Archive for July, 2016

The Story Of The Traffic Reporter And The Pedant

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

ped·ant – noun: a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules.

Here in the greater Los Angeles area we’re blessed with not one, but two excellent public radio stations, KCRW at 89.9 FM and KPCC at 89.3 FM. The former operates out of Santa Monica College and the latter out of Pasadena City College.

I’ve personally always been a KPCC’er, I guess ever since my stint in the mid-to-late ’90s first as a freelancer and finally for a spell as editor of a local weekly newspaper in Pasadena — my allegiance probably had a lot to do with location and also the fact that one of the station’s “stars,” Larry Mantle, would occasionally have me on his public access TV program to discuss issues facing the area. But in the ensuing years since the dawn of the new millennium as a satellite radio subscriber, my commercial radio listenership of any channels had fallen off dramatically.

A few weeks ago, though, I was driving home from work and because I hit a deadzone that blanked out the Sirius satellite music channel I typically listen to, I clicked over to the FM band on my stereo and found myself at KCRW. It had been awhile since I’d listened to public radio and found the news and views a welcome change.

But whether it was that specific day or one shortly thereafter, their traffic reporter came on and referenced an accident on the “east” 101 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley, and though I had a minor physical reaction to the error at the time, I really thought nothing of it until over the course of several days and reports she did it again and again; “East on the 101 at White Oak there’s a collision blocking the No. 1 lane,” West on the 101 at Coldwater Canyon a stalled vehicle has been moved over to the shoulder…”

What’s my problem? Like any and all of our nation’s roadways, The 101 Freeway runs a specific direction, in this case: north/south. Period. To my knowledge there is no highway anywhere that officially changes direction just because it doesn’t happen to literally go in the figurative direction it is originally designated.

My other problem is that I’m a proud and entirely unapologetic card-carrying member of Pedantics International whose motto is “There Is No Detail Too Small Or Meaningless Upon Whose Error We Will Not Fixate.” Or is it “Miniscule” instead of “Small?” See what I mean?

As yes: That Pedant, I was compelled to go that extra step of seeking out and finding the traffic reporter’s email address on the KCRW website and thus send her a polite attempt to redirect her to correctly refer to the 101 Freeway by its proper directions, like so:

I enjoy and appreciate your afternoon traffic reports and the enthusiasm you bring to them, but I would like to respectfully point out that every time you refer to incidents on the 101 Freeway as occurring on the “east” or “west” sides, the traffic gods disable a Prius. The 101 has been, is and always should be referred to as a north/south thoroughfare:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_101

Humbly submitted,
Will Campbell

To which I received the following polite reply:

Hi Will! I’m glad you like my reports! Thanks for taking the time
to write! I hardly ever get to engage one-on-one with listeners.
Technically, you are right, the 101 is a North/South freeway. However, due to the topography of the State, like in the San Fernando Valley & Conejo Valley it literally runs east and west from Burbank into Ventura County. It runs North/South geographically speaking at the 134. You may or may not know the 134 runs east and west. In Studio City if you stayed straight on the 101 and didn’t take the turn into Hollywood it becomes the 134. By turning South you stay on the 101. It is that section, as well as the area of northern Ventura county into Central & Northern California that it actually runs north and south. Even the on-ramps onto the freeway, say in Thousand Oaks for example, are marked East 101 and West 101.

As far as your Prius is concerned, she may just need a spa day. Take her to a nice car wash and get her insides vacuumed. And tell her to pull it together – you’re the one in charge.

While she is certainly correct that the 101 does follow an east/west trajectory through the San Fernando and Conejo valleys, I was surprised that she’d sacrifice accuracy in truly believing such a deviation qualified as an official directional change, and frankly I was entirely blown away at her insistence it was signed accordingly through those stretches.

So of course I wrote back proving her wrong (images biggable if clicked):

I appreciate the response, but with your rejection of my attempt to correct your error the Prius has sadly committed hybridicide. The 101 is in its entirety officially designated and posted as a north/south roadway, regardless of segments that you point out do indeed traverse along an east/west course. Case in point, attached is a Google Streetview image, say in Thousand Oaks for example, of a 101 SOUTH onramp. Show me a single 101 Freeway entry point that says EAST or WEST and I’ll show you a Caltrans sign hanger who made a mistake.

south101

Unwritten at the end of that last sentence was “…and a traffic reporter who believes it as fact.” Curiously the only thing she responded with was… this:

image1

Huh. Anyway, a few days passed with no other contact and I was surprised to hear her refer on-air to incidents involving the 101 as occurring in the north or south lanes. The rub was those incidents hadn’t occurred in the valleys so it was unclear if she had come to see the light or hadn’t. Then came this to my inbox:

Hi Will. Hope you are doing well.
Here are a couple of screen shots from two of my traffic sources I thought your Prius might find upsetting. California Highway Patrol considered the authority regarding traffic information. Better put the hybrid on suicide watch. 😉

image1

Sigh. Should you click on the above screen shot you’ll find the CHP does indeed and wrongly refer to an incident through the valley as occurring on the “US101E / Las Virgenes Road. EB101” Below that is another incident “US101E / Coldwater Canyon. EB 101.” That explained a lot, which I elaborated on in the following farewell:

Prius, still dead. Buried even. In your honor I now have a 1968 Chevrolet Caprice convertible with an eight-cylinder 404 engine and I actually put a dose of lead additive in the tank every time you call the 101 wrong. On the good side, it’s a relief to know it’s not your fault, but on the bad side the old adages of “you’re only as good as your source,” and “if it’s on the internet it must be true” stand up. I appreciate knowing that you’re blaming a law enforcement agency because the police are never wrong and almost always justified even when they are.

I personally recommend Caltrans, which would be the actual authority on our state’s roadways. They also have an awesome traffic mapping system (http://quickmap.dot.ca.gov) that you should check out some time.

But in case you’re too busy with the CHP you’ll note in this latest edition of Disproving Your Misinformation, I’ve attached a screen grab of the Caltrans Cam on the 101 SOUTH at Los Virgenes. It’ll also be my last attempt because frankly it’s time for me to humbly surrender the fast lane to you. I’ve given you concrete proof that refuted your initial all-too-confident assertion as to the highway’s signage, and you give me pixels on a screen that allow you to proudly perpetuate in the east/west myth. I gave it my best shot and failed. You go girl.

caltrans

I said at the top, we here in the greater Los Angeles area are blessed to be able to choose between two public radio stations. The subtext in surrendering the fast lane is that I also surrendered the station to her and moved (south, not west) down the dial to good ol’ KPCC. Of course in doing so, I run the risk of hearing their traffic reporter make the same mistake. It hasn’t happened yet, but if it does, I’m thinking I’ll be able to refrain from picking that same battleflag up again. In fact, I’m pretty sure. Mostly.

A So Most Trivial and Glorious Thing

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

I read a poem this morning shared by an acquaintance on Facebook. It was written by a woman who explained with regret why she killed a harmless spider that startled her and with some recognition that fear was no excuse. I appreciated that sentiment but not enough to dispel the disappointment at its demise.

I have chosen to be a partner with the creatures that inhabit this world. I am not one so pure; after all, I had bacon for breakfast this morning, and a hamburger for dinner last night. But I am otherwise avowed to coexist as best I can with those to which I come in direct contact. And I default to disdain for those who aren’t. I will go out of my way to pardon a housefly from the window screen prison it finds itself. I will praise the praying mantis, rescue the ant. Relocate the house centipede. Driver 35 miles to get an injured opossum care. Be late to work to free a gull from a certain and horrible death. No cockroach goes stepped on that crosses my path. Spiders are a marvel and an amazement that command my respect. Our perimeter is home to countless brown widows, our garage a haven for their black cousin. When rodents ended up doing several hundred dollars damage chewing up the wiring of my Baybee’s Ford Escape, I didn’t employ inhumane traps or poisons, but instead deployed a spray solution of Peppermint oil and water and one of those electronic sonic devices. And don’t get me started on how much I adore those creatures people proudly love to hate: coyotes, skunks, pigeons, raccoons, rats, snakes, sharks. Any fear of them is based in an ignorance and/or a bias that too many stubborn people seem sadly only too righteous to maintain.

I do have a footnote to that code of coexistence: If you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you. Thus I don’t suffer the mosquito or the tick or the flea attempting to feast off me; or pretty much any parasite or predator regardless of their number of legs — but especially those of two who have this ability to maliciously and intentionally harm. They are the worst.

We all lived in a world this week full of tragedy. The latest in a succession of the them, and the next undoubtedly yet to come. But this one was of police officers killing people and of people killing police officers. It was enough unnecessary and vile death to cut me to the core and its culmination was enough to have my concerned superior exercise caution and order me not to do my job on Friday. We stayed in the office and did paperwork. I understood and respected the decision but my impulse when I got up yesterday morning was to suit up get in the field tall with my head on a swivel because the need for me doesn’t go away just because sanity does.

Which brings me to what happened this morning. A nothing. A trifle. I was in the backyard and dark of mood at Buster the tortoise’s hutch with her breakfast and the requisite spray bottle full of water to moisten the meal and top off the water bowl from which I’ve never seen her drink. The sun bathed the area in light and the air was cool. I did a doublecheck of the cone created by the antlion larvae that’s taken up residence in a corner of Buster’s space and, no I didn’t destroy it. Instead I admired the tiny ambush predator for its diligence in maintaining the delicate structural integrity of the trap and its patience in waiting for a hapless meal to fall in. But that’s another story.

bushie1359

Here’s a low-res still of a bushtit exiting a nest in our backyard from 2010 (click to enlargify).

I was spritzing Buster’s greens with the water bottle when to my left I heard the telltale chirps of a gregarious group of “bushies,” more commonly known as bushtits, that were gathered in the quince tree from my neighbor’s yard whose branches overhang the fence. On an impulse I directed the spray in their direction and within a few moments others were drawn to it and there were at least ten of the little birds chirping and bouncing up a storm around the trees boughs and leaves shimmying and fluffing and rubbing themselves against the leaves where some of the water drops had landed in appreciation at the surprise spritzing to such a degree that the whole tree took on a jolly air in its shaking. If I’d redirect the spray to another part of the tree they’d move to it. Even a hummingbird joined in. And dang if I didn’t stand there cranking out the water in that full bottle until my hand was tired and it was empty. And doubledang it if I didn’t suddenly find water falling out of my eyes because in this latest of a seeming unending series of hells we’re going through I was just struck by the absolute beauty of this interaction and how gloriously blessed I was both to experience it and more important to appreciate these lovely little birds bopping around and literally soaking it all up. I think I’ll make this a habit.

The moral to this belabored ramble? Find beauty wherever you can and be a part of the world, not apart from it.