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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thoughts on a high-coverage tragedy, and the choices we make

Today's post is off-topic with regards to reading, writing, and communication in general.

I was sad to hear on Saturday (Nov. 30) that actor Paul Walker, famous for his role in the Fast & Furious movie franchise, died in (perhaps not so ironically) a violent car crash. He and a friend, who was the driver, were speeding in a Porche Carrera down a street with a "reputation for fast drivers" before crashing the vehicle into a light post, splitting it in half and bursting into flames. Paul Walker and Roger Rodas were pronounced dead at the scene.

First of all, there were a number of people (on Facebook) who believed Roger Rodas was a forgotten victim and made sure his memory was not lost in the shadow of his friend. Rodas was a racing enthusiast who founded his own company, Always Evolving, in Los Angeles and ran his own professional racing team. He was also a generous man who started his own charity to help people in his native El Salvadore, before he teamed up with Walker to create Reach Out WorldWide. He made a difference in people's lives, so yes, he should be remembered.

Second, there is no question that both of these men knew the technical and mental merits of racing. Their bread and butter depended on that knowledge. I have no doubt in my mind that both driver and passenger engaged in the act of speeding willfully. Yes, it was a stupid thing to do - illegal and dangerous. It is not my place to condemn these men for a poor choice. We all make them. But it breaks my heart when people make poor choices with little regard for consequences. These men were professionals. They did not expect to lose control of the vehicle and crash. But they must have known the Porche's reputation of being difficult to handle. The temptation must have been too great. Just a little burn out won't hurt...We'll just see how fast it takes to get to sixty...This is a perfect straight shot.

A poor choice took these men's lives far too early. And I cry. I didn't know them, except "by association" with Walker for having seen the F&F movies. But I cry because it brings back memories of people I DID know who also made poor choices, and lost their lives in the process. I'm flooded with long forgotten pain.

I lost a friend and classmate shortly after graduating from high school. Lee was a quiet guy who loved big trucks, just like me. His yellow 80's Toyota pickup towered over most of the cars in the school parking lot. We hung out with the same crowd and enjoyed the "cruising scene" like most teenagers did back then. I grew up around big trucks, and there was a time when we could take the big trucks to the beach and park them on the sand. But by high school, that wasn't allowed anymore. One day, Lee, his brother, and their friends and girlfriends went to the beach. Lee took his truck onto the sand and, for whatever reason, decided to drive the truck up and down the beach. He had passengers with him. I wasn't there, but stories go he was doing brake stands and donuts when suddenly, the truck flipped over. The passengers survived, but Lee did not. Stupid choice, and all it takes is one. What killed me most was, knowing Lee, I never would have expected him to make that kind of choice.

David was 22 when he made a poor choice that took his life. I remember him as a kid hanging out at his grandparents' dealership. My husband (boyfriend at the time) taught him how to detail cars. He grew up around cars, Hondas especially. He also developed a taste for street bikes in high school. One day, David was pulling stunts on a busy street when he started speeding through an intersection and collided with another vehicle. He died at the scene. He left behind a son who, if I recall, hadn't reached a year old. A poor choice that robbed his life and the opportunity of a son to know his dad.

I didn't know this young man long enough to have his name burned into my memory, but I remember his enthusiasm for gaming and anime. I met him as a Gaming Sponsor for a local anime convention I helped with. Microsoft had just come out with the Xbox, and a young representative was happy to show a captive audience of anime otaku what it could do. This one, I want to call him "Tats" for some reason (but I don't think that was his name), always had a smile on his face and was so easy to work with. He and a colleague would always check in during the pre-event process to make sure all the "i"'s were dotted and "t"'s crossed. Whatever they could do to make it easy for the convention to accommodate them, they did. And "Tats" was my main contact. Always greeting on the phone or in person with a happy smile in his voice. One day, he never answered an email. I called and left a message. Finally, I contacted his colleague, and that was when I heard the news. He died in a single-car accident, he had been speeding down a busy road and lost control. A poor choice that could have killed someone in addition to himself. There were "circumstances" that I vaguely remember which contributed to the accident, but the point is he made a choice. And it killed him in his twenties.

Everyone makes poor choices, and we make them without thought to consequence. But we never ever make choices thinking that it will be our last, a choice that gets remembered as "One day...". (Unless you're purposely trying to kill yourself, but that would be a most poor choice.) I write this in hopes that whoever reads it will take more time to contemplate their choices, even if only for a second longer than usual. It may save you from embarrassment, it may save you from losing something important, it may save your life. Poor choices will still be made, but my hope is that you will live to learn from them.

After writing down these painful memories, I feel very tired. But I just felt the need to remember them and acknowledge that they had lived, like some people felt Rodas needed to be acknowledged and remembered.  These people were not famous, and many of you who read this will never know who they are. But I will remember. And therefore they live on.

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