Why do people do stupid things? And when they do, why do they feel compelled to jump in their cars with ten police cruisers in tow?
And why do we all feel compelled to watch?
Such are the questions I asked myself as I sat down to eat my lunch and watch a little TV. I hadn’t set out to watch a car chase, but there it was. I thought about watching something from the DVR–which was my original intent–but after a few minutes I decided to keep watching and find out how the chase ended.
My phone dinged. Text message. Michael: are you watching the car chase?
I scratched my head and looked around suspiciously. Had he come home for lunch and was standing on the porch, peeking in on me, teasing me about doing something I already felt vaguely guilty about?
Then my interest was peaked. Was this bigger news than I thought?
I texted back and told him that after the OJ Simpson car chase, every other car chase was small change.
I remembered being home for lunch that day as well, riveted to the TV, wondering why I was so fascinated with a has been celebrity being chased by the police on an LA freeway.
Several years ago I watched another car chase (again over lunch–what is it with car chases during the noon hour?). That chase was semi exciting, if only for the high speed and the chase after the driver crashed his car in someone’s front yard and took off on foot. He was promptly tackled by a gazillion police officers.
Today’s car chase was some punk gang member who was wanted for shooting at his girlfriend the day before. Apparently she was also in the car.
What an idiot. Dumb for being in a gang, dumb for trying to shoot his girlfriend, and especially dumb for thinking he could outrun the police in his car.
In the end, right in time with the last bite of my sandwich, the driver stopped his car next to a busy downtown train station and threw himself face down in the street. At least he had enough smarts to choose a busy place, knowing the police wouldn’t shoot with so many people around.
He looked very young. His girlfriend didn’t look like someone who would be mixed up with gangs.
I’ve taught some rough kids in rough neighborhoods, and I’ve had a lot of students who could’ve been driving that car, or sitting in the passenger seat. The main reason I think they get mixed up in the gang lifestyle? It’s what they’re familiar with. It’s what they live with everyday. They see it, they know it, and most importantly, they don’t see another way.
There’s only so much you can tell someone about life being better if they make wise choices, about the value of an education, and that the world is much bigger than their small neighborhood. Most young kids have to figure things out for themselves. Just telling them is not enough–and that’s the way most of us learned to be adults.
To someone looking in from the other side, choosing the gangster life doesn’t seem very smart.
We all make our choices. We get a job, a house, a car, a wardrobe and we play the role. For the most part, for better or worse, we fit in with the majority of society. We still do stupid things, but not often to the degree of being chased by ten police cars during the lunchtime news broadcast.
But sometimes we do. In a house I run past often, a man shoots and kills his son with a rifle after an argument.
At a burger joint I frequent occasionally, a drug deal goes awry and a man is shot and killed in the drive-thru window.
A woman I know who lives a few blocks away is walking her dog one day after work and is robbed at gunpoint.
Down the street, a car smashes into the living room of a house at 5am.
We all do dumb things, but what is it that makes us periodically lose all reason and do things that are truly stupid? What makes us humans think we’re infallible, that our choices are justified? What keeps some of us from seeing beyond our own narrow lives into the larger repercussions of our actions on the world?
Maybe I’ll have it all figured out by the next lunchtime car chase.