Aug 14 2012
First things, first. I’m not what you’d call a bleeding heart. I eat meat—though a lot less than I used to—and since I once worked in a cattle auction barn I understand where it comes from. I’m also a lapsed hunter. Plus I ride the mean streets on my bike most days, which can be a pretty Grand Guignol experience in its own right. So I’m no stranger to killing. Killing for food. Killing for sport. And the incidental, “accidental” killing that’s the hallmark of any transport system based almost entirely on the private automobile. But I’m not often privileged to see killing done in cold blood, killing done deliberately, maliciously, and with no other purpose than to eliminate something that just happens to be in the killer’s way, by whatever means lies most readily to hand.
Last week was the exception. Here’s the story: A town road runs past my office window. It was once a quiet byway, but in the last few years it’s become what the Brits call a “rat run,” a shortcut for impatient motorists who want to avoid a few seconds’ delay at the stop sign where the two state highways meet. And more recently, it’s also become a gathering place for a motley contingent of pigeons. Now as it happens, I’m not a pigeon fancier. But the pigeons were displaced by construction work nearby. They had to go somewhere, and they ended up hanging out in a bit of open land opposite my window. They scrat for grit in the road, too—and thanks to the town’s overgenerous application of sand throughout our largely snowless winter, there’s still plenty of that to be had.
The upshot? Sometimes motorists making the rat run have to brake in order to avoid striking a pigeon who’s in no hurry to move out of the way. And wonder of wonders, they almost always do. But last week one driver didn’t. In fact, when she found a pigeon scratting on the shoulder of the road ahead of her, she accelerated and jerked the wheel to make sure she stayed on target.
And she hit what she was aiming for, too. So there’s one less pigeon in the world to inconvenience motorists. The bird wasn’t killed outright, I’m sorry to say, but that didn’t seem to bother the driver, whose satisfied smirk was evident even at a distance of 30 yards.
My conclusion? Some motorists—a very small proportion, no doubt, but there are a lot of us around, so the total must run into the tens of thousands—are quite happy to use their cars to eliminate sentient obstacles in the road ahead of them. In other words, they’re convinced that a driver’s license is indeed a license to kill. Last week the obstacle in the road was a pigeon, but what about next week? Then it could be a cyclist. Me, for example. Or you. Or a five-year-old on a tricycle. Would the fact that her target now happened to be human make any difference to the smirking killer I glimpsed from my office window? What if she felt sure no one was around to hear the thud as her car struck flesh? Would it matter to her that the flesh was human flesh? I wonder.
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