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1985 or so I’m in my third year of trying to sell my first novel, By the Hair of the Comet, to a publisher (while writing it), time running out to catch the natural interest in Halley’s comet. Floating around, living in my car, I’ve taken a room in Malvern PA to be near my son at his college. When the rent is due, when I’m hungry, I run out and sell a lithograph or two. The car isn’t currently registered, hasn’t been insured in years, but, a Doge K, also not paid for, is running fine. I like Pennsylvania. I like the narrow twisty roads. The K is no sports car (and I’m no sports car maniac), but it has front wheel drive, rack and pinion steering, and runs fairly tight for a heap.
I’m on a nice curve, woods smack to the shoulder, when it starts to rain. Everyone knows, or should know, that the most dangerous time for driving in rain is the first minutes. The water floats the oil which saturates any trafficked road to the road surface, and, for a few minutes there, till more water washes the oil to the shoulder, assuming the road has been properly crowned, cars go cartwheeling.
I know this. I’m only going perhaps twenty-five mph anyway. I slow a bit just the same and am holding my line just fine when into my vision spins a shinny new super-stock Trans-Am something or other: it’s spinning toward me front fender, then sideways, then rear fender. I’m ready to bail for the shoulder, but it’s solid trees, nowhere to bail. I’m half off the road, not another inch left, slowed to maybe five mph, and the guy hits me, hits me good, crushes the drivers side fender against the wheel, mashes up the drivers side door, and leaves a crease all the way to the trunk.
I stop. The guy regains control, stops, pulls off the road on his side the best he can, and comes running. “I’m so sorry,” he says. And gives me some common enough explanation: I was late for work, I was on the phone …
He’s civilly offering me his identity, his insurance information … and a cop arrives. A young cop.
The cop assumes that he’s taking charge. “Alright, both of you show me licenses, registration, proof of insurance … Of course there’s no way to tell whose fault it was, so I’m sure you both have no fault …”
“No, I hit him,” the guy says. “It started to rain, and I started to spin.”
See? Maybe there is a god! I get clobbered, and the cop is going to put me in jail, forever. So much for By the Hair of the Comet‘s essential messages to mankind for which I punish and enslave myself.
The cop gives the guy a dirty look, but stops asking me for my credentials: of which I have none: none current, none valid. I’m sure my drivers license is expired too.
I yank the fender away from the wheel. The car still drives. I get an estimate: $1,200. I call the guy. Within days, there’s a check in the mail from his insurance company!
Do I fix the car? Hell, no. $1,200 will keep me writing for months!
Besides, I think pk driving a wreck is entirely appropriate: so long as the works function. Now I have another outward emblem of my inner life.
The wreck of course gets me in trouble in the Black Eddy PA camp ground I go to later. The neighbors don’t know (and can’t be told) why I don’t fix it.
Meantime, you see my point? About cops? This cop wanted to enforce the no fault idea, may have been told to by his department, macroinformational hints anyway. Orders between the lines, turning a blind eye and an empty head toward the copious evidence: I was half off the road, clearly in an avoidance pattern. A quick glance at the skid marks would have shown the Trans-Am spinning, crossing the white line, careening toward where the K cowered, smashing the K.
Another cop incident from when I was rooming in Malvern is narrated among my personal stories: Not Too Shabby [to be resurrected].
@ K. 2005 10 06