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Austin Actors
Brad Koester

Defensive Driving
by Brad Koester

May 2001

Sometimes in this city we hear the phrase, "those darned Californians." Of course we hear that phrase spoken in several varieties ranging from the purely cordial to the downright nasty. In the show biz industry, it almost goes without saying that the real stuff is happening in LA or New York—that is if you ever want to make money in this business (so goes the myth some say).

Hi-Tech moved into Austin along with Hollywood entertainment, and then the city embarked on a metamorphosis that is ongoing still. You've seen it: the filming of Miss Congeniality and Spy Kids drew crowds, and tied up streets. New high-tech firms moved into the city at discounted rates. Film crews and produciton companies were extended the red carpet, and given extra special treatment. What else can you do with an old airport? Suddenly everyone you bump into is working with silicon wafers in clean rooms-- or they're working for Dell. It was like someone turned on the faucet full-blast. In light of all of this, I say we gained some things we did not expect from this rapid change within our city. If there is ever anything good to come out of the California rush over Austin, it is the fact that Californians have single-handedly taught us better defensive driving.

Yes, defensive driving.

Okay, before I get any further I will tell you right off the bat that I am not one of those Austinites who can say something like, "I remember a day when Mopac was just a worn footpath." I'm not originally from Austin either, but Minnesota is a far different experience compared to California. The rush of Minnesotans into Austin can hardly be that hard on a city like ours. What's the worst that could have happened as a result of a Minnesota-rush (like the moving of 3M's employees to Austin several years back)? Maybe the worst thing to happen because of the 3M deal is that Austinites now say the words, "golly," "gee whiz," "that's spfiffy," and "where's the coaster?" a little more often, and tend to invite more people out for fish dinners. That's not too bad. I can live with that stereotype of my own heritage. Anyway, we're slightly off the topic, so let's go back there.

Back to the defensive driving.

Now I'm not necessarily implying that they've forced us to drive more defensively when they're on the roads making the ol' cell-phone mad-dashes (but I'm not averse to the possibility); The real implication is a good one-- that we've adopted their own defensive driving tactics, and have learned from what they already know about crowded freeways. We've upped our safety levels (or at least tried—I don't claim to know any stats) because we had no choice but to deal with it. So in a sense they brought a problem with them that was somewhat self-correcting.

The changes also extend to our whole scene here in Austin. We'll see how it goes. We won't get the old 6th Street back, or recover the famous venues that have gone away. That's the bummer. When you think of it, though, was it ever abnormal for one generation to be succeeded by another one? It goes back through history. Times change.

This actually is going somewhere. I promise.

One day I was cruising down Mopac, and this torpedo of some kind whizzed past my car. After the initial shock wore off, and after I had a chance to regain equilibrium and change my underwear, I noticed that the Close Encounter that just took place was just some guy in a fast car with California license plates. (hence, the basis for this huge generalization I'm about to make, and for which I'll be hated) What impressed me most is not that the near death experience shocked the hell out of me, but that the driver did not cause harm to anyone, and that the paint job was intact, and no fenders ever touched. Soon I got to the point where I now know when to be really defensive. It's if I see one of those cars coming toward me. Then I get real defensive.

I have a rating system. If a fast car goes by (and this mean you too, Dallas and Houston drivers), and if I chuckle as it goes by, it means the guy was just slightly dangerous, but just more funny than anything. If he has a big car, but a weird way about him, and doesn't cause much harm, he gets the chuckle. That's the chuckle rating. The chuckle is a low-to-moderate danger indicator. You may wonder what the high danger rating indicator is. Believe it or not, it's not the old middle finger. That's somewhere in between moderate to high danger, but rarely comes out. (For some reason I cannot bring myself to flip the bird unless someone really really pisses me off on the road. Then they get it. Otherwise I chalk it all up to humans in a chaotic environment.) The high-danger indicator is a physiological reaction that is as quick as my reflexes. It is represented by my heart bursting through my chest like that guy in "Alien," or that guy's head combusting in "Scanners." Back to the topic at hand...

Okay, so I know that it's not just the Californians. Perhaps I poke innocent fun at them. They can take it. They always throw in their jokes about Texans and Minnesotans once and a while. The kick I get out of talking about them this way is that I have friends from there, and have friends who have moved there. Plus, during my school years I went there plenty. So it always amuses me to poke fun about something that I'm a little (but not too) familiar with, but only in the sense that I still don't know what it is really like to live there full-time. People tell me about it, but I still don't know what it's really like. All I know is that I like most of the people I know from there, but it is necessary to make jokes once and a while. Believe me, I get plenty of Minnesota jokes coming from all sides. I need to redirect that somewhere—so why not target the Californians. So, back to the defensive driving . . .

Another city.

While in New York City a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised at the threshold the people in the city have for precision under highly varying circumstances. I'm talking about the way a cab driver would be pulling moves that you thought were deadly, but somehow he got you there in one piece without a scratch on his car. Then in LA or San Francisco the entire freeway is going 85, but since they're doing it in unison, they don't pose a threat to public safety. That's the precision under pressure that I'm talking about. Austin is going that route in a big hurry.

It will be interesting to see how the city handles its changing demands. Whether we like the change or not (I honestly don't know which camp I truly fall under), one thing is for sure: The defining moments for Austin will be when the city comes up with really creative solutions to the problems associated with growth and expansion. We're learning how to adapt our strategies of dealing with crowding conditions. It's kinda cool seeing it all playing itself out in front of our eyes. We're witnessing one of the biggest transformational periods in Austin history.

So I cannot say that I recall when Mopac was just a worn footpath, but I can say that I know the amount of difference eight years makes. I moved here in 1993 for more school, and that was back when Mopac was, say, a small highway with no really cool new elevated highways built with externally post-tensioned and expoxied concrete segmental box girders-- towering three stories above Target. That I can say without much hesitation.

Really, we've all been faced with the pitfalls due to the growth of this city, and many of us are part of the source of the problem. Big deal. So we overpopulated the city just by coming here. The city of Austin invited a shitload of people here, so it bears the burden of responsibility for the consequences. They invited graduate students, techies and show biz types into the city to stimulate business, and they did it big. Austin invited something that would cause known problems, but many of which were simply just due to human nature and chaos theory, and not any one person's fault. The traffic problem is just that. Nobody means to make the highway a congested place. It just happens on its own because a lot of people want to be in Austin.

Californians taught us good defensive driving. Not only do I feel better about driving in Austin now, I can take those newly-honed self-preservation skills with me on trips. If I ever go to some big city with a lot of people, I can move about in it without getting too freaked out about the cars and pedestrians. The cab driver that nearly killed me in NY was incredibly skillful. We should be so gifted.

The California thing in Austin is not that bad. We now have portable skills acquired from the benefits of this mass migration from the West to East. That's cool. We also reaped benefits from the migration of folks into Austin from the northern and eastern states as well. On top of all of that, we have grown tremendously in culture and sprit due to the migration of people from all around the world. This is the icing on the cake. Austin is now a "world-destination." Well, at least the airline magazines say so. Austin is such an amazing mix of people, and I love it. The world has also reaped the benefits of having true Austinites move into their cities. We're just swapping people all around.

You know, this is not all that bad. We're simply redistributing people around the world, and many of them choose to be a part of Austin. Now we're dealing with the fact that a lot of people like to be in Austin. That's an easy problem to deal with compared to the case of a city being labeled the pit of death. We're far from that. We're very much alive with people who have ideas and things to contribute to one another.

That's encouraging. It just means to me that the many solutions to the problems of this city (and our industry) will eventually be in the hands of a greater number of people. It will be fun watching that whole process unfold.

Creative people are driving this city forward. I cannot wait to see what happens next. All I know is that I will make sure I wear my seatbelt, and look both ways before I do anything on the road.


What has all this got to do with acting? Not much. I threw in the show biz references so that I could avoid having someone tell me, "hey, what has this got to do with Austin Actors?" The truth is that it has nothing to do with anything. If you want to write for Austin Actors, throw it out there. It need not be about acting. It doesn't need to be anything in particular. It just needs to be from you. We don't censor anything, and we post pretty much everything that comes to us. Who are we to judge? Send it in.

This serves as my shameless plug to ask people to write for Austin Actors if they feel so inspired. Many people feel certain ways about the business, and many more refuse to share their views publicly. That's cool. Writing doesn't necessarily need to hit on the topics of our business. Do your own thing. That's my motto for posting stuff -- do your own thing. We have no format. We have no strict rules other than (a) don't just go and bash someone publicly, and (b) don't attempt to get too commercial. Those are pretty cool rules. There isn't much in the way of rules.

Thanks for reading all of this if you got this far without clicking to go to some other page. I appreciate that.

Take care,
-Brad

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