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Jack Smith

Freeway Follies Knocking 'Em Dead Back East

September 02, 1987|Jack Smith

I haven't yet written a funny column about our freeway shootings; I knew that if I just waited long enough one or two of our Midwestern or Eastern columnists would do it for me.

My patience has been rewarded by the redoubtable Mike Royko, of the Chicago Tribune, and Lewis Grizzard, the syndicated Atlanta Constitution humorist.

Copies of their two recent columns have been sent to me by Caroline T. Bales, whose sister clipped them from the Mentor, Ohio, newspaper.

Considering his gift for invective, Royko was fairly easy on us. He expressed the Midwesterner's natural anxiety that any craziness that originates in California could become a national trend.

He is comforted, though, by the idea that freeway shootings are "strictly a local fad," a phenomenon that reminds him of bank robber Willie Sutton's explanation of why he robbed banks: "Because that's where the money is."

"If you think of it that way," says Royko, "it makes sense for Californians to shoot at each other on freeways, because that's where they are. . . . The only time they have any true communal togetherness in that part of the country is when they gather on their freeways."

Royko doesn't even think freeway shootings are a trend. He thinks they're mere coincidences augmented by media hype. "In a week or so," he predicts, "the freeway murder-madness-mania in California will be over, replaced by something new."

I have noticed that Royko rarely distinguishes between Northern and Southern California. He doesn't know that we're two different states of mind. Some years ago he said "they ought to build a fence around California to keep the lunatics from infecting the rest of the country," which fell short of wisdom by failing to note that the fence should have been built before all the lunatics came here.

Grizzard's explanation for the freeway phenomenon is simple: "It really should be no puzzle. For one thing, there are more crazy people in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the country. . . . These are the people who gave us eating raw fish and electing Ronald Reagan to public office."

Like Royko, Grizzard fears that the fad will spread. "All over the rest of the country people get mad at other people while driving on the freeway, but the rest of us are able to vent our anger without the use of firearms. . . . Who is to say freeway shoot-outs won't be the next bit of looniness to make its way east from La-La Land?"

Grizzard warns his readers to avoid drivers in four-wheel-drive vehicles with tires that look like they came off a 747; drivers whose bumper stickers read "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns"; anybody wearing a camouflage suit or a tattoo that says "Born to Kill"; anybody with a "Baby on Board" sign (baby could be an AK-7).

Without apologizing for the press, which is obliged to print the news, I might agree with Royko's idea that media hype could be stimulating and perpetuating this insanity.

I know that good news isn't news. We can't print stories about people who drive carefully, stop for red lights and offer assistance to fellow motorists in distress.

However, maybe it won't hurt to report at least one such incident.

W. W. Parisia of Yucca Valley writes about a good Samaritan who came to his rescue recently on the freeway. Parisia is 85. He was cruising in from Yucca Valley when something up ahead caused traffic to slow. After 15 minutes of stop-and-go driving, his car stopped. He was in the third lane from the right. His starter was dead.

Traffic began to creep around him. A woman stopped alongside and said he should raise his hood and she would drive him out. He elected to stay in his car and wait for the CHP.

Minutes later he heard a man's voice saying, "Put it in neutral and I'll push you off the road."

He put it in neutral. The man began to push, gradually moving toward the shoulder. "I knew the man was taking a great risk . . . because by now traffic was heavy with big rigs and cars rolling fast. . . ."

Finally Parisia reached the right lane just as an off-ramp providentially appeared before him. The man shoved him toward the ramp and sped away, vanishing in the traffic stream. Parisia was too busy steering to get the man's license number. He coasted down the ramp and into an Arco station.

Also in Southern California recently, several married couples decided against divorce, several children were not abused, several thousand people bought books and several hundred thousand had a wonderful day at the beach.

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