Saturday, May 8, 2021

Bad Things Happen to Good People

Bad things can happen in anyone's life. It isn't fair, and most of us are wholly unprepared for it.

A recent series of unfortunate events made me realize how lucky we truly are.  We are staying in a campground in Florida, and I was ready to go for a walk but I heard the sickening sound of sheet metal pounding into sheet metal, as several cars collided. I ran out to the entrance of the campground and saw five cars twisted and smashed.

Apparently, a fellow was trying to make a left turn into the campground and someone behind them tried to go around them. Meanwhile, a tow truck operator - with a car in tow - who I believe was texting, plowed into both - pushing the one fellow into the oncoming lane where it hit a car coming the other way, which then spun out of control.  The other car, trying to pass on the right, flipped twice before coming to rest.

Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, although at least four cars were completely totaled. Thank God or NHTSA for airbags and seatbelts!  This would have been a "fatal" back in the 1960's for sure.

There were some interesting lessons to take away from this, the most important being not to text while driving. The other thing is that left turns are inherently unsafe and it's better sometimes to make three right turns rather than a left.

I found out later, that down the road there is a traffic circle, and one could simply drive another quarter mile, go around the traffic circle, and come back and make a right turn. I will certainly do that next time, as that left turn is rather scary - the rednecks around here think the 55 mph speed limit is a suggestion.

The fellow making a left turn had his wheels already turned, in anticipation of making that turn. Thus, when he was hit from behind it pushed him into the oncoming lane, further exacerbating the situation. I learned in a defensive driving course always leave your wheels straight because of this. If he had done this, then the collision would have been merely a three-car wreck. Of course, the accident was not his fault.

He was pretty shaken up, and I tried to console him and get him a place to sit and some water to drink. He was clearly in shock and his knee was banged up even though the airbags went off.   Unfortunately, he'll be dealing with insurance companies and car rentals and whatnot for weeks and months to come.

An hour later, a new neighbor shows up at the campsite next to us. He looks a little distraught and I asked him if everything is okay. It turns out he sold his house and was traveling across America by RV, as he put it, "Until the money runs out."  Sounds like an interesting project, although I think I'd rather put that money in the bank at his age as he appeared to be only about 30 or so. What really was distressing him was that he had a debit card with Bank of America and apparently that had been compromised.  I commiserated with him and told him the story of how my debit card was compromised. I also suggested to him to maybe get another card could a different bank, if he is going to travel like this, as things like this can happen and if you only have one card, and it's compromised, it's really difficult to even buy gasoline.

The good news is, there was a contest at the bar at the campground that night, and he won a $100 gift certificate so at least he won't starve this weekend.

But these are trivial setbacks in the greater scheme of things. A week ago, a friend of ours who's in the Arts Association was telling us how she had to go back home to Pennsylvania to be at a trial. Apparently her daughter, a college professor, was walking to school in a somewhat marginal neighborhood, with three young men jumped out of a car and assaulted her with baseball bats, stomped her skull and also shot her with a pellet gun several times.

She survived this ordeal, although with permanent damage including brain damage and nerve damage. She'll never be the same again, not only physically but psychologically. Due to Covid, there have been several delays in the pre-trial hearings, so every time the family goes to support her in this ordeal, they are told that the whole thing has been moved down the road another few months. Meanwhile the families of the three thugs who assaulted her show up in court and actually cheer on their delinquent offspring. The Sheriff had to usher the family members of the victim out the back entrance from the courthouse so they wouldn't be verbally assaulted by the family members of the perpetrators.

Incidents like this make you wonder about Humanity.  As I related before, I was nearly the victim of a similar assault almost 40 years ago. I was walking through the park with a friend on the way to his apartment when four young men jumped out of the car - one holding a steel pipe - intent on beating our brains out. I told my friend to run and he stood there paralyzed.  I literally had to grab him and almost carry him away. They gave chase but we outran them.  Adrenaline is an amazing thing.

We at least saw our attackers coming and could do something about it. This poor lady in Pennsylvania was jumped from behind, the ultimate cowardly attack. I fail to understand the mentality behind this sort of thing. It is the ultimate in cowardice, attacking an older woman who weighs probably a 120 pounds wet, from behind, catching her by surprise, with a advantage of at least three-to-one, plus the weapons.  Why their family members would cheer this sort of activity is beyond me as well. But there are animals in the world, animals that sometimes need to be put down.

I mentioned this in an earlier posting, the horrible things that didn't happen today. We often fail to think about this in our daily lives. We get upset that the light turned red, just as we approached it, or that we spilled our cappuccino frappuccino in our car on the way to work - or that some other minor inconvenience or frustration has caused us stress.

We fail to realize that life could be a hell of a lot worse than it is - and is a hell of a lot worse in many parts of this world. And of course, we all face inevitable death down the road, which is often messy, painful, and inconvenient.

The fellow who had his debit card compromised was having a bad day, but when put perspective about the accident that occurred earlier, his troubles seem trivial. He has to make a trip to the bank and get a substitute card, and perhaps file a police report and make sure that no fraudulent charges were made to his account. And maybe it's a good wake-up call for him to think about getting a backup credit card or debit card from another bank so that if something similar happens in the future, he has at least options.

By the way, we have two safes that we take with us. One is an electronic safe in the camper which is bolted through the floor. Another is a safe in the armrest of the truck which is bolted through to the chassis. We keep our passports in the truck so they're ready when we cross the border. We also carry back-up credit cards there and a small amount of cash. That way, even if the trailer burns to the ground, we have options.

Similarly, in the safe in the camper we have some spare cash and also back-up credit cards and debit cards should we lose our wallets or something like that.  We keep the spare key to the truck in the camper and a spare key to the camper in the truck, so we are never locked out of either one. You have to think about these things and prepare for them, particularly if you are traveling far from home.

But getting back to topic, the poor guy who totaled his car trying to make a left turn must feel that his weekend was ruined, and no doubt he will have to go through an awful lot of hassle. I advised him to get his knee x-rayed just to be sure wasn't damaged, but he insisted he didn't want to go to the hospital.  That was his call to make, but when in shock, one doesn't have the best of judgement.

Now, the next part of what I have to say might piss some people off (apparently the only thing I am capable of doing well these days).  I am NOT playing "blame the victim" but pointing out that there are things you can and should do to ameliorate risk in your life.  This is not to say that these bad things would not have happened had these steps been taken, only that the risk-factor would be less.  And of course, none of us is perfect, so we do make left turns on occasion, even when we realize they are unsafe.

As I noted, the fellow who had his debit card compromised could have had (and should have had) a backup card with another bank - and perhaps a low-interest credit card for emergencies (we have three).  If you are travelling together with your spouse, make sure that you are not both carrying the same credit card, which we used to do.  If one wallet was lost or stolen, well, both cards would have to be invalidated - leaving us with no money and no backup card, until we got back to the truck or camper.  The belt-and-suspenders approach is the best.  And it helps to think about "what if?" situations and how to handle them (projected learning) or from seeing other people lose their wallets (indirect learning) or when you lose your wallet yourself (direct learning) as happened to Mark in Taos (some friendly bikers found it and returned it - nice folks!).

Again - not blaming the victim here - the fellow who was turning left could have left his wheels straight, or could have decided not to make a left turn but instead turn around in the traffic circle and come back and turn right.  It is OK to take a little more time than to be sitting stationary in the middle of the road in a 55-mph zone where people are routinely doing 70, while texting.  Yes, "professional drivers" do this all the time - truck drives, tow truck drivers (who have two-speeds, stop and max), taxi drivers and so on.  They seem to be the worst - perhaps all that driving gives them a false sense of security or they think that only the "amateur" drivers are ever at fault.

But what about the lady who was assaulted with baseball bats?  Surely this was not her fault - and it wasn't.  But there are animals in this world - human filth who thinks nothing of taking the life of another or beating someone until they are damaged for life.  I've met more than one victim of such crimes and like I said, was almost a victim myself.  Sadly, the Police cannot catch more than one-third of such criminals, if that, and prosecutors have a hard time making convictions, particularly in this "defund the police" era where all criminals are deemed innocent or victims of society.

However, you can ameliorate risk if you are more situationally aware.  Not walking in bad neighborhoods is a start, and no, that isn't being "racist" or anything.  I recounted before a young man at the Patent Office who parked in a bad part of town (which ironically, has since been gentrified - which leftists argue is a bad thing, for some reason) and walked to work. He carried a gun, which you would think would make you safer, but some teens jumped him and shot him with his own gun.   So, carrying a gun isn't necessarily a means of ameliorating risk, unless you know how to use it.  And of course, if he did use it, you know the headlines - "white man shoots unarmed black teen!" and there would be protests.

Yes, it may cost more and it may not be politically correct, but driving to work is much safer than walking or taking public transportation.  I gave up on the public transportation in the DC area when I realized the buses were little more than garbage trucks, pickup the the worst sort of people, who would often assault the other passengers - and the bus drivers didn't want to "get involved".  Sadly, the DC Metro has devolved in recent years, as people decry that their "right" to eat a greasy sandwich on the train has been violated.

Maybe that is the best way to ameliorate risk - to eschew this "defund the police" nonsense and stop watching Netflix-made "series" that claim that some murderer is innocent or something stupid like that.  There are horrible people in the world, but many refuse to believe they exist - everyone is a victim, right?  It is like the runaway girl I tried to counsel - pointing out that 14-year-olds living on the street don't often live to be 20 - or maybe 30 at the most - as crack-whores and later on as dead prostitutes.  And no one cares when they are murdered, either.

This isn't to say we have to live in fear and paranoia, only that we should think about our lives and what we do and whether we are taking unnecessary risks and whether we can do something to lessen that risk.  It is like running stop signs - it saves you no time whatsoever, but creates the real risk of an eventual collision due to the A-pillar phenomenon.  On the other hand, if you come to a full and complete stop as required by the law, you will never get into such an accident.   Seems like a simple proposition - do one thing and not wreck your car or someone else's - why not do it, if you can?

(And it goes without saying, this applies in our financial lives as well.  Is living "paycheck-to-paycheck" something that is unavoidable, or something we just got used to?  Isn't that a risky way to live?)

I have met victims of auto accidents and also random assaults, whose lives were changed forever, and not for the better.  People who have gone from brilliant students or professionals, to basically a level of retardation due to brain injury.  Their very personalities were changed.  When someone bashes your skull in, it literally is an assault on you, on your personality, your intellect.  It is very sad - and it makes one angry that people do these sorts of things for no reason whatsoever, except perhaps prejudice and hate.  And oddly enough, we rarely hear about these things, outside of the hometowns they occur in.

In a nation of 330 million people, the small private tragedies of one or two are not even on the radar.  40,000 people or so are killed every year in car accidents - far more are maimed and injured.  Yet you rarely hear about this in the paper, unless it is some horrendous multi-car pileup.  The accident we witnessed on Thursday was all cleaned up and everything towed away within an hour or so.  The State Police accident investigators were on the scene in no time, and marked the position of all the cars with surveying equipment (they've done this before, many, many times).   But of course, even though people were injured, we can't let the road be blocked for long.  People have to go places!  At 15 mph over the speed limit, while texting, of course.