If I had been writing a story, I would have drawn your attention to the white car parked in the only entrance to the car sales lot, the very car sales lot that my daughter, when we were new to the area, would exclaim, “Look Mom, yellow!” Not just yellow, but a loud yellow with many bright pendants. I would’ve pointed out the car by way of foreshadowing. In real life we call this premonition. My premonition foreshadowed the next three hours of my life.
I can’t say what precisely was strange about the car or how it was parked inconveniently in a driveway on a busy intersection–you get used to poor choices in this town–but I noticed it as I approached and joined the line of cars waiting to turn right onto Northern Ave. Even so, I was momentarily confused when a heavy thunk caused my car to move a couple inches in the rear. Looking over my shoulder I saw at once that the white car had backed into mine, into the door where my daughter sat jabbering about her pink, fancy, imaginary world. In the time it took for me to park on the side of the street as best I could, I calmed down the mother bear in me, recalling as I did that no one was hurt, and that I was still in my uniform.
Here was a predicament! If you can, picture a town of 100,000 with a high rate of crime that touches every neighborhood; where six state prisons, a city police force, a couple of sheriffs’ departments, and state patrol hire a large portion of the population. It’s hard to find a family, except maybe for the doctors’, who don’t find themselves on one side of the law or the other. I don’t enjoy wearing my uniform to run errands, but living forty miles out on a ranch necessitates that I get my fuel, coffee, and occasionally my groceries in blue. Some days more than others I feel keenly the eyes upon me; to many that I pass I am an enemy, or at least not a friend.
So there I was, in uniform, approaching strangers who were likely to see me as a foe, and I had to confront them. I realized that I was scared, but I was angry too, and the two neutralized each other. I wasn’t sure what to do about addressing a personal situation, however, as a state employee.
Pen and paper in hand I started to ask for the driver’s information, but something about her attitude made me pause mid-sentence. “Are you insured?” I asked.
“No,” she huffed, like it was obvious, like I had just asked if it were raining on our beautiful sunny day.
My luck had run out. The last two people who hit me were very kind and quite insured. I was about to get an education. Uninsured, with some guy named Chris and an attitude to fill the block, she madly punched at her cell phone buttons and tossed her huge, blond crusted curls around. She left Chris and the car salesman to do the talking. The Irish in me flared, and I admit I didn’t think things through very clearly.
Chris made some prison comment that showed his familiarity with the system which I ignored, but made note of. Meanwhile the car salesman tried to distract me with idle chatter and finding common ground (I made a mental note to use the scenario as a lesson opener for everyday rhetoric).
“Where do you work?” he wanted to know. I told him while trying to listen in on the phone conversation. “So you know so-and-so,” he replied. I did unfortunately, so he went on about the guy. You might think 100,000 makes a large town or a small city–I did at one point–but this place functions like a town less than half its size. It all boils down to who you attended high school with, no joke. I asked a question to hide my annoyance at being drug into distracting conversation. “She’s a really nice person,” was the last thing he said, as if niceness would take the dent out of my car, and I nearly laughed at his logical fallacy. He had certainly found his calling at the obnoxiously yellow used car sales lot.
Then I allowed myself to drive to a shop down the road that the chica knew about which gave me time to use the remaining fuel in my car, quickly call my husband (who soundly set me straight), and call the police. Chica, or Antionette, thought she would tear me down with glares when she heard the police were coming. (Later, my funny, more educated co-workers cracked jokes about Antionette: “When you got out of the car, did you tell her that heads were going to roll? And who needs insurance, when you have cake?”)
Thirty minutes later, hanging out in our cars, my daughter clutching her pants, and us with no where to go, Antionette and her curls bounced over to my window. “How much longer is this going to take? I have things to do,” she demanded. “Yeah, that’s life,” I smirked, but because I too was anxious and holding up dinner, I called. All the cars were busy on a Friday evening.
The cop showed up moments after my husband. Antionette looked sharply at me as I added a baby carrier to my back seat passenger load. She seemed confused that my tone with my children sharply contrasted the tone I had been using with her. Confusion turned into disgust as she stomped away from the cop and she shot me another glare. Not only was she uninsured, she was driving without a license. The cop seemed sorry she couldn’t do more than issue a citation and then muttered, “O great,” as the chica’s friends rolled up in a car only gang-bangers can create, “What losers.” The cop knew them. Two images in the rear window indicated some affiliation, but I couldn’t remember anything about them. It was clear, however, these two didn’t run anyone’s show.
With Antionette fuming, Chris and friend tried to take care of the damages through the friend’s nameless body shop. My new education about the world warned me what the shop was really used for. Antionette repeated, “I don’t know about any of this,” if anyone tried to speak with her, finally declaring she would take care of it in court. My husband closed some of the distance between them to quietly explain that her court date had nothing to do with the damages. I grew concerned as his open carry glinted in the evening sun. Chris’s eyes flicked down to acknowledge it. My mind raced four miles Northwestward to my facility where I knew people who had committed acts of violence over less intimidation.
I hate discussing things without the facts. As my mind snapped back to the present setting I could see we were about to go in circles and my kids would soon go frantic for food, not to mention the bathroom, if we didn’t leave soon. “Look Antionette, I’m going to get a quote for the repairs and we’ll have a conversation then. That’s all, just a conversation,” I said. I turned to Chris, “Is that fair?” He agreed, so she let it be.
We let the cop see that Antionette got into someone’s passenger seat. I told my husband to meet me at the nearest gas station before my eyes melted in front of these people, before they realized my attitude was a mask for my fears, before they realized I was angry at myself for even caring about my car–my family was safe. We drove off into the sunset.
Three years ago in the same situation I’m not sure what I would have done, but I would have been intimidated, frightened of people I only knew from Hollywood and the 5 o’clock news. In the back of my head I would hear my dad warning me that things were not what they seemed, so don’t be stupid, but he wouldn’t spell it out any further. Although I couldn’t paint the entire picture, I understood far more of the situation that evening than I would’ve three years ago. It was useful information to have, I’ll allow that, but it revealed how differently I see the world now, I who used to protect my bubble from knowledge of worldly things. It reminded me how much I look forward to being a civilian again, not a public servant.