Rants & Essays

Ranting on Empty

By Mike Royko

When the fax arrived, I gave it my full attention. The angry words almost leaped off the paper. I received a copy, presumable so I could share in the outrage. The original was addressed to the Illinois State Police. It read:

"I am absolutely sickened and disgusted at the service you are providing to motorists who are stranded with disabled cars!!!

"Last Thursday evening, a friend of mine was driving my car and ran out of gas on I-88. She was stranded nearly an hour before a police officer offered assistance.

"He said he would radio for help, went away and 15 minutes later a man pulled up in a pickup truck with two or three gallons. He told my friend he is contracted through you to provide service. Not only did he want $38 for his services, but when she gave him $40, he couldn't make change and kept the extra $2!!!

"What kind of service are you providing??? I can understand charging $10, maybe $20. But $38?

"I expect a prompt response to this letter. I am also contacting my alderman and Mayor Daley's office to notify them of this inexcusable treatment of an Illinois motorist."

This was written by a young woman named Deborah. Deborah's friend, the stranded motorist, is a young woman named Lynn. Let's hear her version.

"I felt victimized - there could have been some loony out there. Anything could have happened. There wasn't much concern for my safety.

"And when the cop finally came, he didn't get out of his car. I had to walk over to his car. Isn't that wild?"

Now Lynn and her friend Deborah are demanding to know why Lynn was treated this way.

I think I can explain it.

The reason Lynn went through the unpleasant time is that she did something really dumb. The car she was driving had a device that told her when she was down to empty. So what did Lynn do? She just kept going.

But does she mumble in embarrassment, "Boy, am I dumb klutz, or what?" No, she engages in the great American past time of looking around for someone else to blame. She felt "victimized." Imagine, she runs out of gas and that makes her a victim. But isn't everybody these days?

The question is, who victimized her? Was it the state trooper? He's responsible for many miles of crowded highway. He's got drunks, speeders, tailgaters and maybe a few accidents.

He did not appear overwhelmed by Lynn's plight. He probably thought, HERE'S A BUBBLEHEAD WHO DOESN'T HAVE THE SENSE TO STOP AT A GAS STATION. AND SHE ACTS LIKE IT'S MY FAULT.

Then there is the guy driving the truck on the night shift. Is $38 an outrageous price? I don't know. How much would Lynn or Deborah charge if a stranger asked them to go out into the cold, fill a can with gas, drive several miles, pour the gas into a stranger's car, take some guff and then drive several miles back to the garage.

So I can't share the outrage of Lynn and her friend. When people do dumb things, they should suffer a bit of discomfort. If they didn't we'd have even more idiocy in the world, and we've surpassed our quota.