Now I’ve seen everything.
As I was driving down Center Street Monday afternoon in Manteca I passed an older guy — perhaps in his 70s —heading in the other direction riding a motorized scooter.
Nothing unusual there.
But he wasn’t just riding in the bicycle lane feet away from cars weigh 4,000 pounds passing him at 30 mph. He was steering his motorized scooter with one hand and yakking on a smartphone with another,
What I saw begs the question: How did he manage to live so long?
It’s probably the law of averages. Six people playing Russian roulette could all dodge the bullet for a number of rounds of spinning. Sooner or later, though, someone is going to buy it.
I’m not an advocate of refraining from all activities that have an element of danger. While I haven’t jumped out of a perfectly good airplane — at least not yet — I have managed over the years to get myself on some extremely narrow ledges with a long ways down.
But here’s the difference. When I’m hiking — or driving or hiking for that matter — I understand it involves risk. Everything does. But I’m not about to whip out my smartphone and make it even more risker.
You could think I’m just being Wyatt but there have been more than a few rescues involving people walking along ledges above the ocean or on mountains who were yakking or texting on their smartphones and — surprise, surprise — walked over the edge.
My favorite involves an Associated Press story about a twentysomething that did just that in Alaska while talking to her mother in New York. The mother was quoted as saying how lucky they were because the daughter had a cell phone and was able to tell her what had happened so rescue workers could be summoned. News flash. If your daughter hadn’t been on the phone and was paying attention to hiking which can have risks such as falling, tripping, or startling a bear she would not needed to be able to contact the authorities or spend time recouping in a hospital bed texting her way to recovery.
People think I’m joking when they express concern I’m hiking somewhere on the Sierra crest by myself, pointing out it can be dangerous and I reply that I’ve never come across a bear texting while hiking.
I can count all of my bear encounters while hiking on two fingers. That said, a day doesn’t go by that while I’m jogging someone on a cell phone doesn’t roll through a stop sign.
Hiking can be a great joy but you need to be aware of your surroundings. The same is true of driving, walking, bicycling and even a motorized scooter that gives you greater mobility.
Black bears, by the way, tend not to be aggressive unless you startle them or do something stupid like try to pet a cub or bump into them while texting.
All of this is a way of backing into a tragedy that is happening all too often.
Witnesses said a 20-year-old driver told them he was texting while he was driving along a Texas highway at 65 mph last week when he crossed over the line and slammed into a mini-bus and killed 13 people.
The American Automobile Association on Monday released a study citing National Highway Traffic Safety Office data that shows in 2016 — for the first time in almost a decade — vehicle crash deaths topped 40,000 on an annual basis. That’s a 6 percent jump from 2015 and a 14 percent rise since 2014. It is the most significant two-year increase since 1964.
And more than 1 out of 10 deaths has the primary cause listed as distracted driving. It wasn’t speeding. It wasn’t driving too fast for conditions. It is doing such things as eating, combing your hair or texting while driving.
I have no idea who or what the 20-year-old in Texas was texting but it certainly wasn’t worth someone dying — or in his case — 13 people dying.
Besides living with what he has done, if he’s convicted of manslaughter he can spend up to 20 years in prison under Texas law.
I can’t think of any text I’ve ever received or sent that’s worth 13 people dying over and for me to spend 20 years behind bars.
You may dismiss this as an abnormality. But we are all playing Russian roulette when we ignore real risks. Very few, if any of us, would actually play Russian roulette. I’d venture to say more than a few people think it is inherently crazy for someone to hike isolated canyons or mountain peaks in Death Valley by themselves as I often do. Yet they don’t give a second thought to whipping out the smartphone while driving down Louise Avenue to text or call anyone simply because they aren’t engaging in a round of Russian roulette or hiking in areas prone to scorpions and venomous snakes
In 2015 over 3,900 people were killed in this country — and significantly more injured — because of distracted drivers of whom many were texting. Only four people have been killed in 11 years from poisonous scorpion stings in this country, six died in 2015 from snake bites, and almost every year someone — usually a teen boy — kills himself playing Russian roulette.
Hiking carries risks and so does driving. The big difference is most people going hiking make an effort to minimize those risks. The same can’t be said of driving or piloting a motorized scooter down a fairly well-traveled street in Manteca.