The Art of the Chase

In the olden days, when I was a little snot-nosed punk, I used to love to play tag. I could run fast, so whoever was “it” would usually get one whiff of my superhuman speed and go after one of the other kids. I almost went on to become a teen-aged comic book hero, but the name Flash and skin tight red uniform were already taken, so I had to settle for a pair of khakis and the name Ron.

Anyway, some people appear to have retained a strong love for this game, especially in Southern California, because every time I turn on the television (which really isn’t that often) it seems I’m watching the same show. I call it “Tag! You’re It!”. This show is broadcast live from a helicopter, and it involves some sort of late model vehicle traveling at high speed in front of a pack of Highway Patrol cars.

That’s right, it’s the high speed chase. But it’s usually not that high speed. In fact, it’s often zero speed. Last week during a chase some guy sat on the freeway for hours in his car, and the police couldn’t approach him because there was no cover, and they didn’t know if he was armed. I think their solution to that one was to send a robot with a telephone out to him so they could talk.

This whole chase thing is on my mind because there was yet another one last night, only this time the guy on the run was driving a motor home. A motor home. If you’re not familiar with these chases, the standard procedure is to simply follow the guy around until he runs out of gas or ends up in some alley where he can’t get away. The cops don’t really make a huge effort to cut him off, because they don’t want to provoke the driver into doing something which will injure police or bystanders. Often the driver will come to a cul-de-sac and make a U-turn. In this motor home, the guy would probably take about three minutes to turn the thing around.

“Yeah, he may be crazy–but boy, those were some nice three-point turns! Back to you in the studio, Paul…”

It really drives home the question (no pun intended) that everyone asks: do these people really think they’re going to get away? Has anyone EVER gotten away, or even lost the cops for one second? Of course not. Hmmm… perhaps a better emphasis on basic math and physics would cure this problem. A car will not outrun a helicopter. Wake up people.

So why do they do it? Are they seeking a longer prison sentence? Because if you really want to go to the slammer, you could at least find a creative way of getting there. What about breaking INTO prison? I bet no one’s ever tried that.

Like those who walk into schools and start shooting, these people are obviously unbalanced in some way. And there are crazy people everywhere. But this high speed chase phenomenon seems confined mainly to Southern California. I mean, when was the last time you heard of a chase through the streets of Chicago or Portland? Come to think of it, you’d probably have better luck in one of those other cities where the police aren’t so drilled and experienced in dealing with chases. Perhaps the smog causes an inordinately high number of bad acid trips out here.

Hey, it could happen.

I have a feeling the incessant media coverage has something to do with it. Typically, almost every local station will cut away from whatever they’re doing and follow the action, which often lasts for hours on end. As my father used to say, “monkey see, monkey do”. My favorite is KNBC, channel 4 in Los Angeles. Paul Moyer always lends insightful, seasoned commentary to the proceedings. Here’s a small sample:

“It appears he’s not stopping.”
“Eventually he’ll run out of gas.”
“Those are police cars behind him.”
“This is not the first chase on the L.A. freeway system.”

Nothing phases me anymore. Since I came back to Southern California in 1989, I’ve seen recession, fires, floods, earthquakes, and riots. High speed automobile chases across the freeway system are chump change. But I’ll bet it’s only a matter of time until someone gets the bright idea of driving a bus, 18 wheeler, or dump truck around like a maniac. And then some bloated assemblyman or congressman will use the situation for some political mileage, probably introducing a bill to make film studios liable when they produce a movie with a car chase in it.

God forbid someone should actually take responsibility for their actions without having someone or something else to blame it on.


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