Blame someone else -- it's the American way

MIKE ROYKO

December 23, 1992|By MIKE ROYKO

There is something about a fax that conveys urgency. So when the fax arrived at my desk, I gave it my immediate attention.

Boy, the words were so angry, they almost leaped off the fax paper.

To my relief, the anger wasn't directed at me. I was the recipient of a copy, presumably so I could share in the outrage.

The original fax was addressed to the Illinois State Police office in Oak Brook. It said:

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

"To charge $38 for delivering two gallons of gas to someone is clearly outrageous.

"Last Thursday evening, a friend of mine was driving my car and ran out of gas on I-88 approaching Oak Brook. She was stranded nearly an hour before even one police officer approached her to offer assistance.

"He went away, said he would radio for help, and 15 minutes later a man named Cory 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 the hell kind of service are you providing??? I can understand charging $10, $15, maybe $20. But $38?

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

This was written by a young woman named Deborah, who lives on the Near North Side.

Her friend, the stranded motorist, is a young woman named Lynn, who lives in Lincoln Park.

This story interests me because, while it is not a major event, it tells us something significant about our society.

But before we get to that, we should hear Lynn's version:

"You see, other cars that I've driven, when they said empty you knew you had still three to five miles left. But this car, well, when dTC it said empty, it meant empty. I didn't know that."

Lynn said several people stopped and asked what her problem was but only one seemed friendly and eager to help.

"I really felt victimized. There could have been some loony out there. Anything could have happened. There wasn't much concern for me or my safety. Nobody even asked my name.

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

"Then, after he left, some kind of state truck stopped, and I said: 'Well, did you bring me my gas?' And he said: 'No, I'll radio it in.' Obviously, no one was communicating."

Finally, the truck with the $38 fee showed up and Lynn was again on her way.

Now she and her friend Deborah are firing off letters to various public officials demanding to know why Lynn was treated this way.

I don't know what these officials will say, but I think I can explain it.

The reason Lynn went through that unpleasant hour and a half on the shoulder of a toll road is that Lynn did something really dumb.

Yes, that seems to be the crux of the matter.

The car she was driving has a device that told her when she had a quarter of a tank, an eighth of a tank and when she was down to empty.

So what did Lynn do? She got to empty and just kept going.

But what does she say? Does she hang her head in embarrassment and mumble, "Boy, am I a dumb klutz, or what?"

No, she engages in the great American pastime of looking around for someone else to blame.

She says 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, lane-hoppers and maybe a few accidents.

He did not appear overwhelmed by Lynn's plight. Of course he wasn't. He probably thought: "With everything else I've got to do, 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, which isn't nearly as good a job as Lynn's. (She's in real estate.)

He tells her it's $38, which includes $3 or $4 worth of gas. Is that an outrageous price? I don't know. How much would Lynn or her friend 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?

Now they're firing off letters and faxes to the mayor of Chicago and their alderman, who have absolutely nothing to do with the toll roads. And even if they did, the mayor would be justified in responding:

"Lady, I'm trying to run a city of almost 3,000,000 people, many of them with real problems. But at least most of them have the sense to gas up the tank."

So I can't share the outrage of Lynn and her friend. It is only fitting that 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.

Lynn should look on the bright side. She could have been born in the days of covered wagons.

Try sending an angry fax to an Indian chief.

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