There's a news brief in today's Times-Dispatch which just reminded me of a simple fact of life: People are really, really stupid.
This wouldn't have made the paper except that the man involved was from Virginia (actually, since he was from the DC suburb, Vienna, he isn't really from Virginia). So, our suburban boy was driving through the metropolis of Ellendale, Delaware, when he got hit by a train. Fortunately (for him, if not for the gene pool), he survived and the train didn't derail.
This is how I know that the guy was being just plain stupid. I know the town of Ellendale. It is a tiny town in Sussex County, Delaware. The whole town has maybe 300 people. It is also as flat as a pancake and has no curves in the road. I also know where the train tracks are. They cross the main/only road at a perfect 90 degree angle. What I'm hitting at here, good people, is that you can see and hear the damn train coming. If you do not see or hear the train you do not belong behind the wheel of a car because you are either blind/deaf or drunk out of your mind.
Here's another thing: freight trains are not particularly fast, especially when they pass through towns. It would be one thing if he had been hit by the Silver Meteor, which rockets along at 100mph. But this was a freight train which was probably moving at 15-20 mph. So: he had to be really close to the train and still decided to go ahead and drive in front of it.
It is taking everything in my power to not be really judgmental and say that the guy was a typical DC suburbanite who felt all entitled, that he shouldn't be inconvenienced by the train, that he had the right of way, that the train should stop for him so he could get back to his Important Meeting.
Because I'm sure that's not what happened at all. I think the reality is just that he saw the thing coming, heard the whistle, and is so damned stupid that he drove right in front of the train anyway. See, that makes me sound better than if I were to condemn an entire regional culture.
What worries me about this kind of thing is that, if it happens enough, more and more ridiculous regulations will be put in place to keep people from getting hit by trains--as if it were the railroad's fault and not the idiots who drive in front of them. This is like the warning on coffee cups that says "Caution! Contents may be HOT." Well of course it is. It's coffee. Or the warnings that tell you not to stick your fingers into a spinning saw blade. You know, if people can't figure these things out for themselves, I really can't feel much sympathy for them.
I bet the next time we see this guy's name in the news, it'll be because he didn't stop when the draw of the Wilson Bridge opens. The Potomac River will probably be less forgiving than the Norfolk Southern Railroad.