Like the Holiday Drunk-Driving Accident You Knew Was Coming

A few years ago my daughter and I were on our way back from LA to Denver, at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend. The Sunday morning news in Albuquerque ran a story on the drunk driving accident tally for the weekend, with a twist I hadn’t seen before.

They were focused on accidents from people driving the wrong way on the interstate. There are only two interstates in New Mexico, so you might think this should be a rare event. I was surprised that it seemed to be such a regular occurrence that it was meriting a focused New Mexico State Police patrol and a standard check-in story, sort of like the Black Friday shopping reports that were also part of the newscast. Although it ranks 9th in the country in terms of drunk driving accidents per capita (after Montana, the leader, most of the other leaders are Southern states) parts of New Mexico have a terrible drunk driving, apparently concentrated in the northern Mountains and around the Indian reservations. This particular weekend, there had been one accident and two deaths when a pickup had entered the eastbound lanes of I-40 near Gallup, heading west into the Navajo Nation. Somewhere west of the Lupton exit the pickup collided head-on with a semi and that was that. What stuck with me the rest of the day was how clearly predictable and expected this all was from the newscaster at the Albuquerque station. The tone was something like, “See, we knew this would happen,” but with no smugness. No surprise. Nor any outrage either.

I thought of this Saturday with the news of Amy Winehouse’s death, generally expected to be from one of the several substances she abused in her short life. This wasn’t unexpected — I continually rooted for her to make at least one more album, and not really believing we’d ever get that. How much I hoped for one. It’s been a long time since a singer came along who said so much, both with her clever lyrics and that voice that purred and growled a mile deep. And now it’s over, already. She joins the ranks of great pop artists who have died at age 27, going the way with Jimi, Janis, Kurt Cobin, and Mr. Mojo Rising.

What seemed different this time, and what was sad and sickening about it, was the predicted spectacle of it. Like the Thanksgiving weekend drunk-driving watch, this was a story we knew would happen; we were just waiting around carelessly for the details. Given that, at first it seems pathetic somehow that no one could change the outcome, or seemed to try. (Of course the addict’s decisions are ultimately theirs alone.) With reflection, though, what’s most awful about the story is how we all stayed close enough to the story because we wanted to see its sordid end. It’s not a story I wish had been given the Entertainment Tonight! treatment, or whatever those news-celeb shows are now. I wish I had just walked away a long time ago.

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