This evening, as I was on my way to dinner, I noticed a particularly unpleasant and acrid smell as I pulled up to stop at a railroad crossing to wait for the Max train to make its way eastward. After noticing for a bit I realized that the car in front of me was seemingly on fire, with a bright yellow to yellow-orange glow coming from beneath the vehicle. This sight, naturally, drew my interest, and as I continued following up to Cornell and then turning westbound, I tried to notice a few details about the vehicle and driver, noting it to be a black or dark gray truck with a cab or large SUV with the back window being busted out and replaced by rather indifferently placed tape. Inside the front of the vehicle was a man and his dog, both of them with masks. While the vehicle was moving, it emitted a thick, dark cloud of foul-smelling smoke in all directions, and while it was stopped something brightly glowing and apparently on fire could be seen below the vehicle. When I made my turn to my destination, the car passed me, still belching smoke as the driver sped by. When I finished dinner and made my return home, I noticed a large amount of fire trucks driving in that same direction westbound in waves, indicating that there was some sort of massive and serious fire somewhere at least.
What are the obligations of people to inform others of what they should be aware of but seem not to be aware of? Quite obviously, a vehicle that is on fire should not be driven down the road, as difficult as it might be to find a safe place to store such a hazardous thing. I am no particular expert on cars or other mechanical objects, but it is obvious even to me that a vehicle that is emitting some sort of flames is clearly in a rather dire situation, a hazard to the beings inside the car and to those of us that happened to be around it. Knowing that my own alarm in such a situation would be considerable, I figured that the driver was in some sort of desperate situation, trying to get home in his stricken vehicle in the hope that nothing further disastrous would happen until then, and I did not wish to add to his burden by informing him that the fact that something was very wrong with his vehicle was sufficiently obvious even to someone as unskilled in automotive matters as I am.
I do not know where the man with the car on fire was coming from or where he was going, but he was certainly making his way in a conspicuous and very hazardous fashion. Presumably he was aware that something was seriously wrong even if he was not mechanically inclined enough to know what precisely was the matter with his vehicle. If one is feeling particularly symbolic, and from time to time I feel this way myself, one could compare such a vehicle in flames to the general state of our society (and not only the United States but that of the entire world), where it is obvious that something is direly wrong with the vehicle of state and that the drivers of said vehicle should be aware of the hazards to themselves and others that they are undertaking but seem blisssfully unaware of as they maneuver around. What is the obligation that we have to tell people who do not seem to be interested in hearing what we have to say information that is both unpleasant and awkward to say. “Excuse me, sir, but your car seems to be emitting smoke and flames,” is perhaps not the most elegant of conversation starters with a perfect stranger one is sharing the roads with.
As a human being of considerable awkwardness myself, I have long noted and lamented that while I have a strong aversion to engaging in awkward and unpleasant conversations with other people that I live a life where awkwardness and unpleasantness is everywhere to be found. Few people are less well suited temperamentally for the times and situations they find themselves in than I am when it comes to communicating things to others in a manner that they would be able to recognize the seriousness of. From my earliest youth I have been a person whose mild expression of issues of concern and problem have belied the panic within, and I have simply not been able to convey just how unpleasant and serious things are in a way that other people will recognize. The wide gulf between the seriousness I feel things and the mildness I express things has long been a problem, and is even a problem when one looks forward to how one would convey to a driver that his efforts to make it home inconspicuously are not going particularly well. How often are such incidents to be repeated, I wonder.