having a code,” the bad guy tells us, over and over and over again. “My brother once told me that it’s essential for every man to have a code.” And he’s not talking in the abstract at all. He’s serious about his codes. “Mine is precision,” whatever that means.

But seriously, it doesn’t matter. This movie is absolutely bat-shit crazy, and it’s totally on purpose. It would have been terrible had anybody taken anything going on in this film seriously. I was dizzy, because the cameras are constantly circling around everything, swooping around the action scenes, swirling around people standing still talking to each other. Watching Fast 6 is like riding the Gravitron at a local carnival. What’s the point? Who thought of this shit? I liked it, I think, even though I’m kind of nauseous, and the whole place was way too crowded. Can I ride it again?


Everyone’s always complaining about gridlock, about political gridlock, how we can’t get anything done because everything moves so slowly, so inefficiently. What’s the answer? I think the answer is more gridlock. Think about it, think about real gridlock, like traffic. Say it takes you two hours to get to work. That sucks, but you’ll still do it. What are you going to do, move? Quit your job? No, you’ll just complain about how it takes you too long to get to work everyday.

But let’s throw in even more gridlock. Let’s see what happens when it takes you three hours to get to work. Or four hours. Or let’s add so much gridlock that movement, all movement in all cars, it just ceases completely. Traffic stops. Eventually people put their cars into park, they get out, start walking around, they look to the other drivers and everybody’s just kind of looking at each other, you know, those faces like, “Huh? What’s going on? Can you believe this?”

Believe it. Three hours pass. Four, five, the sun starts to set. Nobody wants to leave their car right there, stuck in traffic on the expressway, but what are you going to do, starve? Are you going to go to the bathroom right there, right outside your car door? No, your car’s going to run out of gas eventually, your cell phone’s going to die. Just follow everybody else out of there, walking toward the nearest exit.

And then you make it to that exit and you look around, everybody’s looking around, the traffic is just as bad off the expressway, cars at a total standstill, not an inch for any vehicle to maneuver anywhere. The gridlock is absolute. So you start heading, which way? How long is it going to take to get somewhere, to get back?

Finally you get home, dirty, tired, you open the front door and your body just starts kind of breaking down on itself. You’re not even that big of a crier, but it’s like the weeping has started somewhere deep within, like your muscles are sobbing, and you just want to take a shower, get some rest.

And the gridlock never clears up. It’s like you open the door and all you can hear are police car sirens, fire trucks blaring their horns, like it’s going to do something, like the noise is going to cut through to the source of the traffic. Soon all of the delis are out of groceries and your neighbors start hoarding bottled water and batteries.

So everybody, not knowing what to do, they turn on their TVs, and it’s the mayor, it’s your governor, the President. The gridlock is everywhere, the traffic taking up literally every available inch of maneuverable space in the country. So taking some executive action, the President hires wrecking crews, strong men, anybody out there with a wrench, some tools. “Get out there,” he tells us, “just start taking apart cars, hauling everything to the side of the road. Let’s get this done.”

And that’s it I guess. Cars would start to be dismantled and people would make sure nothing like this happens ever again. Because things can’t start to get better unless they start to get unbearable first. Nobody’s going to stop buying gas at five, six, seven dollars a gallon. But five thousand dollars a gallon? Eight million dollars for a college education? Forty-eight hour lines to vote? Yeah, once it gets that bad, somebody will figure out something. We’ll all demand that somebody figures out something. But just keeping things the way they are, yeah, a two hour commute to work sucks, but we’ll all just complain, everybody gets used to complaining, everything slowly getting worse.

Free Association

I always wanted to try a free association. To just get one word out and talk about immediately what comes to mind, and then what comes to mind from that, and so on. But I can never think about the starting point. Like what’s the first word going to be? I guess I could just pick anything, but it wouldn’t really be a free association, it would be forced, somewhat planned.

I’ll just say anything. Cars. Cars make me think of going fast. Of speeding. I’m thinking about my poor driving record. One time I got four speeding tickets in a month. It was terrible. I went to the court date for the first ticket to try and weasel my way out of the fine. I waited in the courthouse for a while until the prosecutor offered me a plea bargain: half the points, half the fine. No way, I told him. I wanted to argue this one out. The judge heard my case and then banged his gavel. Full points, full fine. “Hey wait a second, is it too late for that plea bargain?” “Yes.” Another gavel bang. “Do you really have to bang that gavel every time you finish a sentence?”

He didn’t really bang it after every sentence, but that would’ve been funny. If I were a judge that’s what I would do. I’d bang it constantly. I’d interrupt constantly. A judge’s power is totally unchecked, right? All of the groveling, all of the pleading, “Your honor,” this, “Your excellency,” that. Here you go your honor, a special judge costume and a special judge hammer. No go ahead and feel free to serve as long as you like your honor, nobody else wants to be judge. You take as much time as you want.

I remember one time I drove to Canada and I stopped right before the border to grab a sandwich or something. In a used car lot right next to the sandwich shop there was this old American muscle car for sale called “The Judge.” I knew it was called the judge because it was labeled on the back, “The Judge.” I wanted it so bad, right then and there. If I had the money at that moment there wouldn’t have been anything that could’ve stopped me. That’s why I always worry about my impulses and my decision making processes. Because even though ninety percent of the time I might have a pretty level head on my shoulders, every once in a while I’ll see something like The Judge and the next thing I know I’ll be in this random car dealership in Canada, asking them if they’d take my 2002 Hyundai Accent for an even trade, not thinking at all about insurance, not thinking at all about gas. All I’d think about is feeling fantastic.

My grandmother is a Canadian. I always felt like I’m a kindred spirit with our neighbors to the north. What is national identity? What does it mean to be American or Canadian? Canada is a different country, but what does that even mean? I live closer to the Canadian border than I do to Texas, and I definitely feel like I have a lot more in common with someone living in Montreal than someone who lives in Dallas. One part of me says it’s crazy to have a country as big as the United States, that there’s no way we can really share a national identity, that there’s too much keeping us apart, cultures, food, religion. But then another part of me argues that shouldn’t all of humanity be able to unite behind some sort of universal identity? Like we’re all human, we’re all going through the same life, let’s unite behind that.

But even though there’s me in New York, Canadians up North, and people far away in Texas, collectively, we all have tons more in common than people living in Afghanistan, drone strikes and jihad and deserts and tribes. But it can’t just be geography. There are people right here in New York, homeless people and rich people that are living wildly different experiences than mine.

One time in college I had this idea to dress up like a homeless person, beg for change for a whole day and then write an article about it for the newspaper. So I grew out a ridiculous beard and got ready, but I never followed through. Part of it was people telling me that I was crazy. Another part of it was stories I heard about the NYPD just picking up homeless people and dropping them off in homeless shelters. I also got a weird idea in my head that I might accidentally beg on some more established homeless person’s turf, and they might get confrontational. And also I get really lazy, and I wasn’t the most dedicated college student, and so I probably thought about sitting outside for the whole day and got discouraged by how bored I’d get. So I shaved my beard and walked around with a crazy mustache for a week or so, getting laughs, taking stupid pictures of myself.

I always think to myself that if I were in college now I’d take it much more seriously. But I’d probably do it the same, spending way too much time hanging out with my friends and not enough time in the library. College is this weird place where you’re supposed to study and learn stuff, but you’re only in class like twelve hours a week. I thought that college was much easier than high school. I put a fraction of the work and effort in and I got about the same grades that I did four years earlier. I mean, I’m not running my own company or anything, but I did fine. Good enough. Gave it the old college try.

We’d play this game called Edward Forty-Hands. I wrote about this already I think, but the idea was to tape two forty-ounce beers to your hands and drink them both before you could ask to have the bottles removed, so you could pee, because that’s a lot of liquid, and it’s really just you vs. your bladder with the clock as a referee. We also played this game called Power Hour where you’d set a timer and everybody drank a shot of beer every sixty seconds for an hour. It doesn’t sound like a lot but, think about it, you’d wind up drinking like six beers in an hour. In college I also drank whole beers out of a funnel.

I think it’s so funny that the drinking age is twenty-one yet parents across the country send their kids to go live away at schools where all they do is drink. It’s a big joke. Somebody thought, “I know, we’ll just up the drinking age. That’ll stop them. Those idiot kids.” But you can still buy a gun. Or smoke cigarettes. Or vote. Just no drinking. Yeah. Great idea leaders of society.

So how are you supposed to stop a free association? I feel like I could go on forever. Getting started was hard, sure, but I think shutting myself up is going to prove to be even harder. Where did I start, cars? That’s crazy. I don’t know how to end it. Oh man, I’m looking back and I just realized that I missed a perfect opportunity to wrap things up, full circle, when I was talking about drinking age and smoking age. I could have mentioned driving age, and it would have connected with cars. And I could’ve concluded that I let my mind wander and not only did I bring it right back to where I started, but I did it in exactly the amount of words that I usually use to write a blog post. That would’ve been a good ending.