The other day while in the field with the lovely R. (not to be confused with the teenage R.), we started playing the game, “name three things you’d be willing to do with [name a coworker] that don’t involve drinking”. The point being that there are people in the world that are distinctly more pleasant to be around while medicated.

But it morphed into a rather fun game of identifying peoples’ quirks that wasn’t nearly as unkind as it sounds, and it distracted R. from how annoyed she gets when I use the navigator on my phone rather than rely on her. She always brings up the point that perhaps I should look at the fact that I get along best with electronic devices and don’t mind outsourcing one of her important roles to a gadget, right in front of her, for goddsakes, which gives me a chance to say, “well, if you would say things like, ‘prepare to turn right in point two miles,’ rather than ‘Oh, I think that was it’, maybe I’d turn off the phone.”

We were also distracting ourselves from the whole sad situation in Haiti, which, to tell the truth, I can hardly learn about because it is incomprehensibly grim. I try to imagine what it would be like to suddenly have your neighborhood be a pile of debris, with your loved ones under the pile, and can’t. I think about it for seconds at a time, my brain like a little kid playing hide and seek: hands over eyes, peeking through cracks in my fingers before quickly trying to shut it out again. I am not proud of that.

I do know that I can send $10 to the relief efforts simply by texting “Haiti” to the number 90999, and Huffington Post has put together a list of vetted places to donate. I can do that, at least.

But I can’t listen to the personal stories, or the pleas for help. I just can’t. I bet you can’t either. You sit, trapped in your vehicle, driving, hearing someone with a gorgeous lilting island accent begging for help, or sobbing. I turn the radio off.

I can listen to the engineers discuss the situation, though, because it’s more clinical and not so personal. But when they talk, it reminds me of how close to going off on a rant about landuse regulation I am at any given moment.

The rant, which some of you have heard before, is, in it’s abbreviated form, this: people in this country have become accustomed to the fact that we don’t normally suffer much from huge natural disasters. We have emergency planning, and rules, and the Uniform Building Code, and so on, so that even if we had a shallow 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shook for a minute, we wouldn’t have anywhere near that level of devastation.

But day after day, people kick and scream and get really nasty because they have to obey the zoning code, or pay for permit review. Grr, I could go on and on, and maybe another day I will, but I just wanted to connect the dots, which I know, has been the trendiest of actions these days, the government is all about wishing they could connect the dots, so here are some dots: Haiti has no building code at all. The country is among the most deforested countries in the world. The earthquake was way more devastating because of those factors.

So my wish for us is that we will be a little more thankful, and a little less nasty in the face of regulation. It’s a small price to pay to avoid the possibility of standing near a pile of rubble listening to the sounds of our buried children slowly expiring.


  1. Hey,the last line was brilliant! You are now my favorite living columnist... I do, however, still prefer dead ones because they never seem to point out my faults.


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