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Irene In New York and Natural Disaster Rubbernecking

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I know I'm not alone when I say that I despise rubberneckers. Too many times on the 10 Freeway in Los Angeles, traffic will slow down to a crawl. After the initial burst of road rage comes up like acid reflux in your mind, you start to calm down enough to wonder about the cause of your delay. Could it be an accident? Or one of those high speed pursuits where the highway patrol zig-zags along the highway to keep all other cars in a safe zone? Maybe. Could it be a lane closure or, god forbid, the real Carmageddon?

Probably not.

A quick glance at the sky gives enough supporting evidence; no police or television helicopters to warrant media coverage. So you sit in the car, listen to the radio, talk on the phone, read the newspaper, play the harp (I've seen it) and try to keep a pleasant aura, centered, while the world, or at least yours, has crawled to a halt.

Then magically the cars start to disperse and gain speed. What? There is nothing. Nothing to cause the slowdown except the fact that everyone has been veering, gawking, at the scene of a crime. Or an accident. One that happened long before. Sure, the cars are there, maybe a police cruiser or two, but they're all on the side of the road. There is nothing to impede the flow of traffic. Only rubberneckers!!

On Friday of last week I was at the airport in Cincinnati, Ohio, having arrived the night before for a business meeting. The next leg of my trip was to New York and Pennsylvania. My flight itinerary for the day had me going through Chicago en route to NY. As I paid my bill at the airport restaurant I noticed CNN was running continuous updates on hurricane Irene. It was now supposed to touch ground in the Carolinas on late that same day and proceed up the East Coast all the way to Maine.

I looked at my tickets....Cincinnati-Chicago with connection from Chicago-JFK. I would arrive a day before Irene and leave for Pennsylvania that next Wednesday. I didn't have any business over the weekend:I just thought it would be nice to weekend in New York and get ready for the following week without having to fly back to LA for the weekend, followed by another coast to coast trip in three days. The announcer on CNN cut to a press conference with Mayor Bloomberg of NY. They were announcing all mass transit would be closing from noon on Saturday to Monday. At the Cincinnati airport there were a few passengers in a rush to get back to their homes in NY who wanted to prepare for the storm. Additionally the Mayor was talking about evacuating low level areas of Manhattan.

I, on the other hand, was just a casual observer, who would 'happen' to be in NY while the storm hit. Someone next to me was talking about how great it was when they were in the great blizzard Chicago experienced this past January. They wore it like a badge of honor. Interesting. Then on the news I saw them show some amateur video from somewhere along the coast. Sure, the coastal town had been evacuated, but this person wanted to capture all of nature's fury, and what better way than walk into the eye of the storm with a camcorder?

Sounds like a terrible idea to me to place yourself in the path of danger.

But what about this impulse? Roadside rubbernecking is passive when compared to folks who brazenly turn up at the scene of a crime or a tragedy and therefore participate somehow. I've heard there are actually passersby to suicidal "jumpers" looking for action and maybe even encourage it by shouting "Jump!" Why? So they can say "dayum!" and have a story to tell when it's all over? Is it like the O.J. pursuit where folks flooded the overpasses to see the Bronco whiz by and yell, "Go, O.J., Go!" knowing he was wanted for a multiple murder? It's the extreme endpoint where rubberneckers go bad, lose control and become full on "ghouls". That's why it feels so "icky". Subconsciously we must know where this impulse can lead.

So I thought about my trip to New York. Did I really think the hurricane would be that bad? Did it matter how bad? Was this the opportunity of a lifetime? What was I thinking? Was I nuts? Here I was, thousands of miles from the path of the hurricane yet I was thinking about the consequences so casually; I've never been in a hurricane! It would be fun! I'd never get hurt. It would be fun to tell my grandkids! Yes! Let's go!

Then I thought about it. I don't have kids, so grandkids are not exactly in the immediate future. I'm adverse to malady. I don't like scary movies and still don't like the dark. If I went to New York I would be worse than a rubbernecker. I would be a tourist who is just there to gawk. I would be a Natural Disaster Rubbernecker. Nothing more, nothing less. N.D. Rubbernecker.

Yes, Irene did not do as much damage as they estimated. And I rerouted my trip to LA and enjoyed a nice round of golf on Saturday. I hope the person who needed my seat from Chicago to NY got to go home in time to prepare. The world has one less rubbernecker.