I learned to drive in a beater of a car, an old Buick Le Sabre, massive and almost impossible to park on the curb starved streets of San Francisco. because of that thing I can parallel park with the precision of a jeweler laying a flawless diamond into a six prong setting with one stroke of my talented hand. I can back into any space with less than an inch of breathing room on the front and back end on a steep incline in the rain at night without streetlights. I am like a parallel parking jedi and adjacent parkers may curse me and leave their angry rubber bumper comments on mine but they are just jealous. Don’t you wish your girlfriend could park like me?
I didn’t appreciate that car when I had it but I reap a lifetime of defensive driving skills from my tenure with that awkward monster so I look back on it fondly. I was told time and time again, just don’t hit anything, and I didn’t. The huge car got me and a variety of other comics to gigs in and out of the city and it was a tremendous boost for my then fledgling comedy career. I drove mostly at night and surrounded by the heavy chrome and steel and glass embrace of the gas guzzler I felt safe even though I may not have been always.
Once after a late night at the Holy City Zoo, I returned alone to my parents home in the sunset district. I had been nervous with the car all night. It had been smoking and stalling unpredictably. I didn’t know enough about driving to know what I had done and hadn’t done. It was a relief to finally park and turn the wheels at an angle for the last time that day.
I walked the block or so to the house and I was stopped as I turned in to go up the stairs by a man yelling from his tow truck. It was cold and I didn’t have a jacket and I was anxious to go inside but the man insisted that I come closer. “You hit her….” he said it several times. “You need to come with me. You hit a woman’s car back there. Didn’t you feel it? You gotta come with me.”
He was a large and fearsome man, his flesh pressing up against the driver’s side window like an octopus lying its soft body against the glass of an aquarium, still and covert, like he could change color to match the interior of his truck if he needed to hide himself from predators. He insisted that I get into the tow truck, with lights on the roof making it seem like he was law enforcement, like he was for real. I believed the lights and I almost got into the truck, fearing that I had actually hit someone, my inexperience and insecurity outweighing my common sense. I was relentlessly replaying the drive home in my mind, searching my memory for bumps and thumps but there were none.
I got closer to the man and he kept saying I needed to come with him, and that I had hit someone and as I turned to get in the tow truck I saw his eyes shift in untruth. Just a flicker in my peripheral vision was enough to know something bad was happening and I ran like lightning up the stairs and he did not call after me but drove away quickly, screeching his tires because he knew he was big and easy to catch.