Sometimes You’re the Bug (#82)

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If I lived in DC, New York, or Boston, I wouldn’t have a car. I would take the Metro, the Subway, or the T. I’d read or people-watch, and then I’d walk.

But Los Angeles County doesn’t have just one urban center. There’s Downtown LA, Century City, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Redondo Beach, Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena… The sprawl began with Henry Huntington, who created the Red Car system to bring people to his developments, as opposed to a city creating public transportation to service the existing population. People dispersed all over LA. When the automobile gained popularity, the Pacific Electric lines were paved over and turned into roads and freeways. The freeways soon filled up with cars, the sky filled with smog, and now, a hundred years after a perfectly good mass transit system fell into decline, LA is the largest U.S. city with utterly awful public transportation.

I needed a car. So I got the smallest, most fuel-efficient car I could find, and my only concession to fun was the convertible hardtop.

I may also have gotten the two-seater because I’m a non-drinker and being the only sober person hauling around a bunch of drunk friends gets old. Now I had a built-in excuse not to be designated driver: “Sorry, guys! Unless you want to go in the trunk, I can only take one!”

More than one person volunteered to trunk it. I had to explain that 1) I was kidding, and 2) I preferred to not be mistaken as a migrant smuggler. After the third drunk trunk volunteer, I stopped joking about the trunk.

Good thing no one was in the trunk the first time I got hit, since I was rear-ended so hard my car crashed into one other car, which then hit yet another car. (Car dominoes are a common Los Angeles phenomenon.)

I was alone the second time I got hit, too. On my way to work, I made a left turn with a green arrow. A car travelling in the opposite direction decided to make a right turn on red — without fully stopping. Since I was in one of two left turning lanes and the major street onto which I was turning had four lanes, I wasn’t worried.

I thought, “Well, he’d have to cross three lanes of traffic in the space of about twenty feet to hit me, which would be beyond illegal and only a total moron would—”

CRASH! Mr. Total Moron slammed into my car.

I’d forgotten my #1 Rule of Driving & Surviving: Always, ALWAYS prepare for other drivers to make the stupidest vehicular maneuver possible.

I knew Mr. Total Moron was at fault, but there was no sense in screaming or cursing. I hopped out of my car, ran up his window, and asked if he was okay.

Mr. Total Moron, a gentleman with white skin and grey hair, nodded. I suggested we move our cars, which were banged up but drivable, out of traffic.

We pulled over. As I offered up my license and proof of insurance, though, I sensed that our encounter would be far less civil than my last accident.

Mr. Total Moron pointed to my license and barked, “It says here you wear corrective lenses.”

I still had hopes that Mr. Total Moron wouldn’t turn into Mr. Complete Asshole. I said, “I do. They’re contact lenses.”

He stuck his own coke-bottle-bottomed glasses way too close to my face. “I can’t see them!”

I mentally went ahead and rechristened the man “Mr. Asshole.”

I snapped, “Do you seriously want me to pop a contact lens out for you?!”

He backed up and said, “No.” Thank God, because if he’d said yes, I’d have been driving with one eye shut the rest of the way to work. I can’t put in lenses without saline solution. (Well, I can, but dust or hair always gets under the lens. Then I scream and do my best Oedipus Rex impression.)

I returned to copying Mr. Asshole’s information, albeit with shaking hands. I finished long before he did.

When he finally handed me my license and proof on insurance, Mr. Asshole harrumphed and said, “You know you made an illegal left turn.”

Mr. Asshole must have confused my civility and courtesy with guilt. Well, no more Ms. Nice Woman. I raised my voice. “I did no such thing. I had a left turn arrow. YOU made a right on red without stopping, then crossed three lanes of traffic and HIT ME!”

Mr. Asshole harrumphed some more…while retreating to his car. I got to work, called my insurance company, and was assured that Mr. Asshole was at fault. Within a week, my car was in the repair shop. Mr. Asshole’s insurance paid up. I had no injuries this time, thankfully. And that should have been the end of it.

Only it wasn’t.

A month or two later, my friend Sherri stayed at my place to watch my cats while I was away for several days.

When I came back, she told me I had a stalker: “This woman, she knocked on the door and asked if I was Autumn Ashbough. I told her I wasn’t, that I was just taking care of her cats. I asked if I could take a message, but then she left. Only she came back the next day, still looking for you. And then she knocked in the middle of the night! I told her I was gonna call the cops and then she left. I didn’t sleep well, though.”

I gave Sherri apologies and chocolates. No sooner had Sherri left than my apartment complex manager showed up: “There was a woman here looking for you. And she asked me all these questions, like what did you look like, and did you have a mole on your face.”

I don’t have any kind of beauty mark or mole, but Sherri did. So someone knew my name and address, but had no idea what I looked like. I couldn’t figure out what was going on…until the mail carrier showed up the following weekend with a registered, certified, documented-to-the-max envelope that I had to sign for in three different places.

It was a Letter of Demand, sent by Mr. Asshole. The letter stated that I was at fault for our car accident and demanded that I compensate him for car repairs and his lost wages due to car repairs.

The stalker woman had no doubt been a process-server, hired to make sure she put the letter in my hands so I could never claim I hadn’t received it.

I consulted my insurance company and Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister. They both advised me that the Letter of Demand was in no way legally binding.

Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister gave me a warning, though. “Brace yourself. This is just the beginning.”

She was right, of course. I got a Court Summons and a Complaint for Christmas. And I was also utterly vindicated in at least one of the nicknames I bestowed that year.

Mr. Asshole was suing me for thousands of dollars.

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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

34 thoughts on “Sometimes You’re the Bug (#82)”

  1. Reminds me of the time an old man (guessing 80?) hit me. I was in my 30s. He made a left turn out of a private driveway without looking my way. I was driving straight, no turn. I had no light, no stop sign, as it was a straightaway. The cops came and the guy begged me not to have them write it up. The cop said it was up to me. I felt badly so I didn’t. (Yeah, stupid!) The bastard told the insurance company it was may fault and it took a couple years to clear up. That was the last time I was “Mr. Nice Guy.” I don’t care if they are old and handicapped. If they are in the wrong, they get written up for public record. Can’t wait to hear the end of your story.

    1. Son of a!!! That’s awful, Kate.

      Out here there was a gruesome accident where a geriatric driver mowed down and killed dozens of people after driving into the Farmer’s Market in Santa Monica. Turns out that he’d already driven into a fountain.

      Within the last two years, 4 aging drivers have killed 4 pedestrians within a mile of my house, along with injuring another 4. One of those injured was a five-year-old boy in a school crosswalk with his sister. He lived, but is now blind.

      I think your policy is a good one, especially for the old and handicapped.

      Though I do wish we had better transportation and services — especially in LA — so that older folks had more options. Maybe they would give up their cars more readily.

      1. I didn’t realize LA didn’t have a good metro system until another LA blogger complained of it a few months ago. I can’t imagine a huge city without one. How do the masses get to work? (the ones that can’t afford a car?)

        1. There are buses, but they are slow, break down constantly, don’t necessarily go where you need them. They do exist for the determined, though. There is a subway system and a big Amtrak that comes in from the far off suburbs.

          Mostly people get cheap cars.

      2. Back when I was in college, a 76-year-old woman drove her car into Washington Square Park. She made a wrong turn onto a one-way street (Washington Place) and then freaked out and hit the gas instead of the bake. 20 people were hurt and one student was killed. Scary stuff.

          1. I agree! But people would scream about their freedom and the unfairness of it (because this is American, after all). I think in China you can’t drive after the age of 65, which seems a bit harsh.

  2. Aaaah. You leave us hanging, again! He sounds like a very determined My Asshole, alright. There seems to be more than meets the eye to how he appears – and he sounds like the kind who would cut someone down little by little. But with Lawyer Sis by your side I am sure you were the one who triumphed.

    I can’t share any bad driving experiences because I rarely go anywhere in a car – I public transport it to and fro work. And I don’t like to drive anyway. However, one time I was in a two-door car in Malaysia sitting in the back seat behind my mum who was driving. She was reversing out of a carpark and a car hit us full on, on my side of the car. Mum got out, so did the other driver. Lots of shouting and in the end the guy huffed and drove away, and we had to foot the bill for the damage.

  3. He was a lawyer, wasn’t he? ._.

    I studied law and came in contact with a wide variety of lawyers and judges and prosecutors. Sadly, they always try to get things their way! Which is totally wrong. No matter how absurd something is, they will always try to turn it to their advantage…

    I never imagined that the subway is that bad in LA. I had this picture of it being a huge city with so many good things to see (except for the criminality rate). That’s stunning!

    For sure, there are always people who own a car (and a driving licence), but who can’t actually drive… I think it’s pretty much the same everywhere. (Or at least, it also happens here, in my country.)

    I can’t wait to read what happened next! When are you going to post again?

    1. I’m hoping to wrap up a big project soon, which would give me time to write a little faster. 🙂 With any luck, I will post again tomorrow or Tuesday.

      Yeah, once the Red Car was paved over LA had to go subterranean for parts of the metro. Tough to do in earthquake land. Terrible urban planning. 🙁

  4. Seattle’s at least as bad. We have a new rapid transit system that’s in the beginning stages and doesn’t go very far yet. Plus, we have a narrow strip of land between the sound and a very big lake, so there’s only space for one freeway on the west side of the lake. Plus, the city is growing by leaps and bounds these days. I tend to stay in my lovely little city to the north of Seattle most of the time.

    I hope you trounced Mr. Asshole and kept your thousands.

  5. Whoa, I cannot believe that this guy sued you for something like this. It really amazes me the lengths people will go to convince others that they’re in the right when it’s obvious they are totally out of line (not to mention total a-holes).

    Looking forward to the rest of this story!

  6. Ah Autumn, I know how you feel, it really sucks when the other driver tries to put blame on you, even though they are totally at fault. I too have the sad experience of fighting other people and their insurance companies trying to assign blame to you.

    1. It’s so frustrating, isn’t it? Sorry you had to deal with it. At least in my case, both insurance companies were in agreement that Mr. Asshole was at fault. Which made his complaint even crazier.

  7. LA is the opposite of HK. There they have low private car ownership, but many different types of public transport: subway, bus, tram, minibus, ferry.

      1. LA could always follow Singapore’s example to lessen the number of car ownership. In order to buy a car there, you must bid for a Certificate of Entitlement. Average bid is about US$50,000 and is good for 10 years, after which you must scrap or export your car or bid for another Certificate. This should end the traffic congestion in LA.

        1. Maybe. Though it would never happen, thanks the the auto manufacturers and oil lobby.

          Also, the city is already spread out and the infrastructure for mass transit doesn’t yet exist. How would those without a spare $50,000 get to work?

  8. Good god Autumn, this post makes me never want to hop into my car again!

    I did read your following post, and thank god you won (if you didn’t, then I would really question the court system in Los Angeles–how in god’s name could you be at fault!?).

    Have you really been in that many accidents? Hopefully you’ve only been sued once?

    I’ve been on the road for over a year in LA and have yet to get in a car accident. Richard says he gets people in clinic and the hospital all the time for neck or head injuries due to the car (some that last for years and years). I just think a car is too expensive, too dangerous, and too risky to use all the bloody time. I wish that red car system was still in place.

    I have met a few people in LA that only take public transit. I salute them. It must take them 2 hours to go to the grocery store.

    Do you still have red car? What came next? A smart car? 😉

    1. That’s the only time I’ve ever been sued. But I had a coworker who got hit so many times by people driving expensive cars (while using their cellphones) that she finally started hiring a lawyer. Because even if you aren’t found at fault, there are injuries — some that last a long time — and just the hours it takes to deal with insurance and auto body shops and car rentals. I feel like when people hit you, they should automatically pay out a $500.00 “nuisance” payment for all that crap.

      I’ve been hit four times, I think. Andy’s been hit more than that.

      My convertible is gone, but the stories remain. 🙂

  9. I drive trucks in Australia, you talk of traffic jambs and doing 40 miles an hour, peak hour where I am is stop start for up to 40 kilometres. Translation for those of you in the US, over 20 miles. We have a population of, at most, a million people ! A mate recently posted on FB about a new law for bike riders allowing them to lane split, ride up between cars in stopped traffic and at red lights. My advice to them was, treat every one on the road with distrust and you stand good chance of getting home in one piece. I don’t know about the states, but over here, we have idiots, I’ve got stronger words but try my best to be a gentleman when ladies are present, that think it’s fun, fair gain, too stupid to understand pure laws of physics, pick one, that they can push 60 tonnes, about 120 000 LBS of truck and load off the road with a Honda Civic. If they aren’t afraid of me, you don’t even make it onto their radar. It’s one that works, I’ve covered over 1 000 000 kilometres in the last 10 years and have had only 1 accident, and yes, they ran into me. The extra 5 minutes it takes to be patient is far quicker than the mess you have to deal with after an accident. Safe travels.

  10. That’s a pretty impressive record — only hit once!

    Yes, California allows motorcyclists to move in between the lanes when traffic is stopped. Unfortunately, the motorcyclists do it all the time. Luckily their engines are so loud, you can hear them coming and give them room.

    I bet we have even more idiots than Australia. I see them swoop in front of semis and hit the brakes on the freeways. Next thing you know, it’s a jackknifed big rig and traffic is messed up for hours if you’re lucky. If you’re not, well, it’s time for the LifeFlight helicopter to land in on the freeway. 🙁

    When I drove across the country on my own, the truck drivers were all super nice to me. Warned me about speed traps, even told me when I had the wrong directions from my grandparents in Denver. This was before smartphones, when they all used the CB radio.

    One even gave me the handle “Screamer,” because he said I yelled too loud into my handset. 🙂

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