2006-02-23 / Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

Things we want to know
By Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

When columnists are desperate for an idea, they will jump through hoops to find something to write about that will get by the discerning eye of editors who are fond of words like “huh?” and “wha?” when reading things like — my weekly column. After they pass the “huh” and “wha” stage, they like to go into the “he’s grasping” mode, and finally, they just say: “I told you — the man is delusional.”

Most would think that anyone who has been subjected to the pain of staring at a blank white square on a computer screen that appears to grow into a gigantic maw with teeth waiting to devour the frantic writer sitting in front of it, would be just a little bit sympathetic. But alas, that is not the case.

So, after the ultimate humiliation of rejection, we move on to the next phase of the creative process, which is akin to a meditation gone awry. We think about how to solve global hunger, attain world peace, why women control the planet while men get the credit, and other things that mere words in a weekly column cannot solve. We consider everything except the subjects we really want to write about — sex, politics and religion. Why? Because we are not permitted to write about these things for fear of alienating large percentages of our readers, all of our advertisers, and embarrassing our families.

We are reduced to asking ourselves really simple, dumb questions that can be turned into the required number of words to fill up the space needed to elicit a paycheck from those who can’t wait to declare us delusional, frantic, grasping, or a combination of all of the aforementioned.

This week, I’m thinking about things that have been puzzling the public for quite some time — things that we would all like to know. I accept that most of us will never know exactly when we are going to die unless we are scheduled by the state for doing something really bad. Not knowing when we will draw our last breath is probably a good thing. However, there is something else that I think puzzles everybody, particularly readers who drive and commute to work on a daily basis. The subject is: the speed limit. Does anybody know what the real speed limit is?

During rush hour, if you drive on any highway in the middle lane and go the speed limit, you will quickly learn that your adherence to the posted law of the local land is less than appreciated. Fellow drivers will be quick to tailgate you, honk their horns, shake their fist while making gestures to let you know that you are number one on their list of annoyances.

I have been passed by police cars while I am driving five miles per hour over the speed limit and the officer in the passing car didn’t look any too happy about having to work his way around me because I was apparently impeding progress. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the speed limit being 40, 55, or 60. It can be any number and people will always drive faster. But there is some point that traffic enforcement considers too fast, and when you reach it, they will stop you and issue a citation. All I’d like to know is — what is that speed? Is it 10 miles over the limit, 15, or eight?

Ask any traffic officer and you will be told that the speed limit is whatever is posted. Occasionally, you might find one who will admit to allowing drivers to move with the flow of traffic as long as that speed appears to be within their perception of safe. Who sets that “safe” pace? I want that job, because whoever that person is, he or she is above the law.

If anybody out there knows the answer to this seemingly unanswerable question, please let me know. Until then, I’m going to put it in the category of being part of that system we just can’t understand. Okay — I’ve reached the required number of words. Whew! Am I delusional? Probably.

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