Crash

They say you never forget your first time, and I’ll certainly never forget mine.

Not anytime soon, at least.  After all, it happened just three weeks ago.

I speak, of course, of my first car crash.  And, with it, my first police report, my first insurance claim, my first insurance premium hike and, finally, my first brand new car.

It began on a Monday morning.  Of course it was a Monday morning.  My hometown Red Sox had won the World Series the night before, so the steady rain that was falling could’ve been taken as tears of joy from the heavens above.  For me in my Mazda at 8:30 a.m., however, it was just rain.  And the wet roads and low visibility probably didn’t help as I approached the intersection of Eliot and Prospect Streets, coming to a stop at the blinking red light.  At least I think I stopped.  Maybe I just slowed.  To be honest, I don’t remember.  But I definitely looked both ways.  By “definitely” I mean “probably.”  And by “probably” I mean “might have.”

In any event, I proceeded into the intersection—as one does—and only when I was halfway through it did I notice the white van coming straight at me from my right.  The van wasn’t slowing down.  Why should it?  The vehicles on that street had a blinking yellow light and, thus, the right of way.  Presumably, upon seeing me blundering into his space, the driver slammed on the brakes as best he could.  I couldn’t say for sure.  In that moment, all that really concerned me was getting to the other side of the intersection.  To that end, I pressed harder on the gas, hoping against hope it would be enough to avoid a collision.

It wasn’t.

The van slammed into my rear passenger side.  This, in turn, pushed my car into a BMW that was minding its own business in the next lane.  The force of this one-two punch caused my vehicle’s side airbags to deploy, my glasses to fly off and bend wildly out of shape, and my ice coffee to splatter in every direction.  I attempted to steer as far to the side of the road as possible, but the pedals no longer worked.

I climbed out the passenger side door—partly to avoid incoming traffic, and partly because my own door wouldn’t open.  The driver of the van was apparently fine—as I approached him on the corner, all he said was, “You ran a red light, man.”  In fact, I believe he said it twice.  As someone who avoids verbal confrontation at all costs—and who assumes, as a general rule, that everything is my fault—I said nothing in response.  (The man in the BMW was fine, too.)

As a small battalion of police vehicles arrived and an officer examined our licenses for his report, I began to rummage through my car’s front seat for essentials—backup pair of glasses, phone, umbrella—in much the same way Lorraine Bracco rummaged through her dresser drawers for bags of coke in the final moments of GoodFellas.  I may not have been headed to jail like her, but the sudden, awful rush of adrenaline was hardly any less acute.

It was only then that I noticed all the broken glass in the backseat—sad remnants of what used to be the rear window panes.  With that came the emergence of two rather disconcerting thoughts.  First, that had there been passengers back there instead of an ice scraper and a roll of paper towels, the seat would likely be splattered with an uncomfortably large amount of blood.  And second, that had I slammed on the brakes instead of the gas upon seeing the white van, the point of impact would’ve likely been the front seat instead of the back, and the splattered blood would’ve belonged to me.

Or perhaps not.  Maybe the airbags would’ve done their duty and blunted most of the carnage inside the vehicle.  Happily, I will never know for sure.

What I do know is that I totaled my carand moderately dinged two othersbecause of a stupid, careless decision I had every reason not to make.  I know that roughly 37,000 people die from car crashes in the U.S. every year, and that it will only take one more such decision for that tally to include me.  I am reminded—rather chillingly—of the moment in Citizen Kane when Kane manages to destroy his career and marriage in one fell swoop and is told by his chief adversary, “You’re going to need more than one lesson.  And you’re going to get more than one lesson.”

For me, hopefully one lesson will be enough.  Considering the damage to my vehicle—I believe the clinical term is “dead as a doornail”—it’s certainly something close to a miracle that I managed to walk away with nothing more than a slightly stiff lower back (since healed) and a general but fleeting sense of having failed as a human being.  Wouldn’t it be nice if this incident constitutes the worst thing that will ever happen to me—or anyone—behind the wheel of a car?  Wouldn’t it be even nicer if cars could drive themselves?  Someone really oughta work on that.

In the meantime, I now have a brand-new Subaru to get me where I need to go.  Unlike the Mazda, it includes all-wheel drive and an array of safety features specifically designed to protect me from myself—as they surely will a dozen times per day.  I triumphantly drove it off the lot mere hours after attending the Red Sox victory parade in downtown Boston.  Partly for that reason, I decided to name it Mookie.  I think it has a nice ring to it.

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2020 is Not 20/20

Now that the 2018 midterms are finally, blessedly behind us, the 2020 presidential campaign can officially begin—and, with it, the mother-of-all-$64,000 questions:  Who will be sworn in as commander-in-chief on January 20, 2021?

The correct answer—or at least the most likely—is Donald Trump.  Like Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton before him, Trump in 2020 will carry all the built-in advantages of incumbency—money, familiarity and the presumed endorsement of his party.  Add to that his utter shamelessness and Triumph of the Will-style campaign rallies, and you have a nearly unbeatable force of nature that the Democratic Party is thus far unprepared to vanquish on a national scale.

That said, if the Democrats manage to field a challenger to Trump who succeeds in becoming the 46th president, history suggests he or she will be someone none of us is taking seriously today—and probably won’t take seriously until maybe a week or two before the New Hampshire primary some 14 months from now.

Lord knows this was the case two years ago, when the very notion of Donald Trump as a public official struck the entire media-industrial complex as an absurd fever dream until around 10:30 on Election Night.  So, too, was Barack Obama’s candidacy, eight years earlier, seen as a quixotic curiosity against the Hillary Clinton juggernaut until Obama nabbed one more delegate than Clinton in the Iowa caucuses and turned the entire 2008 narrative on its head.

Then there was the previous Democratic golden boy, Bill Clinton, who began the 1992 primaries all-but-unknown outside his home state of Arkansas and didn’t win a single primary until Super Tuesday—nearly a month after the Iowa caucuses, where he placed a very distant third.  Going back even further, much the same was the case with Jimmy Carter—a Southern governor who emerged from essentially nowhere and charged to the front of the pack, accumulating delegates and raw popular excitement along the way.

As I see it, the lesson from this is twofold.  First:  If the Democrats are interested in defeating Trump in 2020, the worst they could possibly do is to nominate a known quantity.  And second:  Anyone who believes he or she knows how the Democratic primaries will shake out is utterly and irretrievably full of it and should be ignored for as long as possible.

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Nice and Not Crazy

I’ll begin with a confession:  I like Charlie Baker.  I like him a lot.  When he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2014, I voted for him on the assumption that he was a competent, decent, even-tempered guy who shared most of my core values and would play well with others on Beacon Hill.

After four years on the job—and on the eve of his likely election to a second term—Baker strikes me as a competent, decent, even-tempered guy who shares most of my core values and plays well with others on Beacon Hill.

Broadly speaking, Baker has been exactly the sort of governor I expected him to be, and I’ve never once regretted endorsing him the first time around.  All things being equal, I would have no qualms voting for him again on Tuesday, if only in recognition of the refreshing normalness and temperance of both his administration and his own character.

And yet, in 2018, all things are not equal.  Our country runs on a two-party system, and over the last several years, one of those parties has retained a minimal sense of civic responsibility, while the other has lost its goddamned mind.

For all his personal and political strengths, Charlie Baker is a card-carrying Republican at a moment in history when Republicans, as a group, have proved themselves both unable and unwilling to govern in a rational, productive manner—opting, instead, to tether themselves to the moral abomination that is President Donald Trump.

Until this changes—that is, until Trump ceases to be the embodiment and figurehead of the present-day GOP—I simply cannot stomach lending support to any candidate who identifies with the same party as our insane commander-in-chief.

In some ways, this is unfair—if only in this one case.  As Massachusetts residents well know, Baker is about as un-Trump-like as a Republican could possibly be in 2018.  He’s the guy, for instance, who signed a first-in-the-nation bump stock ban following the massacre in Las Vegas last October.  He’s the guy who (belatedly) supported a law protecting transgender rights, and is now defending said law against a ballot referendum that would reverse it.  He’s the guy who violated his own “no new taxes” pledge in order to fund paid family leave and raise the state’s minimum wage.  He’s the guy who, when asked to pick three words to describe President Trump, chose, “Outrageous.  Disgraceful.  Divider.”

With a record like that, one wonders why Baker doesn’t just get it over with and declare himself a Democrat—or, at the very least, pull a Jeff Flake and publicly lament that the GOP of yore is nothing like the GOP of today.  With an approval rating in the upper 60s and arguably the most liberal constituency in the nation, what, for heaven’s sake, would he have to lose by turning his back on the Republican Party once and for all?

While we wait for a satisfactory answer, the good people of Massachusetts have another choice for governor this year in the person of Jay Gonzalez—like Baker, a former health insurance executive and secretary of administration and finance—whose progressive bona fides are unassailable and in perfect sync with those of the commonwealth he hopes to lead, up to and including his pledge to enact single-payer healthcare and tax the rich to pay for it.

Indeed, from transportation to the environment, from education to civil rights, Gonzalez’s pitch to voters can roughly be distilled to, “I will do what Baker is doing, but with more enthusiasm and higher taxes.”  As a candidate, Gonzalez has effectively diagnosed Baker’s most glaring flaw—namely, his maddening reluctance to tackle major problems in a bold, aggressive manner—and spoken truth to lameness in arguing, “The measure of whether our governor’s doing a good job shouldn’t be that he’s nice and not crazy.”

Fair enough.  But if that’s really the case, why is Gonzalez—the more natural ideological fit for Massachusetts—currently trailing Baker by nearly 40 points in the polls?

My own answer—the one that nearly drove me back into Baker’s arms until the final days of this campaign—is that America deserves two fully-functioning political parties, each populated by the best and brightest minds available, and when it comes to the GOP, Charlie Baker is about as good as it’s gonna get.  If we throw Baker out with the bath water, his party’s ideological center of gravity will move ever-farther to the right, which in the long run would bode well neither for the party nor America as a whole.  That may not be reason enough for liberals to vote for him on November 6, but it’s nonetheless sufficient to make one feel a slight tinge of relief that he’s probably gonna stick around for another four years.