Amber Alert Abuse

I missed a week. Oh, well. Life happens. Can’t make it two misses in a row or else I’ll be missing a whole lot more.  Time to get back on that whore.

Wait, it’s horse? Really? Well that just doesn’t sound nearly as… alright, fine.

But nothing like a little vitriol to get me back in the game. And boy, there’s a guy I’m really pissed at these days.

At least I assume it’s just one guy. In truth it’s probably a committee or some other buck-passing groupthink anomaly. But I like to think of it as one guy, sitting behind a Wizard-of-Oz curtain inside the deep reaches of the Department of Transportation Safety or the Highway Patrol, feverishly rubbing his hands, plotting the next move in his Faustian gambit for bureaucracy domination, right before his SEIU-mandated 64-minute lunch break

It is Faustian, right? Maybe Machiavellian is what I meant. Pavlovian? Lovecraftian? Whatever, the dude’s a dick.

In California we have signs on the side of the freeway that are ostensibly used for Amber Alert. Most of the time they are blank, but when a child is abducted, the name and description of the child and/or abductor and/or car immediately go up around the state. Makes sense, especially when the license plate of the car is given. A hell of a lot less intrusive than the time every electronic device in the house went off at 3:00 in the morning for an Amber Alert.  That only happened once. I think I wasn’t the only one to complain about it.

There are a few other times the Amber Alert signs spring to life that I don’t have a problem with. If there is an accident ahead or some other hazard that I should be on the lookout for, it’s nice to know ahead of time.  In some of the more congested areas of the state, they can be used to tell you what traffic is like on alternate routes. And if there are no alternate routes, well then at least they can tell you just how fucked your commute is going to be.

Then Baron von Lunch Break gets involved.

“Gosh,” he says to himself, “there haven’t been nearly enough child abductions lately. What good is my job if I can’t call mommy and ask if she saw my message on her way to bingo?”

So he busts out his old VHS copy of L.A. Story, because BetaMax is SO last century, and is inspired by the traffic sign that saves Steve Martin’s life. Maybe he can use his power for good and save people’s lives. Or at the very least he can touch Sarah Jessica Parker’s boob.

The first non-emergency messages I remember seeing on the Amber Alert signs were about drinking and driving. Things like “Don’t drink and drive” or “Report drunk drivers” or “Buzzed driving is drunk driving.” And even if, legally speaking, that last one might not be accurate, who can really fault the guy for trying to cut down on the DUI problem?

Just not after noon on a Friday because, you know, that’s effectively the weekend.

Evidently he got an extra special “good job” stamp in his personnel file at his annual review. I doubt he was actually commended for his abuse of the Amber Alert system. Instead, I assume he brought it up and his political appointee boss waved her hand and said, “yeah, yeah, that sounds great,” before signing off on his 2.375% Cost of Living Adjustment, about which he enjoys dropping the COLA acronym into casual conversation as if he’s on the inside of some secret club that you just can’t be a part of.

But something must have happened, because over the past year, he’s gone into overdrive. Now scarcely a week goes by without a pithy new warning or admonishment emanating from the electronic billboards.

“It’s safe teen driving week.”

“Watch out for motorcyclists.”

“One text or call could wreck it all.”

Of course, the irony of all three of those statements is that they are berating us for not paying attention while we drive. And what better way to make people be aware of how important it is to keep their eyes on the road than by distracting them with a flashing electronic sign off to the side? Particularly a sign that we’ve been indoctrinated to check for missing children. Because distracted driving while checking your phone is bad, but distracted driving to read some Cubicle Casanova justifying his job in light of cutbacks is perfectly acceptable.

Last week, he topped himself.

The Central Valley of California gets some pretty dense fog. It’s called Tule fog for some reason that I could probably google.  I grew up in Southern California, and what I called fog in my youth would be mocked and bullied by this Tule shit. Even San Francisco, which is world famous for fog, is scoffed at by the Central Valley. San Francisco fog still billows and has the fluffy white appearance of a high school drama department’s fog machine.

The Central Valley fog, on the other hand, just sits. It’s as heavy as an above-ground bog. It clings to the ground like napalm. Dare I go for the simile threesome? It’s as thick as… as… fog! Nailed it! Boo-yah!

Over the past couple weeks, that Tule fog has hit the region with a vengeance.  I’ve heard it referenced as quarter-mile visibility, but even that is stretching the word visible rather thin. What visibility usually means is that you can see the faint glimmer of the taillights of the car in front of you, and you hope that they can see the taillights of the car in front of them. If you lose sight of that, you’re in an ethereal, suffocating, moonlike landscape. Seriously, go do a google image search for Tule fog. It’s otherworldly.

So here I was, hands locked in a death-grip upon the steering wheel at the proper ten-and-two positions, leaning forward as if that might help, when out of the corner of my eye, I see it. A faint auburn glow coming through the fog a half-mile ahead. Oh shit, the Amber Alert sign is on. It looks like multiple lines of text. I don’t know how much good I’ll do in find a late-model white Celica in these conditions, but I’m trying to be a good citizen.

So I take my eyes off the ten yards of visibility to look toward the sign. Still just the faint indication of light. Back to the road, some taillights, then back up. Definitely some words there, but way too blurry to read. Three more cycles and the blurs finally coalesce into words. There are three of them, one per line.




Wow, really? Thanks for that. I’m sure we wouldn’t have been able to figure that out without the sign telling us. What better use of my tax dollars than to take my eyes off of the extremely dangerous driving conditions to tell me that the driving conditions are, indeed, dangerous.

Oh, and ignore the crashing metal and glass sounds underneath said sign. I’m sure those are just coincidental.


Your fiend in the Dept of Transportation has relo’s in Tasmania. We now have such socially helpful signs flooding our roadsides. Too many to relate, but to save our taxpaying dollars, temporary solar powered flashing signs festoon sites of anything felt to be noteworthy.
Using contracted electronic bill board signs from an hire company, we can slow down and read about something we don’t give a toss about.
Safe to say, his mate/cousin/father in law/brother, who runs the hire company is ecstatic.

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