The Rip Post




 (Aug. 6, 2003)

        I don't often indulge off-color phrases in this column, so be warned: I am making an exception.
        I hereby invoke a favorite vulgarism for describing people who have tricked themselves into particularly preposterous points of view:
        "His (or her) head's so far up his ass that it's coming out his mouth again."
        I have found no more worthy recipient of this description than one Brian Taylor, director of UCLA's Institute of Transportation Studies. Oh, and Brian has company. I also include Anthony Downs, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Martin Wachs, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley.
        Yes, all are afflicted with my fanciful, M.C. Esher-esque version of "hindsight."
        Ladies and gentlemen, they celebrate---that's right, celebrate---traffic congestion.
        (Please take a moment to join me in gasping, or indulging more visceral bodily acts.)
        "Congestion is a sign that a lot of good things are happening," said Taylor, in a well-written L.A. Times article by Caitlin Liu (7/31.) Taylor is a sign that a lot of bad things are happening in academia.
        "Congestion is inevitable. Get used to it," said Downs, in the same article. Good thing Downs is not a rape counselor.
        Wachs travels about, delivering a speech to transportation professionals entitled, "Learning to Love Congestion." My guess is that he sleeps in an iron maiden.
        Look, there's a scene in Albert Brooks' movie, "Defending Your Life," in which Brooks goes to heaven and finds Rip Torn as his guide. As they eat breakfast, Torn explains that in heaven, you can shovel down eggs, waffles, pancakes endlessly and never get full or gain weight! Brooks ecstatically chows away, until he abruptly notices Torn's chosen fare: an unidentifiable, but suspiciously familiar vile brown gooey matter.
        When one has had eggs, waffles, and pancakes for so long, Torn offers, one develops um, arcane taste.
        I say that Taylor, Downs, and Wachs are dining daily on Torn cuisine. They have deceived themselves into thinking that the vile brown goo of gridlock is ambrosia.
        Here is their general rationale:
        Traffic tie-ups, these weighty academes opine, indicate that citizens are engaged in activities of economic and social value. Bumper-to-bumper means that humanity is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed---enthusiastically, busily, concertedly participating in society's myriad of wonders! And said participants should therefore---my fingers are trying to stop me from typing this---enjoy being paralyzed on the Pomona Freeway.
        Liu's article summarizes:
        "A stressed-out motorist should take a deep breath, pop in a favorite CD and learn to tolerate - even appreciate - what sitting in traffic means."
        Shades of "Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb"! Sitting in traffic is not as bad as ingesting radioactive fallout, but it's really the next best thing, isn't it? I'll tell you what sitting in traffic means: it means that fifty years' worth of city, county, state, and federal public servants have never managed to do the baboon-butt obvious task of installing a comprehensive light-rail train system in Southern California.
        It means that people have spent huge chunks of their lives---their fleshly time on planet Earth---cultivating stress, and ensuing diseases, while stopped dead on a freeway, staring dully at one of those multi-million-dollar "Freeway Condition" signs that says, "SLOWING AHEAD."
        It means that the $300-million-per mile Red Line Subway---which does nothing to alleviate traffic on the Hollywood freeway (101 to aliens) or cut into Valley/L.A. commuting---is the greatest transit boondoggle to befall L.A. since the conspiratorial demise of the lyrical, far-reaching Pacific Electric "Red Cars." That $300-million-per-mile could have gone a long way toward laying light rail where it is badly needed: downtown to the Valley, downtown to the West Side, downtown to the San Gabriel Valley.
        Never mind, say Taylor, Downs, and Wachs---enjoy!
        What a scam these jokers have going for themselves: getting paid to tell "transportation professionals" that gridlock is grand. Zounds! Maybe I could rake it in by lecturing to B'nai Brith about the beauty of anti-Semitism! Tell "health care professionals" to appreciate muscular dystrophy! Sing the praises of vocal cord polyps to opera stars!
        Gadzooks, ladies and gentlemen, gadzooks.
        Why do I even take this seriously, you snicker? Rense Taken for Ride by Traffic Provacateurs? Here's why: the Times article was on page one of the whole newspaper. Inadvisable and incredible as it seems, a lot of people take page one of the Times very seriously.
        Nonsense, you say? No sane person will buy into "gridlock is good?" Hey, how many sane people do you know? Think back to the late '70s, when oodles of New Yorkers somehow figured out that snow does not fall in Los Angeles, and came west like prison escapees. I subsequently read/heard many a precious essay by many a precious Big Apple expat essayist (anagram of "yet is ass") rhapsodizing about "having epiphanies at 5 mph on the 405." (God forbid anyone call freeways by their Christian names anymore.) Yes, epiphanies! These preening egotists imagined that they became  suntanned sophisticates, you see, by trading the "street cred" of subways and boroughs for the "street cred" of sitting on dead streets.
        Street cred? Street crud.
        Need stats? The Texas Transportation Institute says that the 75 largest metropolitan areas of the United States lost $67.5 billion in 2000 to bad traffic, according to the Times article. The Southern California Assn. of Governments claims $6 billion was drained by traffic jams in 2002---from lost productivity, higher health-related expenses and congestion-related accidents.
        Hey, $6 billion is enough to pay for the Iraq madness for an entire month!
        Taylor, Downs, and Wachs, you need to be fired promptly. Any grant money you are receiving from the federal government needs to be detoured. You have as much business calling yourselves transportation experts as Charles Manson has calling himself a humanitarian. You are failure-in-transportation experts. Coagulation Cogitators. Constipation Conspirators. You need to drive a taxi or a bus in L.A. for a living. You need to understand that finding the Santa Monica or San Diego Freeway stopped DEAD at midnight, or at three in the afternoon on a Tuesday, or most any summer day when the city is infested with fat white people with big red lips and ugly short pants, that this is not just "congestion." This is a serviceable model for Hades.
        Tell you what, Transit Troglodytes---if you really, truly enjoy having your life stolen from you by "urban planners" who could not manage to build a simple light-rail system paralleling freeways around town---then I hereby invoke George Sanders' immortal suicide note exit line:
        I leave you to your cesspool.
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