END OF AN ERA DEPT, June 30 -
Today was the last day to legally use a cell phone while driving in California. An enduring image of Los Angeles highlife - driving while deal-making - has come to a quiet end. Starting tomorrow, a first offense will cost $20 and a second $50, although the addition of something called "penalty assessments" boost the fines to $76 and $190. I'm opting out of the Bluetooth option because I can't think of anything more monstrous than having a telephone installed in my frigging ear. This is it. I'm done.
Unlike lots of other nanny state proclamations popping up left and right in Schwartzeneggar / Bloomberg America, I support this law. It'll make my own life more tranquil. I don't have to worry about calling anybody anymore. My car can now join the ranks of "Excusing Myself To Go To The Bathroom At Parties" and "Standing Quietly In The Shower" as an oasis of solitude. The law says it'll still be legal to text message while driving, so I'm assuming it'll be ok for me to continue my other hobbies like cell phone photography and playing tetris.
And yet I am sad that I missed doing a few things when I still had the chance;
1) Talking on the phone while driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, the wind whipping through my awesome blond mane of hair.
2) Taunting cops as they try to shoot out my tires but just aren't fast enough, which I guess means I would have had to call 911 dispatch and convince them to put me through to the individual officers' cell phones.
3) Using my cell phone to save the life of an animal, child, or elderly person in the kind of crazy circumstances that'd get me on the local news. I guess technically this last one is still legal, but somehow it won't be the same.
Questions: Will it be legal to use my cell phone to call the cops to report another driver using a cell phone while driving? Will I be able to mock other drivers by only pretending to be on my cell phone? What if I just want to call someone in the back seat?
The cell phone ban comes at a weird juncture. Traffic has noticeably thinned since gas hit $4.50 a gallon. I haven't gotten angry at the sight of a Hummer in weeks because I haven't seen a Hummer in weeks. It's been months since I sat in a traffic jam. This afternoon the San Gabriel mountains were shockingly clear, every distant, stubbly tree and craggy gorge clearly outlined. This is something of a rarity this time of year. Generally the mountains wink out behind an opaque wall of haze for six months starting in March. It seems like there's less smog now. In some barely measurable way, life may have improved.
I used my final car call at dusk. It was one of those nice backlit Southern California sunsets, the palm trees rendered as swaying silhouettes, and I decided to ring up the Sherman Oaks casting agency that has so far netted me nones of jobs as an extra. The perky lady on their voicemail said they were looking for an African American of college age who "can do his hair in a big afro", and is "totally 80's". For a moment I thought about trying to Tootsie it, but I'm simply not that good. Click.