Tuesday, March 25, 2008
I know what you did last Saturday
"Life in the great suburban outback sure is fraught with peril, isn't it?"--Hobbes, Calvin and Hobbes
Last weekend I went home to western Massachusetts for a belated birthday party with my family. My mother and I stayed at my grandfather's house in West Springfield, where, I joked at one point Saturday, "five minutes feels like four hours." Still, it was nice to hang out with Mom and just watch TV and have a nice, quiet evening ...or so we thought!! Around 11:30 or so Mom was upstairs changing into her nightgown while I looked at my new Enchanted DVD. (What? I loved that movie.) Suddenly there was a loud booming sound, and the whole house shook. The lights flickered on and off. I looked up and saw debris land on the street outside. It was like something out of a disaster movie. I ran and opened the front door. A minivan had been totaled across the street from the house. A man was staggering out of it. "Sir, are you okay?" I asked. I was already on the phone with 911. "I'm okay," the guy said. "I'm okay." He kept repeating it. He was young. I told the operator what was going on. "Is anyone hurt?" the woman asked. "No, he seems fine," I said. "I think he's lucky to be alive." After all, the minivan was trashed. It was tilted sideways, windshield smashed, both airbags deployed. The front was wrapped around a tree. The guy had managed to snap a telephone pole off its base and upend a fire hydrant in the collision. He came up onto the porch, rambling about how he "works on cars for a living" and was going to lose his job. "Fuck!" he said. My mom was here by this time. He said he needed to call his parents, so Mom asked me to find the portable-- she was afraid of him running off with her cell phone. But my grandfather (who inexplicably slept through the earth-shaking crash; he said later he heard it but thought it was thunder) seemed to have gotten rid of it. Mom finally just handed him her phone, and he had just dialed his dad when the first officer approached him. He flashed a light in his eyes, asked him if he was okay and said, "I'm going to have to ask you to hang up the phone." "I'm calling my father," the kid explained. "I'm still going to have to ask you to hang up the phone," the officer said. I must have gone inside at this point, because Mom was the one who heard the kid say he'd had "four or five" beers. No surprise there; my mother and I had surmised pretty quickly that the kid was "drunk as shit" (as Ryan Phillippe up there would say). But he'd also said he was eighteen-- ruh-roh. (Making matters worse, the mini-van was apparently his uncle's. Um, awkward.) Mom went back upstairs to change into a T-shirt and sweats. Meanwhile, a crowd of onlookers had formed and I overheard one of them decide he'd seen enough and leave. Referencing that night's showing of The Ten Commandments on ABC (this was the eve of Easter, after all), he declared, "I'm going home. Moses is about to part the Red Sea!" Most of them stayed behind the power line that was hanging low over the sidewalk; it stretched right past the house and anyone passing it had to duck underneath as they did so. The officer asked the kid, who said his name was Nicholas something-or-other, how much he'd had to drink and this time he replied "seven or eight beers." The muscle-relaxing effects of all that alcohol were probably what helped him walk away from the crash with barely a scratch on him; of course, if he hadn't been drinking so much he never would have gotten into the accident in the first place. The cop put him through a sobriety test, which consisted of Nick standing on one foot and counting to 10. He only made it to 7 before putting his foot down and starting over again. "Alright, son, you're under arrest," the cop said, slapping cuffs on him and leading him away. Mom came down right after that. "You got your phone back, right?" I asked. "Yeah," she replied. "Good," I said, "'cause they just arrested him." Mom said he'd been saying "I gotta get outta here" before the cops showed up, but I doubt he would have gotten very far, anyway. Not on foot, at least-- and driving was clearly out of the question. By this time there was a new drama: one of the telephone poles up the way had caught on fire. It started booming and shooting sparks like a fireworks display. A young couple came down the walk, each carrying a baby wrapped in a blanket. They explained that they lived in the house across the street from the blazing pole and were too afraid to stay. We offered to let them come inside-- it was cold out-- but they declined. I think they ended up getting into the father's car and driving away. They should have stuck around a bit longer: the firemen soon put the fire out. After a while, most of the neighbors went inside and it was just Mom and I out on the porch. Mom was on the phone with her sister telling her what had happened. A lone police cruiser sat on the edge of the street, blocking it off from traffic. Then another young guy came walking up in a bathrobe, munching on a pop tart and surveying the damage. "Hey buddy, watch out for that wire," Mom said before he could walk into it. "I don't want you to get electrocuted." He walked over to the car and got close to it. A cop came on the loud horn and told him to get away. I walked down the steps and chatted with him for a bit about what had happened. Mom had wondered what he was doing wandering around in a bathrobe, but I told her he was probably just curious like us. He didn't look much older than Nick; maybe they'd gone to the same school. He was probably watching The Simpsons or something, getting stoned, when he heard the fuss outside and decided to go check it out. After all, there aren't a whole lot of options for diversion on Saturday night in West Springfield. In any case, I'm glad the kid didn't die, and I hope he learns his lesson-- though who knows if he really will. It's a good thing he didn't hit anyone else, or the whole thing could have had far more tragic consequences than a downed telephone pole and an upended fire hydrant.