June 13, 2005
My days as a radio talk show host in Los Angeles taught me
a shocking lesson - that most people dont have a clue
about politics, history, or the world around them. And they
could care less.
It was very distressing to me because I began to realize why
people didnt turn out to vote and thus, we all got stuck
with so many dunderheads in our city halls, state capitals,
and in Washington DC. This all comes to mind this week because
of the aftermath of a few events in the news including the
Michael Jackson trial, the L.A. Mayors race, the Senate
confirmation of a noted and highly respected African-American
federal judge, etc.
It all came to me like a bright flash as I was driving down
the street on a major thoroughfare and a twenty-something
female drove from the far left lane, across the front end
of my car, and three lanes over to make a right turn at the
absolute last minute WITHOUT signaling, waving, looking behind
When she had to stop for the red light and I caught up with
her and was prepared to convey some of my road rage, I noticed
she was holding a cell phone to her left ear, she stuck a
slice of something in her mouth, and then produced some sort
of cosmetic instrument that she began to use around her eyebrows.
I tried to tell her to either drive correctly or pull over
if her cell phone conversation was so important that she felt
it was okay to endanger other peoples lives. She told
her cell phone friend, Hold on, some jerk is yelling
Whats your problem? she asked me. Where
do you get off yelling at me when you dont even know
me? Oh, this one was easy, though I felt a tinge of
guilt firing back at Miss Clueless.
I told her, Where do you get off running a few of us
off the road as you talk on the phone, eat, and try to improve
your looks, none of which you appear capable of doing correctly?
She looked stunned. I wondered if I had gone too far or was
justified in my frontal assault on her cars assault
on the sensibilities of the rest of us sharing the four lanes
of the highway.
It was a long stop light that had slowed her reckless progress
in the small foreign car, so I tried to see if I could turn
the lights on in her head and make her realize she was not
only putting folks like me at risk, but she too could get
hurt if she failed to focus on the road and those around her.
But she was either as clueless as a person could be, or she
was one of those many people I had discovered while on talk
radio the average and disconnected Joes and Janes who
live simple lives and boring existences and cant even
tell you the name of the President of the United States.
I swear to you there are a lot of people like that in our
world, and they manage to grow up and get married, and then,
bring children into the world who are handicapped from Day
One because they live with the intellectual equivalents of
a gerbil. They can communicate with you, but not very well.
They cant handle any complicated thought processes but
they work in industries that provide something we need, and
thats how they pay the bills.
Ethnicity is usually not an issue, except that they dont
know what the word means and theyd rather live around
people who look, act, and speak like they do. Theyre
generally good people whose only exposure to the police is
after a couple of hours of alcohol consumption, or, when theyre
called upon to help deal with a friend or family member who
also has fallen under the spell of those dastardly Southerners,
Jim Beam or Captain Morgan.
A number of my friends have recently told me they want to
move away from the Big City and find some little country bumpkin
place where life is slower, quieter, with less traffic and
pollution, and no crime. Their fantasy view of the greener
grass on the other side of the fence makes me wonder what
theyve been drinking or smoking. Yet, Oregon, Utah,
Missouri, and Arizona have lured away many of my pals.
I felt the need to take a very serious look at these moves
and see if my friends were going through another mid-life
crisis, just a little later in life. We are, after all, Baby
Boomers and we can change the rules of life anytime we want
or make new ones when the old ones dont fit.
So I mounted my three-wheeler (yes, 3 wheels) and set out
to have a meaningful discussion with myself, clear out the
cobwebs from my mind, and try to find the proverbial meaning
of life. I decided to stay on the sidewalks so as not to endanger
people in cars who were talking, eating, and applying makeup
at the same time.
I soon discovered beautiful flowerbeds down the street from
my house. I saw first-hand the beautiful handiwork of so many
people who had placed memorials in their windows in honor
of loved ones or of their faith. I also realized there are
more pot holes and wide open cracks in sidewalks and alley
ways than any city deserves, and I experienced the dangers
of drivers who seem connected to laser beams bringing them
to their destination.
It came to me that as I drive around town, whether it is
on local streets or freeways, I am moving so fast and my mind
is so wrapped up in my work, politics, sports, music, whatever,
that I miss the little things I was now noticing and enjoying,
as if for the first time.
Here I was, in the community where I was born, raised, and
have lived all my life, slowly cruising the sidewalks as any
pedestrian or jogger would, and I was making new discoveries
on every block. I passed a fellow working on his car in his
garage. Gosh, I cant recall the last time I was in my
garage and certainly there is not enough room in there for
me to work on anything.
I saw another guy sitting on a lawn chair in front of his
garage, just sitting. I asked him what he was thinking about
and he said, Nothing. Im just sitting here with
nothing to do and nothing on my mind. The concept escaped
me. What about the future of social security, I wondered.
Have you thought about that? Do you realize were still
in Iraq and many of our local men and women are over there?
What do you think of that? I found it hard to accept that
he probably wasnt thinking about any of that. He was
just sitting there, apparently enjoying a life experience
that either has or will elude me.
I couldnt resist asking him what he thought of Michael
Jacksons trial and fate. He just shook his head and
said, This is a sick world sometimes. Sad, really sad.
What has happened to America? He waved me off, saying,
Enjoy your ride, Mister. Stay focused on whats
around you and ignore what you see on the boob tube.
This was sage advice. I began to understand why so many of
my friends are fed up with life in the fast lane. We live
life at the speed of sound, zipping from here to there, eating
on the run, listening to our iPods in the car because commercial
radio is not good enough for us anymore.
I was now completely tuned in to streets I had only driven
in a car but never experienced at two miles an hour. Any thoughts
I had of joining my friends on the road out of town were now
in the past. The reality that most people dont give
a damn about politics, or anything that is hard to figure
out, or doesnt make life easier, all of a sudden were
making sense to me in a weird way. All the folks who frustrated
me because they seemed to be part of the problem were now
emerging as pretty sane people to me.
I though about how we have a new Mayor in L.A. and I was
thinking hell do well. He has a big heart, a lot of
experience in making things happen among other politicians,
so maybe for once, El Lay is in good hands. I would never
expect Mayor Antonio to slow down and smell the roses as I
was doing for once. This is a man who not only lives life
in the fast lane; he almost never gets off the road. His 24-hour
and 36-hour marathon tours during the campaign are more than
most people can even comprehend, but it was Antonio Villaraigosas
way of showing his energy and drive to be a good mayor.
The U.S. Senate has finally approved Janice Rogers Brown
to be a federal appeals curt judge. Shes been a California
Supreme Court justice, has a brilliant intellect, but had
to endure the Neanderthals in Washington who didnt like
a Black woman who speaks her mind and is usually right in
how she has decided cases. People like Judge Brown move around
the country anyway as their careers grow, and career is more
important than cracks in the street or just sitting in front
of your garage thinking about nothing. Like most people in
her position, she is smarter than the average bear, but probably
spends more time on lifes complexities than its simplicities.
And finally, the Michael Jacksons of the world remind us
that when you allow yourself to stray from the real world
of real people, when you lose focus because you are so self-absorbed
and cloistered in your own little world of money, power and
adulation, even the people who like your music eventually
figure out that youre an out-of-touch freak who never
really understood how the little people live.
As I reached the end of my ride 11 blocks from home, refreshed
by the wind in my face and feeling full from all the new discoveries,
I faced a new and harsh reality. There was a Relay for Cancer
event on the athletic field at my alma mater and the track
was ringed with luminarias paying homage to those who had
fallen victim to the Big C. I recognized more names of those
who had succumbed to cancer than I wanted to admit.
Those of us who work in, around, and with the media often
miss the subtleties of life. We tend to focus on the stark
and graphic ugliness that makes headlines or helps the ratings.
We dont like to recognize or address our own frailties
and mortality because were so busy living life.
But those people who have passed on, whether they lived life
in the fast lane or stopped to smell the roses, are gone for
good. They never made it out of town to a new refuge in Oregon,
Utah, Missouri, or Arizona where they could escape the Big
City. And the world of politics, crime, celebrity trials,
TV ratings, traffic, and pollution are meaningless now. Hopefully
they have found the place they had longed for and had worked
an entire lifetime to experience.
And now I can settle my restless heart down a bit and ignore
the rudderless in life, like that twenty-something who cut
me off as she talked, ate and tried to improve her looks.
She may not look like someone who has a plan for her life,
but I have a new handle on how life has a plan for us, whether
we know it or not, and whether we accept it or not. Life has
its own rules and its own time line.