Alone in the car headed across town to pick up my teenage son, I’m first to an intersection as the light is turning yellow. I mash the brake and stop. The person behind tries to pull beside me to my left to be at the front next to me, but misjudges and brushes up against my left rear bumper with the right side of her car. She quits and immediately starts backing up, to extricate herself from my quarter panel, I’m guessing. I’m wondering where to pull off and exchange information when I notice she’s still backing up into the right turn lane. I make a U-turn and start to pull behind her, but she’s already turning right and taking off.
I wish I had my father’s brain at a time like this. He could have weighed all the risk, cost, and benefit of a pursuit in the time it takes for me to see red. He would probably have guessed her route, doubled back and caught her on the other side of the neighborhood. But I need time to process.
I decide to think while chasing her. She’s driving pretty fast. Naturally, so am I. I’m hoping she gets stuck at another red light. I want to read her license plate. But there is no opportunity. She turns right again, races by two lanes of traffic, dust rolling up behind her silver Monte Carlo from where she’s using the median as a passing lane.
Dad was pretty proud of his defensive driving. He probably would have noticed an approaching vehicle in the rear view, judged the error, and pulled ahead a little bit. He had the seemingly prophetic ability to anticipate other people’s driving divergences and blunders. He would have been a fine ship’s captain.
I give little thought to the danger of my pursuit until I get back home and tell my wife what happened. And then I feel ashamed and anxious to have imperiled myself and others on the road. I feel stupid.
I never had an accident while driving with my father in the car, but I had dozens of them when by myself or with friends. Fender benders just came naturally to me. Parking lots proved to be my nemesis. One time I backed out of the garage with the driver’s door open! I could be an air head, a dreamer. And reckless. Dad owned motorcycles and, for some reason, allowed me to drive them. Once, while driving his motorcycle, I hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk (in front of my high school!). She did live. Clearly angels caught her. I was filled with shame for my reckless choice that had caused the collision. Yet my dad continued to believe I could and would do better.
Which is probably why I think of him after chasing a hit and run driver for a mile through the neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon. More than thirty years after my teenage driving days I’m still making some rash driving decisions.
Dad is gone now. An accident like this reminds me how much I miss him. I miss his reliability. I miss his steadfastness. I miss the way he could command a situation. I don’t have the same powers as him. But then again, over the years I’ve learned to take on some surprising difficulties. I’ve learned that I, too, can be reliable. Sometimes I can even be forgiving.
Which is pretty much what happens as the dust flies up behind the silver car. I slow down. I let her go. I believe I can do better.
And as I reflect on the situation over the next few days, I seem to open my heart to my dad a little more. In my mind, I’m a bit less hard on him. Dad, I know this won’t come as a surprise to you, but I’ll say it anyway: I might be learning what it means that a man has compassion on his son.
Today, I see the car parked at Tobacco World. It’s definitely the one. Fresh scrape marks crease the right rear fender. I think about going back so I can glimpse the tag. Justice tempts me. But I just keep driving and thinking.
I have a notion dad would probably have circled back, at least to have a chance to talk to her. He could talk to anyone. I can’t help wondering what he would have said. But as for me, I’ll keep the secret.
My wiper blades are singing to the intermittent drizzle and I check the rear view mirror as I hit the brakes and make the turn for home.