I read an article the other day in the L.A. Times about how Best Picture Oscar winner Crash does not accurately reflect the "real" Los Angeles. The author of the article described a typical series of encounters in a local neighborhood that involved interactions between people of various nationalities and skin colors, none of which resulted in violence, name-calling or even a minor misunderstanding. It was somewhat clever and mildly ironic, but not exactly an earth-shattering revelation. After all, what is more surprising, a movie that does not accurately reflect reality, or a moviegoer who expects a movie to accurately reflect reality.
As it happened, I was reading the article while having lunch at Irv's Burgers, while in the background owner Sonia Hong carried on a constant stream of conversation with patrons and staff, that slipped easily from English to Korean to Spanish and back again. The lunch crowd at Irv's is a microcosm of L.A. society containing a representative cross-section of class, color and culture, including rich, poor, young, old, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, gay, straight, and tourists.
I got to thinking about a line from the movie Crash uttered by Don Cheadle's character -- something about how nobody in L.A. has any contact with anyone else, so we have to crash into each other just to feel something. I have had a few "crashes" while living here, and I have to say I think I did learn a little more about myself and my neighbors from each.
Once, while waiting at a stoplight I got cut off by a woman in a white sedan. She angled he car in front of me, preventing me from going forward even after the light changed. There was barely enough room for me to squeeze by her and slip into the other lane in order to make the light. I nudged her bumper with mine ever so slightly as I did so -- but didn't really think I'd done any harm. Apparently she thought differently, as I learned after she chased me down for two blocks, honking and flashing her lights. I pulled over and got out of my car, filled with indignation.
"You hit my car!" she cried.
"You cut me off!" I protested.
"You scratched my bumper!"
"I barely touched you..."
This went on for several minutes, and I was getting pretty mad. But as I was reaching into the car for my insurance info, it occurred to me that I wasn't mad at her. I was mad because she was right. I did hit her car. Whether or not I caused any appreciable damage, the fact remained that I caused my car to come in contact with her car. I looked at her and said, "You know what -- you're right, I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry."
Suddenly the whole situation changed. Her face relaxed and she actually smiled, "It's not so bad. I can probably fix it with some rubbing compound."
And that was that. She was satisfied. She didn't even want my insurance info. All she wanted was for me to admit that I was wrong and to apologize. And it really wasn't that hard to do. And it was free. After that, I learned that a lot of situations can be diffused merely by admitting that I was wrong and apologizing. Even if I don't think I'm wrong, I can still apologize. It doesn't cost me anything and it seems to do wonders for people who are upset. Who knew?
Another time, I was pulling away from the curb and some guy who was coming around the left side of a parked bus decided to swerve into my lane. He tore my front bumper halfway off and left it dangling in the street. As it turned out he was an old Asian man who could barely speak English and had a lot of trouble seeing when it came time for to write down his name for me. I think he was legally blind. Naturally the accident was my fault, since I was pulling away from the curb and he had the "right of way". I don't see how you can call it the "right of way" when the guy is changing lanes without looking or signaling and can't see beyond the end of his nose, but them's the rules.
Anyway he went on his way and I was stuck with a torn-off bumper. As I was attempting to try and figure out what the hell I was going to do, a hispanic man, who had been sitting at the bus stop and had witnessed the whole thing, came over and started helping me. He didn't speak any English either and he didn't really need to say much, he just tied my bumper back onto the frame with some rope I had in the trunk and then got on his bus. He didn't ask for money, he didn't seem to expect any thanks -- he just wanted to help. I drove around with that tied-on bumper for several months before I finally got it fixed. And when I called my insurance company to see if my rates were going up, I found out that the old Asian guy never filed a claim. He could have, but I guess he decided not to.
Despite these positive experiences, I have become a lot more vigilant as a driver and have avoided getting into any more fender-benders. There are much better ways of meeting my fellow Angelinos. Going to lunch at Irv's for example. Maybe I should write a movie about it. I could call it "Lunch."