Driving in Phoenix: what a joy! Come quarter to seven this morning, I started out for my meeting in Scottsdale. Because the two main north-south thoroughfares through the central part of the city have reverse lanes and a nasty rule saying you can’t turn left (i.e., toward Scottsdale…) during the rush hours, I usually make my way through not one, not two, not three, but FOUR neighborhoods to get to Central Avenue, then turn east on Glendale for the long slow trudge to the West’s Most Western
Tourist Trap Town.
Lately, though, Glendale has been backed up about two miles west of the SR 51 onramps. Traffic comes to a stop and about three cars get through each green light (if that many).
So I had the idea that I would cross Northern to 16th Street, which is relatively less traveled, and connect with Glendale east of the first mile of backup. Actually, if I wanted to veer out of my way, I could take Northern to the 51 and then drop off at Glendale, which would put me on the far side of the whole mess.
I get on to Northern, and the first thing I see is the usual goddamn construction. Northern has been torn up not for weeks but for months in the aftermath of the light-rail boondoggle. This morning they’ve got a lane closed and signs up reading “no lane markings.” Right.
Traffic is just flat stopped. I manage to cut across to the outside lane and then swerve into the neighborhood south of Northern. From there I know how to make my way to Central Avenue, whence (once again, goddamn it!) I’ll follow the time-dishonored route to Glendale and then east to the Home of the Rich and the Arrogant.
Now Central comes to a halt. They’ve got the whole road shut down for a wreck. I try to dodge into a west-bound side street, since I do know how to navigate those and figure I can at least get back to 7th Ave and thence north to the stymied Northern Avenue.
Wrong! It’s a dead end.
I muscle my way back into the stalled traffic on Central. The cops are…get this!!…routing traffic into a residential cul-de-sac!
Hundreds of cars — surely by the end of the morning upwards of a thousand — are filing past a dozen fancy, secluded private homes, circling around the end of their street, and filing back out toward Central, where they have no choice but to turn north.
What. A. Mess.
The barricade is close enough to the wreck to afford a great view of the carnage. The car they’re trying to hoist onto a tow truck’s flatbed looks like a piece of sheet metal. Literally: bone flat.
The Camry that plowed into the 18-wheeler looked exactly like someone had taken a gigantic rolling pin and rolled it out flat like a piece of dough.
It’s hard to believe anybody could have gotten out of that alive.
M’hijito, who’s an insurance adjuster, says cars are so much safer than they were in days of yore that many more people survive wrecks. Those who do survive are a lot more messed up, but they do live. After a fashion.
And I do have to say: if that had been the last American car I owned — a 1967 Ford Fairlane, one of the most notable lemons ever to grace America’s highways — nobody would have been pulled out of it alive. That thing had no airbags, of course. No shoulder belts. Ford had installed some cheesy lap-belts, but only because the government forced them to it. No collapsible steering wheel, no impact-engineered frame, no head rests, no padded dashboards, no antilock brakes, no ABS, no nothin’.
One of the main reasons the ex and I started buying European and then Japanese cars was that Mercedes and Volvo had real seat belts. You know: the kind with a shoulder belt, too? Ford resisted installing safety equipment with all its vast corporate might. They claimed shoulder belts were impossible to install and that consumers wouldn’t wear them. When they were finally pressed to it, they put in shoulder belts that had to be clipped separately from the lap belts.
Americans weren’t that dumb. When affordable Japanese cars hit these shores, the sheep flocked to them. Must have been quite a surprise to Detroit’s moguls.
To my mind, it’s questionable whether you’d want to survive a wreck in which an 18-wheeler smushed your car into a pancake and dragged it 50 feet. However, back in the good old days, it didn’t take a catastrophic crash to kill you. A fender-bender could do the job, especially if you were in one of the models with exploding gas tanks.
So. Yeah. I could sure do without all the electronic frou-frou this new car has. But I can’t imagine going back to what we had before about 1980.