It is a perfect, early spring day, yet my spirits are flagging — the beauty of the day lost on me. Was this why people took spring tonics? My mother used to force some dreadful tarry viscosity down our throats in early March, but I think what I need is retail therapy. I dress quickly for a trip to the mall. Spring break is over so the stores won’t be filled with teenagers. I’ll go to Old Navy first.
My trusty Honda CRV is a 1997 model, perhaps the first year they came out. It has only 60,000 miles on the odometer and no, it hasn't turned over. Honda's motors are legendary, a fact not lost on NASCAR. I have kept it in pristine condition and though I admire the styles of new cars, I am not tempted. Perhaps mine will become a classic. All this is going through my mind as I come to a stop sign behind the behemoth Target Greatland. It's a four-way stop. I stop, and deeming it all clear, I proceed at my usual moderate speed when there is an eye searing flash. Heralding the third appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe?
Alas no, as it is immediately followed by the sickening sound of metal yielding to my bumper. I am about to meet Sally, who steps demurely from her 2010 Lexus. It's a four-door and the driver's side has been kissed by the fierce prow of my CRV. The doors are cruelly dented in and the windows are sparkling sequins of shattered glass. Sally lets her car slip back into the parking lot behind Target and I follow her in my car. A petite woman is striding up to us. "I'm Tina. You," pointing at Sally, "hit me, and who," pointing at me "are you?”
Sally answers for me. "She hit me. I'm Sally, she's Marilyn."
"Thank God you aren't hurt," says a woman walking her dog. "The damage to your cars is an inconvenience; the important thing is you aren't hurt." "Did you see what happened?" asks Tina, who is quickly taking charge. "Oh, no," says the woman, "I'm not a witness." Tina loses interest. My little dog barks a salute from his pet seat to her dog. "And your dog is okay too. Praise God," says the friendly non-witness. "This is going to cost over $1,000, so we should call the Highway Patrol,” says Tina, her finger on a button on her phone. "Say the word and I'll press it."
I picture President Trump with his finger on the Doomsday Button. Should I duck and cover? In a nanosecond the Mall Cop appears. An exemplar of Citrus Heights' finest. I estimate 6 feet 7 inches tall at 275 lbs. He was riding a motorcycle as big as a Lazy Boy recliner. He is no-nonsense: questions us briefly then points to Sally, "You hit her (Tina) and you (me) hit her (Sally), so you (me) are to blame." I have been, up to this point, the poster child of how to behave according to the Gospel of Hartford Insurance — their own brand of omertá. Now I bristle and break my silence. "With all due respect, officer, you were not a witness, but thank you for your quick response." He nods and is gone.
The three of us have exchanged names and insurance information. Our cars are wounded, but Tina's and mine are drivable, so we go home leaving Sally talking with her daughter on the phone as she waits for a tow truck. I doubt we will ever see each other again. Our paths have crossed abruptly, and we have caused each other no slight inconvenience. I wonder if under different circumstances we could have been friends.
Fortunately, the Mall Cop was not “the decider.” Sally and Tina were in a mall parking lot, which requires cars to stop-and-yield on exit. I was on the county street, which asks drivers to exhibit due diligence after a stop. So our insurance companies duked it out, finding each of us partially at fault. My husband used to say "If it's a problem that can be fixed by money, it's not a problem." I doubt my insurance company will be so philosophically sanguine