I'm using the poster from this 1997 David Cronenberg movie about people who get turned on by car crashes because I don't want to give that OTHER movie called Crash any more credit than it already got.
My two roommates and I share a single parking space in the carport beneath our apartment on a first-come, first-served basis, but I’ve long since given up on competing for it. It’s a narrow alley and a tight turn into a small spot, and The Mystery Wagon isn’t well suited to that sort of nimble maneuvering.* It is not a compact car, even if I pretend it is when I park at the mall. If The Mystery Wagon had an OKCupid profile, it would list itself as “Curvy.” (“Hobbies: Leaking engine fluids.”)
*I’ve already managed to scrape the shit out of both sides of the car trying to eyeball a perfect 90 degree turn between stuccoed apartment blocks in the middle of the night. I’m too cheap to spring for bodywork on a car this old, so I’m telling myself that it makes the car look battle tested and resilient, like Galactica in season 4.
The good news is that there’s plenty of curb parking along my street. The bad news is that my street is one of the biggest and busiest streets in the Valley, and my apartment is right at the point where it transforms from a three lane artery into a windy suburban road that snakes up into the Hollywood Hills. There’s no streetlights or sidewalks and lots of blind corners, which of course serves as an invitation for enlightened individuals to race up this street as fast as their soon-to-be-repossessed sports cars can go.
Tuesday night I was ass-deep in some True Detective when I heard a high performance engine roaring down out of the Hills, which is fairly common since 70% of the people who enter or leave the Hollywood Hills are assholes. What really caught my attention, though, was the sound of tires squealing followed by a dull crash.
All of these assholes are suspects.
The Mystery Wagon’s Blue Book value is remarkably low because the Kelly Blue Book people quite unfairly don’t include categories like “awesome memories” and “owner’s undying love” in their assessment. This makes my car is extremely easy to total. I stumbled into some pants and sprinted out the door, heart in my throat, praying that if indeed some drag racing jackass had destroyed my car that he would at least stick around for me to dress him down verbally for his reckless behavior, and then not beat me up after.
Running onto the dark street, I found a midsize sedan had, by the grace of Joe Biden’s smile, bashed into the rear of a Honda parked maybe 25 feet in front of The Mystery Wagon. Two neighbors were already there, one helping the driver out of the car while the other called AAA for her on his cell phone.
I took stock of the situation and leapt into action, leaving the business of making sure the car’s elderly driver was okay to my neighbors as I opened my flashlight app to examine my car, just to be sure. That was sort of a futile enterprise – my car has a fair amount of cosmetic damage that’s 100% my fault; it’s not like one additional scratch from somebody else was going to make a whole heap of difference.
The driver explained what had happened – she’d been on her way up the street when a sports car came barreling down the center of the road in the opposite direction, forcing her to choose between a head on collision with a moving car or rear ending a parked car. She made the right choice – she wasn’t injured and her airbag didn’t even deploy. The other driver was long gone, no doubt idling in a CVS parking lot and snorting some speed off a Lil’ Wayne CD he kept in the center console for that purpose.
Probably this one.
The woman’s car was blocking about half of the street, but it was also banged up badly enough in front that it couldn’t be moved, further narrowing my already narrow street. Meanwhile, the flow of douchebags into and out of the Hills continued – now they’d just zoom up the street, slam on the brakes at the sight of the accident caused by one of their own, and inch through the small opening between the crack and the curb before resuming their breakneck speed.
Sensing the potential for a second, followup accident, we agreed somebody ought to call the police to direct traffic. My two neighbors were both already using their phones – one on the line with AAA arranging a tow truck, the other helping the woman call her daughter to pick her up – which left me on cop duty.
In every situation I’ve been in where it’s been necessary to call for help, I always go through an intense internal debate about whether the situation in question is an honest-to-goodness emergency or not. I had it hammered into me from an early age that 911 is for emergencies only, and I couldn’t be sure if this situation, which involved no injuries, dead people, wildfires, earthquakes, or racially motivated riots, constituted an emergency by LA standards.
Playing it safe, I called the LAPD’s non-emergency number instead, where I received the following message:
“Thank you for calling the Los Angeles Police Department non-emergency number. All operators are currently busy. Please call again later, or if this is an emergency, hang up and dial 911. The following message is for the hearing impaired…”
The one-second pause that followed felt like an eternity to me as I eagerly tried to guess how a historically sensitive and politically correct organization like the LAPD would attempt to communicate with deaf people via phone. Then I got my answer:
“Hey,” one of my neighbors said as yet another Maserati squealed around the woman’s car in the road. “Any luck with the police?”
“Um.” I said. “No.”
"Deaf people, right?"
I hung up on R2D2, dialed 911, and explained what was happening to three different dispatchers. By the time I was done, not one but two tow trucks had pulled up, which was fortunate because the one thing this situation needed was more stationary vehicles blocking traffic. The tow truck driver from AAA took charge.
“Okay,” he said to me, my neighbors, the woman who’d crashed, her daughter, and the other tow truck driver. “Do we know whose car this is?” He pointed a stubby finger at the parked car she’d smashed into.
We shook our heads.
“Alright. Ma’am, what I’m going to have you do is write down your information and phone number and leave it under the car’s windshield.” He turned to me. “You live on this street?”
“Put your number on there too. That way the car’s owner can talk to somebody in the neighborhood who was around when it happened.”
Two minutes later, the woman handed me the scrap of paper where she’d written her name, number, insurance information and a brief apology to the Honda’s owner. In the small space left below her message, I drew a line and proceeded to write:
I’m Truman – I live at [address] and I was on the scene. [Phone number]
I almost instantly hated what I’d written – I was on the scene, like I’m fucking Jack Bauer or something. The owner of the car was going to come downstairs in the morning to find his vehicle trashed and a note pinned to the window from some old lady and Truman, his neighbor who was on the scene. This would not do.
I crossed out the words I was on the scene, but then realized that he’d still be able to read them when he found the note – now he’d just know that Truman was on the scene, but had then gotten self conscious about the phrasing and crossed it out, which was somehow even more embarrassing. Also, now I was out of space at the bottom of the page, so I had no room to write a replacement message.
As I confronted the very real possibility that I would have to ask this woman to re-write her information on a new piece of paper (“I’m sorry ma’am – even though I’m a professional writer, this one sentence proved too much for me.”) the car’s owner miraculously appeared at the end of the street, and he and the woman were able to exchange information in person.
Eventually, a tow truck loaded up the woman’s car and hauled it off, reopening my street to the flow of men with fast cars and tiny penises. The woman’s daughter drove her home, and the owner of the parked Honda shuffled back to his apartment to call his mechanic.
One and a half True Detective episodes later, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize.
“Hello, this is LAPD dispatcher five-five-two. You called to report a vehicle collision on your street?”
“Yeah,” I said. “But that’s over now. They towed the car away, like, over an hour ago.”
“So you don’t need police assistance?”
“Nah, I think we’re good at this point.”
“Thank you, sir.”
She hung up, and that was that.
Truman Capps’ car is currently parked in the exact space where the Honda got hit – because lightning never strikes twice… Right?