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.