Sunday, January 10, 2010

Of Cat Food, Crashes, and Christmastime

A few days before Chirstmas I drove to Parkview Pet Supply to stock up on cat food. I chatted with Joe about Christmas plans, then decided to stop a couple of blocks away to check out the boots in Payless. Nothing tantalized me, so I returned to my car, which was parked on a side street just past the corner. Someone had parked a red Monte Carlo directly behind me, creating a very tight fit between it and the car in front of me. It was clear I'd need to to the back-up-slightly-turn-slightly-pull-forward-back-up-turn-slightly routine until I was clear.

As I was doing this, the driver of the Red Monto Carlo got inside the car and started the engine (the lights came on). I was one backup away from a free-and-clear pull out, and I didn't want the Monte Carlo to pull forward while I was pulling back. I watched the car closely as I slowly backed up, and then I pulled out.

Of course, what I should have been looking at then was traffic. I wasn't. So it was that I pulled out into an orange Honda Element passing by. I felt the impact, and saw the Element judder to the left before pulling forward and stopping. It all happened so fast, and all I could think was, "Oh no, no no. I'm so stupid."

I got out of my car, dreading everything I was about to do and see. My entire bumper had been ripped off and lay in the street amidst a small lake of little broken pieces of my car. The driver of the other car had stepped out, He was a small man, who despite obviously being good and grown had a childlike look to his features.

I'd met him before. I racked my brain trying to think where. He was gay, that much I knew.

"Didn't you see me? " he asked quietly.

"No," I said, dying inside a thousand times. "I really didn't. I'm so sorry. Let me get my information." I felt absolutely awful. His front passenger tire was torn open, and a long deep gash ran on the passenger side from the front to the back. It was a nice car. Argh. He assured me he was unhurt.

Back in my car, I opened my glove box, thankful that after a bad cop experience a fews years back I always keep my insurance card there.

It wasn't there. A copy of an old policy was there, but not the current insurance card.

I tore everything apart. Nope. Not there.

CRAP. When the cops arrived, I was going to be in deep doo. the last time this happened, I'd had my license confiscated. The old policy had my agent's name, so I called and got my current policy number and the claims phone number.

I went to the other car; the driver said he'd called the police, so we just needed to wait for a cruiser to arrive. I explained my dilemma with the insurance card, but assured him I was insured and that it would all be covered. I gave him my insurance info. He was having similar trouble locating his insurance, so we were in the same boat.

"You look familiar," I said.

"Yeah; you do too," he replied.

We brainstormed, but couldn't figure out where we'd met. His name was Eddie.

"Well, I hope it was under better circumstances; I'd hate to think our meetings are always so dire," I said.

We sat in our cars and waited. It was cold. the street was near an El stop, so periodically, groups of people would pass by and stare. Several made sure we were OK. That was nice.

After over a half hour the cops still hadn't arrived, so I decided screw it, I was going to clean things up. I got out of my car and dragged my bumper assembly to the curb. I then took my plastic snow shovel from the trunk and began to push the small bits of stuff to the side of the curb to keep them from ruining someone's tires. As I pushed the debris to the side with my pathetic shovel, I caught the eye of a passing woman.

"What you now see is the perfect metaphor for this entire year," I said.

A man stopped. He owned a body shop. He suggested he drive Eddie to the police station, I could follow, and we could file our report there. He could then take Eddie back and see that his tire was fixed so he could drive home. Since it had been at least an hour and it was getting colder, I agreed. We called the police (again), told them of our plans, and after getting my bumper into the trunk, drove to the station.

I entered the station first. I approached two police officers, man and woman, who sat behind a counter that ran the length of the room. It was topped with granite and came up to my chin. Now, there is something so pervasively hostile about Chicago police that one chooses one's words carefully, not to ingratiate (that's impossible), but to avoid drawing the sadistic abuse of power they seem to enjoy. Yes, there are many things you can say, but let me tell you now that walking up to a chin-high granite counter, placing your hands on it and saying, "Hey, this is just like German Expressionistic Theater!" is not your best choice.

The woman behind the desk glowered down at me. The desk ran the length of the room, which was very long and very high; it was relatively modern, cavernous, and pretty empty.

"What can I do for you." Deadpan.

OK. I should explain that when I'm wound up or nervous or have done something like hit someone else's car, I get this sort of compulsive smartass Tourette's. I can't shut myself up, and I listen in despair as my insane self spews forth one-liners.

"I'm the perpetrator. I hit his car," I said, pointing to Eddie as he came in with his Samaritan.

We stood before her (no kidding; stone counter top, at chin height), while she asked us details of the accident and filled out a report. Her entire demeanor suggested that she had about a million things she'd rather be doing than helping us. When we didn't understand the question, or when she was unintelligible, we contorted in agony while we asked her to clarify. These requests were met with a steady glare and a repeat through clenched teeth.

As we waited for our insurance companies to fax us our proofs of insurance, my nervous compulsion had me making small talk and wisecracks, in a suicidal determination to get this officer to relax. Eddie and I chatted a bit, and I kept apologizing profusely for hitting him.
We all started talking about movies. The officer was becoming clearly relaxed; she was smiling,
making conversation (I think I got her to crack with discussions about unemployment and how it affects everyone -- I suspect I hit a good nerve there.) She told us that she liked action movies (shocker). "I like that movie 'Twelve Rounds.'" Yeah. She was almost scarier when she was confiding.

A very cute young black man appeared behind the counter. i was surprised at first, because he was dressed in a hoodie, a knit cap, and baggy clothes. Then I saw the ID around his neck.

"Don't say it." I begged myself. "Pleasepleaseplease, keep your mouth SHUT."

Feeling the urge grow, I satisfied it by turning to Eddie after the man had moved away.

"He's a brother undercover."

After all the information was in, I turned to Eddie and apologized once more. And here is when I got my Christmas present. He said, "You know, it sounds crazy, but it's been such a hectic week of running around, getting things ready, all the holiday madness, that it was actually nice to be forced to take a break." And he hugged me.

(I should also mention that the car was his boyfriend's. The BF called me a week or so later to follow up on my insurance submittal. We had a nice conversation, and he was very nice about it all. He wants us all to go to dinner after things are settled, so that we can figure out how we all know one another. He would drive, since I don't have a street-legal car.)

People. Can be. Amazing.


SP said...

That story's not very Christmassy. Tiny Tim isn't even mentioned.

JC said...

I ran him over.

SP said...

You Scrooge!

JC said...

I like to think of myself as a time saver.