Four years ago tonight, my wife woke me and said, “Your car was just hit out in the street.”
Of all the ways my wife, or anyone else, has greeted me, this was among the least fun. “Oh, hello. And nice to see you, too. Got any other uplifting news?”
She was less than pleased. She’d just been awakened by a neighbor who’d heard the crash and texted her, so she was clearing her own cobwebs. She also knew that I’ve never been accused of acting “even-keeled” in the face of intense stress.
I’m guessing she was already trying to figure out how to keep me from going through the roof…
“Southern California drivers living up to their reputation,” I thought. “Same people who only use their turn signals to let you know they’re about to cut you off.”
I wasn’t done with my internal rant.
“Same people that drive fifty miles an hour in the fast lane on the freeway! Same people who wait until a sixteenth of a mile before their exit to make a 90 degree turn and cross all 6 interstate lanes perpendicular to traffic!”
Why do my internal rants include so much geometry?
Full of helpless rage, I grabbed a flashlight, went outside and verified that my car’s rear end, especially the left side, was crushed.
The other vehicle was nowhere to be seen.
Before anyone asks, my car was legally parked, wheels tight to the curb, in front of my house on Dale Street. That street is a former trolley route and about half-a-mile wide. The idea that someone would not have had space to get around the car is insane.
Felt more than a little disappointed while I called the police to make the report. Considered lots of thoughts about the driver of the other vehicle, none of them complimentary, while I sifted through the debris.
And then my flashlight beam caught a tiny little trench in the asphalt, starting about a foot to the left of my rear driver’s side door, that continued towards the front of my car. I’d walked this section of pavement hundreds of times in the years we’d lived here and never noticed this mark.
And the line continued forward past the front of my car. It looked like a vehicle had passed with a three-quarter inch-wide piece of metal barely digging into the road. Kind of thing you might get from a car that was just in an accident…
So I went back in the house and put on a couple layers plus my running shoes. Figured I might be walking for a while and might even have to give chase on foot. Probably should’ve occurred to me to bring a weapon. Whoever did this had already shown they weren’t big fans of taking responsibility for their actions…
I followed the trail around the corner to the right, where the trench then moved towards the curb. It looked like the driver tried to park the car until they realized it probably wasn’t a good idea to ditch the vehicle 17 feet from the accident.
At that point, I decided the driver must’ve been drunk or really, really dumb. Too dumb to have made it this far in life. I settled on drunk.
Followed the trail as it turned right again, this time on 29th Street, and weaved (yeah, the driver was definitely drunk) its way north for about a quarter of a mile.
And then a moment of panic when I lost the trail at the 4-way stop at 29th and Grape. Have you ever watched a hunting dog when they think there might be something to track? That desperate, manic, frenzied moment when they can’t turn a 360 fast enough in hopes of catching the scent?
The trail picked up in the middle of the intersection, where the vehicle had turned left and gone west towards Grape Street Dog Park. I felt glad to be back in business and breathed a big sigh of relief. It’s surreal to find yourself “relieved” to have a reason to stay out at eleven thirty-something on a worknight searching for a damaged vehicle that isn’t even yours.
And just forty feet later, on the right side, the trail led to one of those SUV pickup deals with a small bed in the back. It looked brand new. And really beautiful… except for the front on the passenger’s side. Mangled. Yeah, this was the right vehicle.
I looked around but no one else was in sight and I hadn’t seen or heard anyone on my route. So much for a face-to-face conversation.
Took pictures of the vehicle from a bunch of different angles and, while doing so, noticed something that broke my heart. A Semper Fi bumper sticker. I couldn’t help but guess the driver was a Marine. If so, part of me wondered, what happened to all that stuff about Honor?
I walked home and waited for an SDPD officer to come and take my statement. When he arrived, I told him what I’d found and he asked me to walk him through the whole thing. I told him the story as we walked the hit and run driver’s route from my house to Grape Street.
When we got to the vehicle, the officer offered a handshake and said, “Thanks for doing my job. I got it from here.” While we shook, he added, matter-of-factly, “Whoever did this will report the vehicle stolen, and there won’t be enough to prosecute. But you’ll get a police report and can contact their insurance company.”
I was impressed and saddened by how obvious this cynical future was to him. He didn’t seem especially jaded or dismissive. I had hoped he’d say we were on the path to some civic responsibility, a meeting of minds, a sharing of perspectives, and possibly the airing of grievances (“Festivus for the rest of us!”) in a public forum.
Not so much. Things happened EXACTLY the way the officer said they would. But after several weeks I got the police report with the name and details of the offending vehicle’s owner.
So I called the owner’s insurance company. I’m still assuming the owner was the driver. I even looked him up on LinkedIn (I wasn’t yet on FB) and found out where he worked. Thought about calling for a conversation. But decided that if he still hadn’t taken responsibility, there was little I was going to do, given my substantial conflict of interest, to change his outlook on society.
Anyway, I called his insurance company to report the accident. I went through all the initial steps of finding the right person to speak to, and when I was finally connected to that person thirty-seven minutes later, agreed to have my statement recorded for posterity.
I was three sentences into my statement when the rep got on the line and said, “I’m sorry, aren’t you calling to report you hit one of our insured?”
“No!” I barked, and felt panic rising before I took a deep breath and reset. “No. Absolutely no. Your guy crushed my car while it was legally parked and then drove away and ditched his ride about a quarter mile away.”
In the roughly five second pause that followed, I swear I heard the whole story “click” in the insurance rep’s mind. “Ohhhhhhhh,” she said. “This makes a lot more sense than what he told us.”
“Phew,” I said, as worry and defensiveness gave way to relief. I think I actually said, “Phew.” I’d never said that word before except as a joke.
Before I was done relating the details, the rep interrupted me and said, “Yeah, I can’t make any promises but I think this is going to work out well for you.” She was right. His insurance company made things right financially. Allowed me to buy another car without having to break the bank.
I thought about calling the other guy to gloat after I’d cashed the check. Was so caught up in feeling wronged that I wanted to use it as an excuse to discharge all those crappy feelings. To get back at him for not just taking responsibility in the first place.
Also known as revenge.
But then I remembered something, related to anger and revenge, that psychologists have learned. Revenge fantasies hurt the fantasizer more than the other person. Studies have shown that the more you think about getting revenge, “justified” or otherwise, the more the anger from that negative event will stay with you.
Think Inigo Montoya from the movie The Princess Bride.
Stewing about “getting even” or “settling scores” just makes angry people angrier and more miserable without providing any long-term benefit. Turns out that people who are good at distracting themselves away from thoughts of revenge after being offended are much less likely to remember the event in the first place. Further, if they do remember the event later, they’re much less likely to get stuck in useless distress.
So rather than focusing on vengeance, I reminded myself of that old adage, “The best revenge is living well.”
Now I just have to figure out how to live well…