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Eric Engel

Crash test dummy

Like a piece of metal exploded, the sound of bumper destruction came into my ears with the impact of a sledgehammer following its course into the concrete. My head snapped around so quickly that I think I heard my neck turning, and in front of me was a look of bewilderment upon this stranger’s face. Maybe “panic” would be more suitable.

Fresh into my internship at an Illinois newspaper, I was but a few hours into my first shift on the police beat as my well-traveled companion and I sat in the parking lot of the county sheriff’s department writing up reports. Better yet, he was writing reports while I eagerly wandered through the receptivity of my first full-blown, big league reporting gig, and then it came. The exploding metal.

I shot around in my seat toward the movie screen in the back window to witness one vehicle resting on the bumper of another, as in only two wheels touching earth. The driver, an obvious endorser of teenage wastelands, was in quite a state of disarray as she frantically pondered how to persuade gravity to accept all four Goodyear spheres once again. Gracelessly maneuvering the clutch that she must have made acquaintances with that very morning, she was finally able to bluntly introduce vehicle to pavement.

Befuddled by what I was eyeing, I emphatically told my companion of the rare circumstances behind us. He joined my elated rubbernecking session, and I have to say I was relieved to see the driver had finally found a gear for her vehicle’s clutch as she stomped the gas pedal. Unfortunately, that gear again read “Reverse.”

Symphony of Smash, Verse II, and I had dinner plates for eyeballs and speakers for a mouth. Our driver was back up on the bumper ... of an undercover cop car ... for the second time.

So what does she do? She reaches ground zero, again, and looks left and looks right, and looks left, and looks right, and decides her best option is to ditch the scene of the crime by viciously brake-checking her way out of the parking lot of the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office. Doubly distressing for her, I’m certain, is that the officer who had been watching the entire scene in his car from a distance decided to pull her over in the gravel lot, with no exit, with her attempt to “park,” as she later described it. During their conversation, when he asked her if she was aware that she had hit the undercover patrol car, she answered, “I’m not sure if I did or not.”

She didn’t have insurance.

Thankfully, my girlfriend does, because until a few days ago, I’d have to say that “hit and stumble out of the starting gate” was the craziest thing I’ve personally seen someone do behind the wheel. Until the pinball parade.

Following my first job interview here in Madison, Wis., I had just come to a stop in my girlfriend’s car at a midday intersection when I happened to notice the car in the rearview mirror still doing 20 miles an hour, give or take, as it approached what you might call our bumper’s “personal space.”

Smashing into our vehicle and driving us into the car to our front side, the captain of the battering ram proceeded to back up off of us and then plow into three more vehicles to our left before valiantly avoiding a ticket or any explanation by blowing through the red light and continuing on down the road, leaving us with our humble assumptions as to his maneuvers. If credit is in fact given where it’s due, then I must bid him successful, for I have been known to embrace the gift of gab, and yet after exiting the car, I was truly and utterly speechless.

With those humble assumptions I have concluded that Cap’n Ram was high as a kite or as rattled as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs after the collision, and that he panicked due to any number of extenuating circumstances. I’ve thought about it for days, though, and after all is said and done, I’ve been provided a quality reminder.

I saw that driver exiting a parking lot as I was pulling away from the curb where we parked and could have waited for him to pass, but I hurried my turn to gain the advantage of one car length. I certainly don’t adhere to fortune telling, and who knows if we could have avoided the accident by waiting, but I do know this ...

We must be patient. We must be truthful to the officer who pulled us over because however James Dean you think you are, he’s already been lied to 12 times today, and I promise that your lucky 13 card isn’t going to pull the chips from center table. We must be patient with those drivers because my faith describes it is a broken world, so how can we be angry at the vase when it shatters upon making contact with the floor?

Most importantly, we must be patient with ourselves. Let’s relax our role and not be in such a hurry. Let the other person go first, even if you’re presence trumped theirs. Don’t clash with the crash test dummies, because they haven’t ever gotten to walk away from the collision.

But we did.

Eric Engel, formerly of Tiskilwa but now of Madison, Wis.,can be reached at eazywritin84@yahoo.com.

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