Thursday, March 22, 2012

In which I run over the neighbors' mailbox and nobody holds me to account for it

I was 16 and I was up late doing something with my college application. It was warm enough that I could walk out of the house after dark in just my nightgown. It was dark and it was a very modest nightgown. Now, of course, people go to church in their pajama pants, but 32 years ago, it was considered tacky to wear nightclothes and visible undergarments in public.

I went out to put whatever it was in the mailbox and saw a car come careening down the street, over the curb, and on to our driveway, where it smashed into my dad's car on the passenger side, completely destroying the passenger door.

I stood absolutely still, shocked and stunned. Then I started screaming and ran inside to get my mom and dad out of bed. They had already fallen asleep, so it took a minute or two to explain that someone had just CRASHED INTO THE CAR!

My dad ran out. Nobody was hurt, but his car was in bad shape. The crashing car had already backed up and was on its way when my dad came out. He got in front of them and made them stop. The driver was a young man and the passenger was a kid of about 14.

The man claimed his foot had slipped and he'd hit the gas instead of the brake. We knew there had to be more to the story because we lived on a dead-end street that was only two blocks long. Our house was in the middle of the two blocks. How does someone get going that fast accidentally? Although you don't have to be going very fast at all to damage a car broadside.

I don't remember if my dad called the police. I say he should have. He suspected that it had actually been the kid driving. Which may be illegal. I don't know. It is definitely unwise. When my dad taught me to drive, a very stressful experience for the both of us, as I maintained that the lack of a traffic signal in my lane meant that even though the light was red in the other lane, I still had the right of way.

Thank goodness it was late at night and there was no other traffic. I'm surprised my dad didn't have a heart attack.

I maintained that only once, though.

I don't think the driver had insurance. I definitely would have called the cops with that. The few times I have bumped bumpers with someone, the first thing I have done is write down my insurance information for them. Each time, the person has told me he would rather just get cash from me, but I'm all, "No way jose. Just deal with USAA. That's why I have insurance." Funnily, they never do. Which makes me wonder who was at fault, really. I know that the few times someone has hit me, I have been all over it, wanting my money from their insurance company.

The one time the guy did take my insurance information and called the police, the insurance company AND THE POLICE HAHAHAHA! said that the accident was his fault, not mine, so pay up buddy.

I had to go to court to get my ticket waived. When the cops first showed up, they gave me the ticket, even though the guy had been turning right from my left side. I took photos of the accident - this is why you always have a camera on you - and of the area around the accident. I took the photos to court, along with matchbox cars to re-enact the accident, only to discover they already had little cars there.

"Nobody has ever brought her own cars before," they said.

I wore a suit. I was the best-dressed defendant in there. I say that if you want the court to rule in your favor, it might help just a little if you don't wear baggy sweatpants and dirty tennis shoes. But that's just me.

Anyhow, when the administrative judge looked at my photos and heard my explanation, she said, "You couldn't have caused that accident" and cancelled my ticket.

The insurance company said the same thing.

I hope they went back and gave a ticket to the guy who hit me and then lied to the police about it.

My friend Leigh, who is five feet tall and 90 pounds, was hit once when the other driver, a big lady, ran the light. Leigh got out and asked the big lady and the big lady's friend for their insurance.

They had none.

"That's illegal!" Leigh hissed. A witness came and pulled Leigh away from the big lady.

"Just sit here and wait for the police," the witness said. "Let them deal with it."

So the driver didn't have insurance and my dad ended up getting a new door at a junkyard and doing all the repairs and body work himself. When my mom and dad drove up to Austin to see me perform with the Rice Marching Owl Band at the Rice-UT football game (oh what a tradition that was - Rice vs UT for the annual humiliation), the new door was still yellow with filler in it, a lovely contrast to the green of the rest of the car.

Good thing my dad grew up working on cars and knew how to do these things. He sure wasn't getting any money from the driver.

I say all that as preface to the real story, which is what I did to a neighbor's property late one night. And then didn't have the guts even to apologize to them.

I was late to driving. My dad taught me some when I was 12, when we would drive around empty parking lots. But when it came time to really learn so I could get my license, I was slow. We moved from Panama back to the US when I was 16. In Panama, you had to be 17 to get a license, so I didn't even take driver's ed. They might not even have offered it at my high school in Panama. I never paid attention.

I took driver's ed at my high school in San Antonio and my mom and dad took me out to practice, but then I failed the test my first time. I refused to take it again right away. I didn't need to drive: I took the bus to school and my part-time job was at Woolco, which was walking distance from our house.

That spring, though, my mom insisted I get my license. I had secured a summer job teaching swimming on base and I would need to drive to get there. "I am not going to drive you to work every morning," she warned me.

So I practiced and I got my license, even though I was and still am a very bad parallel parker. It's not something you need to do much in Texas. There's enough parking there. And here, Primo does almost all the driving when we're together because he is a control freak who can't bear it if someone else is driving while he's in the car.

I was also, apparently, a bad backer upper.

One night, I backed into our neighbors' mailbox. I knocked it completely over. I didn't even see it. That's what happens when you don't look.

OK. That happens. That can be fixed.

But I didn't do the right thing.

I knocked it over and instead of leaving them a note or going to their house the next morning to tell them that I had knocked over their mailbox and I was sorry and I would arrange to have it fixed, I said nothing to them.

Nothing!

I wish I could write them a note of apology now, but they're dead.

It wasn't even like they were mean people and that they would have been nasty. They were a lovely elderly couple who were always nice to me. I didn't like being in their house so much because of the cigarette smoke, but they were nice.

I didn't tell them, but I told my dad.

He raised his eyebrow at me.

He should have told me to get my butt over there to apologize, and then come home and get ready to work.

I am now really curious about why he didn't do that. Maybe he thought that if he hadn't taught me the right thing to do by this age, it was too late.

A few hours later, I saw my dad across the street, digging a hole. He poured concrete down the hole and then stuck a 2 x 4 in it. Once the concrete had set, he attached the mailbox to the beam.

Nothing was going to knock that mailbox down. Perhaps my dad was thinking that he still had two other kids who would be driving and he might as well take care of the problem for once and for all.

He never said a word to me about it.