The Raton Race

Volume 5 no. 9 (September 1987), page 13

It seems as if everyone who works in Los Angeles lives a great distance away from their workplace. When I meet someone who works on the westside but who lives in Canyon Country or Laguna Niguel or Pomona I take pains to point out that smart people (such as myself) have enough sense to find housing close to where they know they will be five days a week. Privately, however, I thank my lucky stars that I have managed to keep home and office within easy reach of each other over the years, in spite of several changes of employment.

Close or not, it still takes nearly 30 minutes to get from Bel Air to Century City every morning, and another 30 minutes to get back. And even though I seek out deserted back routes and scenic streets that wind gracefully through some of the most beautiful areas of Los Angeles, I get to see my share of crazy drivers.

I mean wacked out. Loony. Willing to cut any corner or risk any rudeness to get to their destinations a few seconds sooner than if they relaxed and enjoyed life.

Having been born in Los Angeles and having lived here for years and years, it is encumbent upon me to philosophize to distant relatives in general terms about the traffic and about what makes people act the way they do when they get behind the wheel. Kind of a noblesse oblige. Between you and me, however, I don’t mind saying that I actually have figured it out.

Most people ascribe our current traffic situation to the fact that there are simply so many more cars on the road that people are becoming frustrated. This is only partially true, and doesn’t reach the core of the problem at hand.

Think back. Do you remember a minor revolution that took place about five or six years ago? That’s right — the IBM personal computer was introduced to an unsuspecting populace. Ever since then, the infernal box from Big Blue has been conning people into wasting untold hundreds of hours at their jobs. This is time that must be made up somewhere, for after all, everyone knows the IBM-PC is a productivity tool. This means that the time people used to spend in a nice leisurely drive to and from work must now give way to an all-out mad dash. The goal of these fast trackers is to optimize their free time so that they will be able to afford the luxury of staring at A prompts, dot prompts, and voluminous (but indecipherable) manuals.

But wait, you say. There really is more traffic. True enough, but where do you think it all came from? It comes from the thousands of personal computer consultants and trainers, whose ranks are swelling to meet the demand of the millions of frustrated IBM-PC users who can not get past the A prompt, the dot prompt, or the voluminous (but indecipherable) manuals. And as these millions of frustrated IBM-PC users rush to get back and forth from home to work to training class -- classes designed to help them overcome (if not understand) A prompts, dot prompts, and voluminous manuals -- they create even more traffic.

At this point, you can easily see that the ripple effect through the remainder of society is not inconsequential. More fuel is consumed, so more foreigners are needed to operate our gas stations. Less time to eat means more foreigners are needed to operate our convenience stores and fast food restaurants. This creates a demand for more passports, visas, and work permits, so the state department hires more staff. Other government agencies see that the State Department is burgeoning and demand equal expansion under the law. More government activity becomes noteworthy, leading to stories in all the different forms of media. Media battles form among aggressive bureaucracies, each eager to out-position the next. Instead of being content to sit in offices, bureaucrats take to the streets (creating more traffic). In self defense, citizens go to their lawyers (creating still more traffic), causing a land-office business for legal professionals. Attorneys from the other 49 states, suffering from an affliction somewhat akin to a feeding frenzy, move to Los Angeles to get their share of the spoils. This, unfortunately, creates yet more traffic. Soon, the entire industrial-legal complex becomes such big business that offices are staffed with additional thousands of eager young secretaries and other personnel, each with their own car — and IBM personal computer. So on and on it goes.

You have taken a major step towards reversing this trend by purchasing a Mac. I join my fellow drivers in thanking you. Many media pundits foresee the new PS/2 computers from IBM having a similar effect on society (they mean traffic, of course), but they are clearly wrong. I mean, you haven’t SEEN traffic until you’ve witnessed hundreds of PS/2 users swarming all over town, 3½″ floppies clutched in their sweaty hands, looking for someplace … anyplace … that can laser print a file the way we in the Mac world have become accustomed.

In short, the situation is grim and getting worse. Not being a doom-sayer, I will refrain from speculation as to the final resolution of this problem. I will leave you with a disturbing question, however: Do you really think we would be having a problem with freeway shootings if 1-2-3 was as easy to use as Excel?

I rest my case.