I haven’t had that many car accidents in my life. My first one was over 20 years ago when I was hit by a mail truck that failed to stop, or even slow down, at a stop sign. I wasn’t hurt but the inconvenience of dealing with insurance and body repair was a hassle. Well, at first it was. In the end I found a body shop that charged $300 less than what I got from the Post Office’s insurance company and came away with a little bonus money.
Fast forward 22 years and I’m dashing out of work, trying to beat the fall of an early winter’s night, to stop by the Lion’s Club Christmas tree lot. I took a quick right onto 2nd St. and made my way to the line of cars stopped for the light at Glebe Rd.
My multi- tasking self took over and I started in on some quick tidying in the car. There were a few scraps of paper in the cup holders, a wrapper or two on the floor and an empty water bottle rolling around in front of the passenger seat. My attention was focused on a few crumbs in the cup holder when I felt the bump of my car hitting the SUV ahead of me.
Crap. Apparently my foot slipped off the brake when my attention shifted to the pesky food bits in the front seat.
Shifting the gear into park I jumped out to inspect the damage. My speed at impact couldn’t have been more than 5 mph so I was expecting a quick look-see, an apology on my part and a no problem sort of response.
People. One thing I’ve learned in my dealings with people over the years is that you can never really know how one individual will react to any given situation. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the tirade the other driver launched into…but I was.
She was yelling and cursing before her window was all the way down. I started to apologize but quickly realized my words would not be heard, so, as painful as it was, I listened.
I listened to her tell me that she had just seen me driving like a maniac on base. I listened as she told me that she was a base police officer. That came out something like, “Yea! see that?!” as she pointed to the embroidered security patch on her sleeve, “Yeah, I’m a cop!” After that I listened to a whole bunch more anger and hostility until I finally grabbed an opportunity afforded by her own need to take a breath and asserted myself.
“Ma’am, I don’t work on base. In fact I work right over there at Thomas Jefferson Middle School.”
“No you don’t!” she shot back. “I saw you speeding all over the place all day today.”
“Uh, Ma’am. Really, I work right over there. In fact, I just pulled out of the parking lot at the school about a minute ago.”
“It called an accident for a reason,” I continued. “I did not leave work intending to run into your car. In fact, I left work intending to buy a Christmas tree. Now, if you want to get out and look at the damage I am happy to give you my insurance information, call the police or whatever else you think I should do.”
After a deep breath on her part we walked to the back of the car and looked at the bumper. Seeing that her frustration and anger had not really subsided I repeated myself.
“It was an accident, Ma’am.”
Finally, there was a glimmer of calm in her demeanor.
“I know,” she responded. “It’s just that you scared the hell out of me.”
“I’m sorry for that. It was an accident. Can I get my insurance information for you?”
In the end she was fine, or as fine as she was ever going to be. No insurance information was exchanged and we both drove on to whatever else we had planned for that day.
Yes, that was one way- not my favorite way- to handle an accident.
Last Friday night I had another run-in.
I was in my car trying to figure out where I was and where I needed to go to get to a party in Annapolis. The Save-A-Lot gas station was the first place I saw that would allow me to sit and talk with a friend who was trying to direct me to a place my GPS couldn’t find.
I was frustrated. I couldn’t find a street sign to help my get my bearings and I could barely hear Julie on the other end of the phone as she tried to direct me. Finding out that she got lost on the way didn’t help either.
And then I felt the bump.
“Crap. My car just got hit. I gotta go. I’ll call you back in a second.”
Yea, I was annoyed but not at the driver who hit me. I was annoyed at my own inability to find the house of someone I’ve known for 30 years.
I jumped out to see a young black man popping out of his car. “Oh, geez! I’m so sorry hon!”
A five second glance at my bumper showed no damage whatsoever.
“No worries. It’s fine.” I smiled.
I reached out my hand to shake his and then something odd happened. We hugged. I don’t know why but at the time it seemed the perfectly natural thing to do.
Within a minute I was back in my car with a smile on my face.
I told Moe about the accident the next day as we drove past the Sav-A-Lot gas station.
“You were there? Really, bad things happen there. Like somebody got stabbed there last week!”
“Not a big deal,” I said. “We hugged it out.”
I’m thinking that’s the best way to deal with an accident.