It's 7 a.m. Saturday, and I'm
driving down a city street past the usual graffiti marked walls, abandoned
shopping carts, ratty businesses, and homes with metal bars on all the
windows. It's a strange Norman Rockwell meets Hieronymus Bosch scene.
It's also a typical post-American America city in Lost Angeles County,
in what is still officially America, but which is really more like Tijuana,
except there's more English spoken in Tijuana. The street has a double
yellow line down the middle and two lanes on either side.The sign at
the side of the road says the speed limit is 35 mph. My speedometer
says I'm doing 35 mph. I'm obeying the law. My car is the only car on
the road. Conditons are good. There's no rain. It's daylight.
Suddenly, SUMNABITCH! I hear a loud BAM and my head is snapped back and then forward as my car shudders like my tank used to do when I was in the Marines and we fired the main battle cannon. I look in my rear view mirror and there's a rolling wreck of a faded green '70's something full-size behemoth Chevy right on my rear bumper. It isn't a fair fight. The Chevy has a big destruction derby chrome battering ram bumper that my imagination tells me probably weighs almost a quarter as much as my compact car. As I watch, the Chevy pulls to my left and wheezes past like the dinosaur it is. As it passes, it bellows noxious clouds of white smoke. I can see that the rolling wreck has old battle scars. It is covered with dings, dents, primer spots, bare bondo and even some duct tape. It's been hit and has hit unknown numbers of times. I wave my arm to try to get the driver to pull over. He ignores me. I try to read the license plate, but it's all bent up and covered with dirt. I'm not amused. My car is about two months old. Until a few minutes ago, it was pristine. I want this guy's numbers. I immediately gun my car and take after the Chevy wreck. The Chevy speeds up in an attempt to get away. It's weaving all over the road. As I push the gas pedal to the floor, I slam on my emergency flashers and lean on my horn to try to get the attention of any passing cops.
Because of the sucker punch to my car, I'm driving down the road with the rear end slightly to my left. I can sense the frame is screwed up. I figure my car would now look vaguely crab like if anyone were behind it.. Other than that, I can't tell from the driver's seat if there's much damage to my car or not.
The Chevy drives about a mile and then does a lurching left turn almost up on two wheels. It narrowly misses smacking into parked cars. I pursue. The Chevy goes another mile and turns left again at a corner where there's one of the odd L.A. kitsch drive through donut stores with a 30 foot brown stucco donut standing on end on the roof. The donut dwarfs the store and is covered with pigeon droppings that making it look frosted. He takes another left. We're right back where we started. The Chevy keeps going and does the same route again. It's like we're on train tracks. The Chevy keeps circling past the big donut, back to the same spot.
Finally, after four round robins, a black and white police car happens to be pulling out of the donut store. I can see the two officers in the car watching the car chase, but they can't know the facts, other than that something isn't right. They join the chase. The three of us complete another circuit and finally the Chevy stops in front of a house on a little alley of a side street near the place where it first hit my car. I pull my car in behind the Chevy, and turn off my engine.
The two cops get out and warily approach my vehicle first. They're both Latino. One holds back; his hand is on his holstered side arm. The other walks just to the rear of my driver's side window. He asks me what's going on. I explain that I was just the victim of a hit and run. He asks if I'm all right and says "You look pale." "Yeah, I know. I was born pale. I'm white," I reply, "Why did you tell me you're white?" says the cop with a tinge of sarcasm in his voice. "To let you know that's why I'm pale," I say. "Oh, yeah, right," he says. "Do you have your driver's license, registration and proof of insurance?" I fumble through my glove compartment while he gets ready to draw his gun if I come up with anything other than papers. I find the papers and hand them out the window to him. He asks me to exit my car and sit on a little curb on the other side of this little alley/street. I do so and have a clear view of the Chevy. The cop takes my papers back to the police car and runs them to see if I'm some sort of desperado. While he's doing this, the other cop goes to the Chevy and has that driver step out of the car. The guy stumbles out of the car and leaves the driver's door open. The driver is a Latino about 40 years old. He's shirtless and has an enormous beer gut. His medium length hair is disheveled. He's having a tough time standing upright. I can see an open six pack of beer on the driver's seat and I can smell beer. The seat is also soaking wet from a beer can that is lying on it's side. I listen to the cop asking the driver some questions in Spanish. I understand enough of the lingo to know that the driver has no I.D. on him. He has no driver's license. He has no auto registration. He has no proof of insurance. He has no proof of ownership. He tells the cop the car belongs to his girl friend. The cop asks her name. The guy replies "Rosa." The cop asks for Rosa's last name. The guy can't remember, but says she lives in San Pedro someplace. He can't remember exactly where, though. All the while this is going on, I'm expecting the cop to give the guy a field sobriety test. I wait in vain. It never happens. Never.
The first cop comes back and hands my papers back to me. He again tells me I look pale, and again wants to know if I'm all right. I tell him I just have a slight pain in my shoulder from the seat belt and a slight pain in my back that makes me walk a little like my car was driving, but other than that, I seem okay. The cop tells me the guy says I was chasing him and the guy was afraid that I was a white racist and I was chasing him because he's brown. "You weren't after him because he's Latino, where you?" asks the cop. "No," I reply. "He said you made some obscene gestures with your hand." "I was waving for him to pull over," I said. "Well, you see how this looks don't you? A white guy chasing a Latino around the block." "Are you kidding?" I say. "Look, the guy just hit my car and ran. He's stumbling drunk and he has open containers of alcohol on the seat and he doesn't have any papers, and you're questioning me like this?" "Just doing my job," says the cop as he walks away.
I check the rear of my car and there isn't much visible damage other than to the plastic bumper cover which is pushed in somewhat and has marks on the paint. The impact felt much worse than it looked. I figured, later to be confirmed, that the frame on the left side of my car buckled and headed toward the front of the car a couple of inches and this kept the exterior damage from looking worse than it was. I walk around a little to make sure I'm okay.
I go back and sit on the curb. The first cop asks if I need an ambulance, and again tells me I look pale. I tell him that I'm okay. He uses his police radio. A few minutes later I hear sirens. An ambulance pulls up with it's lights all ablaze. Two paramedics rush over to me. Like the cops and the drunk, these two guys are also Latino. I start wondering what the hell country I'm in. "Are you okay," says one of them, "you look pale." "I'm okay," I reply. He checks my blood pressure. It's okay. He looks in my eyes. They're okay. There's apparently no discernible reason for my paleness--except of course--I was born that way. I half expect him to tell me that I don't look well because my eyes are blue instead of brown, but he doesn't say this. My guess is that since he's a paramedic he may have run into one of the other rare white people still in Lost Angeles at some time or other, so he understands that white people are, er, white, and that they don't all have brown eyes like the rest of humanity. The paramedics pack up and leave.
The cops tell me I have a choice. I can either go to the station with them to try to explain what happened, or I can leave. I'm surprised at this and ask for information on the other driver for my insurance company. They look at me like I'm crazy and tell me they don't have any information, and besides there isn't that much damage to my car and no one was hurt. They both give me looks that say "Stupid Gringo, don't come to OUR land and act all picky as though you're in Kansas or some other part of that old people's nation, America. We don't play that white game."
I get in my car, and sit there for a few minutes pretending I'm getting my papers in order. I watch as the two cops smile and joke with the driver of the other car and then let him stumble up to the door of the house right near where we all were stopped. He falls against the door in a drunken stupor and then finds a key in his pocket and opens the door, enters and closes it behind him. I notice the two cops giving hard looks in my direction. I start my engine and drive off. I'm thankful that I wasn't arrested for a hate crime for causing damage to the front bumper of the Chevy, or for pursuing the guy to try to get his papers for my insurance company. "Whew. That was a close one," I say to myself. I look at my face in the mirror. Compared to the drunk, the two cops and the two paramedics--all the people I saw so far today--I do look pale. I wonder if I'm sick. Then a car with Iowa license plates slowly passes me. I clearly see the middle aged white woman driver and the rest of her white family. They all look pale. I wonder if they're sick. Then I snap to my senses.
The next morning I can't get out of bed. My left shoulder is so painful that I can't even move my left arm without pain. I go to the doctor. There's nothing broken. He gives me a shot and a prescription for some pills. I pay him a hundred bucks. In a couple of days, the pain goes away.
A week later I get a bill in the mail from the ambulance company. I'm also expecting a letter from my auto insurance company telling me my insurance rate is going up because of the accident. The frame shop wants a couple hundred bucks to straighten the kink. It just serves me right for driving in a strange land while pale. The problem is that I can't escape from this strange land. There are no borders I can cross to get back to my land. This once was my land. I'm trapped. There is no escape.
# # #
"THE OUTSIDER" H.
Millard's novel of alienation in post-American America is available.
Get it by telephone: 1-877-823-9235, at Amazon.com
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or ISBN and it should take you to the book. The book is also
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