Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Accidents

Man: Did Hemingway ever talk to you?
God: Everybody talks to me… sooner or later.


Circa 1975 I was a security guard at Research-Cottrell working the night shifts at their headquarters in Bedminster, New Jersey. On a beautiful blue sky summer day I'd just gotten off the graveyard shift after celebrating the dawn. At that time I was auditing a class at Princeton Seminary which has one of the most extensive libraries in the world, so I would take out stacks of theology books and study them at place which must have been a Revolutionary War era mansion it seems. My first day, when I was transferred to this building from the manufacturing plant where I had been on guard duty, my heart leapt up at the new place and the verse came to mind, "My Father's house has many mansions."

Another favorite verse at that time was from Psalm 130, "My soul waits for Thee, more than the watchman for the morning." I enjoyed those nights, often singing, reading, praying and drinking a lot of coffee.

So I'd gotten off work this one morning, filled with emotional exuberance, singing worship songs and driving down Highway 202-206, not paying attention as much as I should have evidently because when I came round the bend in the road, the traffic there was stopped in its tracks. Bam!

I'd managed to slow the car but not in time. The front end crunched the rear of the poor fellow in front of me. Traffic was stopped so I got uot, even though we were in the fast lane. In checking the damage I noticed that the nose of my Pontiac had hit directly into the license plate in the center below the truck. These were the days when you filled your gas tank in the rear, the cap hidden by that plate.

As I walked to the driver's door, the windows were down. Four hippies were in the car looking at a man with short hair in a police uniform. A couple were talking fast. I reassured them that I was not a cop, but suggested we should call because there was some damage and it was my fault. "No, man, don't call the cops," they said.

I tried to explain that the gas tank end was bent and they would not be able to refill it. They assured me this was not a problem. No one had cell phones in those days, so when we parted company, it was as if it never happened and I often wonder how they fixed that bent gas tank end. The Pontiac did not even have a dent.

The collision reminded me of another incident in a rear-ended car a few years earlier. I was at Ohio U, my junior year, hanging out with Fred and some other acid heads. Fred was a poet from Chicago who wore a leather jacket that said U R 2 on the back. A girl at the apartments had her father's car for the weekend so we all decided to ride into town. We were very stoned. The apartments sat up on a hill and we had to go down the hill to get onto highway 50 into town. At the bottom of the hill we were stopped at a stop sign when suddenly, bam. We all looked at each other. "I think someone just hit us," one of us said. It was night.

We all got out and saw a car, headlights on bouncing sheen off the back of our Lincoln. A skinny black guy in a striped shirt was moving in a hyperanimated way, his head jerking up and down, checking out the scene, assessing the damage. We, too, were assessing the damage.

"Did you just hit us?" the girl said.

"Hey, man, I'm sorry. Don't call the cops."

"I don't think it's very serious," I said after trying to find the dent.

The others looked hard at the back of the car. It was very difficult to tell what the back of the car normally looked like, but at the time it seemed pretty normal.

"Please don't call the cops, please please please," the man pleaded.

We continued to study the back of the car as other cars drove by. The pleading went on and on and on. It was probably thirty second but seemed like four days. Eventually, we decided there was no damage to the car and the black kid immediately leapt into his own, backed up and then sped off.

I really never knew that girl whose car we were in, but I did hear later from Fred that her dad was more than a little peeved to discover she'd somehow gotten a dent in the rear of his car.

Other accidents are coming to mind, but that's enough for today. I think there are some lessons here.

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