Well, today is my last full day here in Cedar Park, right outside of Austin. Tomorrow I’ll be on a jet plane back to Las Vegas.
I am extremely fortunate in having a son who enjoys my company — and for so many weeks! This is truly my home away from home. I always look forward to visiting my Cuban family, as Rolando refers to my relatives who live here.
Although I’m a big fan of seeing places I’ve never been, and always saying yes to anyone who suggests another place to visit, it’s never
really about that for me when I come here. I love just being with my son and his family and doing “family things.”
One of the neat little things that they decided to do, and not for the first time, is to leave the Christmas decorations up until after I go
so I wouldn’t have to see the dismantling of the tree. No matter that it is now February, I still enjoy the evenings when it’s dark enough to plug in the Christmas tree lights. I think there’s only about two or three others in our neighborhood that prize keeping those lights on both in and outside their homes for as long as they can.
While the whole Christmas season is joyous and peaceful, unfortunately there are those who look at life from a very selfish “as long as I get to do what I want” kind of way, and in focusing only on themselves, end up causing not only misery to those around them, but being the cause of death.
Apparently there is a bicycle and scooter problem here in Austin, not only with some reckless use of riding bicycles in the car lanes and
causing traffic delays and aggravation, but the far greater problem of reckless, careless, and “I’m more important than you are” attitudes
housed in the bodies of those who rent scooters to get around in the Austin area.
The scooters are like small motorized bikes and the rage for them has grown up over this past year. City traffic has not caught up to them
and therefore there is no “bike or scooter lane” that would ostensibly create a safer traffic flow for both the automobiles and trucks and
such, and all those smaller, slower vehicles that are for rent all over town, offering an inexpensive and quick and easy way to get around.
Apparently, while they can be annoying to automobile drivers as they weave and bob in and out of the traffic, there were no fatalities
until just this month. And as devastatingly sad as the death of Mark Sands is, I can’t pause on the sorrow of the 21-year-old Irish lad’s
death without pointing to the cause.
Here is an excerpt about his death found on an Austin blog: According to reports in Irish media, Sands was a foreign exchange student
studying computer science. AGoFundMe page has been set up to help defray the young Irishman’s medical and funeral costs. “If you’ve ever been lucky enough to meet Mark you’ve surely noticed his constant smile,” a description on the funding campaign site reads. “He was one of the most charming and amusing people you will ever meet. Mark never met a stranger or someone he didn’t like. He had a passion for everyone he knew, and he always looked out for others. However, in this moment, he needs us to look out for him.”
I am going to take a moment to reiterate what the person said about him: “…and he always looked out for others.” I am happy that he will
be remembered by his friends in such glowing terms, but I sincerely hope the overwhelming lesson of his death will not be lost on those
friends. Here is how the accident happened as related further on in that blog: “The incident occurred on Friday, Feb. 1, just before 1 a.m. along the 500 block of North Interstate 35 service road going southbound at East 6th Street. According to police, a 2006 silver Volkswagen Jetta was traveling southbound in the right lane of the highway service road before changing lanes to enter the ramp of southbound I-35.
That’s when the driver, who was driving for Uber at the time, encountered the electric Lime scooter traveling the wrong way while
northbound in the southbound left lane of the I-35 service road, police said. (Emphasis mine.) This is the nature of the problem that Austin is encountering.
Inexpensive, easy-to-rent scooters available all around Austin to just about anyone. While the scooter “craze” is popping up hither and yon, it seems to have taken hold of Austin most particularly. What I’m hearing from some native Austin-Texas drivers is that there seems to be a sense of “I don’t really have to obey all those traffic laws because I’m on a scooter, not in a car,” and so many of those scooter-riders do not stop at lights, do not stay in one lane or signal lane changes, and even think it’s okay to drive against the traffic.
While it’s a wonderful thing to have friends (and even strangers) look out for you when you die from an accident in a foreign country, we
cannot overlook the cause of this accident and the grave lesson to be learned, which may well save many lives: There are rules to using a
scooter, and as we have all learned, sometimes the cost is very high if those rules are disregarded—whether because of some misguided
belief that those rules don’t apply to you, or because of your arrogance that you’ll just drive it your way and so what? Maybe you’ll get a ticket, but likely not. Just as the arrogance shows in teenagers in Las Vegas crossing the street while on their cell phones and putting their safety in the hands of the drivers who have the right of way, someday one of them will encounter a driver who couldn’t stop and everybody will focus on the poor dead teenager, while the innocent driver will have to live with the replay of that day for the rest of his life.
Paying attention is critical, whether you are walking, in a car, or on a scooter. And even more important is to not think you are above the
law and act like both the laws and common sense are not for you.
Death is permanent in this life (so to speak), but fortunately, if you are reading this, there’s still hope that you can learn to not think
you are more important than those around you. You aren’t.
Maybe by the time I come for my next Christmas visit, Austin will have done something to solve the craziness of its freelance scooter situation, which is—just like my father always used to say — an accident looking for a place to happen.
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at email@example.com.