Fear and loathing at zero miles per hour

Dude, she’s trying to do a hit-and-run. Don’t be giving her helpful advice.

The happy, intoxicated madness of Dinkytown does not call to me like a siren song. I don’t want to perform first aid, dial 911 or hand over my cell phone to help some drunken stranger facilitate a random hook-up.

I only ventured into Dinkytown the weekend before last because of a sweet free parking spot I found that morning on Sixth Street Southeast.

Near McDonalds, I paused at the sight of sidewalks still filled with revelers at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning. But it was only a few blocks to my vehicle. I calculated I could make it without becoming involved in some kind of ridiculous situation, especially since I had forgotten my cell phone, plugged into a wall socket.

On 14th Avenue Southeast, my shoe came untied. I reached down to tie it. And when I looked up, I saw a young woman sitting on a low wall, crying, holding her shoes in her hands, struggling to stand up. I didn’t want to get involved. She started walking on the freezing sidewalk, trailing her one remaining sock.

I asked if she was OK. She said she was (sob) just fine. And then, down the block, I heard a loud shriek of metal. Looking up, I saw a silver-colored Toyota plow into a parked red Buick. Letting out an expletive or two, I ran toward the scene of the accident with the intention of providing first aid.

There was already a crowd. At least one person was recording action with a cell phone camera. Some even walked in front of the still-running vehicle, drunk, laughing.

The engine of the Toyota was roaring, the accelerator seemingly jammed all the way to the floor, but the car did not move, wedged in the caved-in side of the Buick. I carefully approached the side window, concerned the driver might be unconscious, foot stuck to the gas pedal.

The face of a young woman looked back at me, blinking, confused and apparently quite intoxicated. She let up from the gas. I told her to get out and assess the situation, to figure out the best way to get her vehicle loose without further damaging the other car.

As I walked away, she put the gas all the way to the floor. The engine roared, but the car didn’t move. Even the wheels remained stationary.

An athletic young man with wavy brown hair stood holding his cell phone, thumb poised over the number nine. I asked him if he had the Toyota’s license number, and he said the digits out loud in response. I handed him a Sharpie and told him to write it down, before he forgot it. He wrote on the back of his hand. We had to shout to communicate over the roaring engine.

“You’ve got it in park!” he yelled at the driver. “Put it in gear!”

“Dude, she’s trying to do a hit-and-run,” I said. “Don’t be giving her helpful advice like that.”

I saw the driver frantically working the gear stick. The car still didn’t move. I figured she had broken something vital, like the Toyota’s transmission.

We discussed calling the police. The guy with the phone expressed something about thinking he should call, yes, but also hesitating. I understood his reluctance to be the nark, the informant, the dirty squealer.

The situation was also confusing. Is it a hit-and-run when the car won’t move, but the driver is sincerely attempting to go 100 miles an hour?

“What if that was your parked car, over there?” I shouted over the roaring engine, standing in a cloud of exhaust fumes.

He silently handed over his cell phone. I did the deed. As soon as I was finished relaying the information, I walked again to the window and informed the driver police were on the way, they had her license plate, and she should surrender her keys to a sober person and stop digging a deeper hole.

She came out of the vehicle at me, and struck my chest with both her fists. But she was weak and unsteady, barely able to stand upright. Another female passenger from the vehicle grabbed her.

“Take a look at yourself.” I urged. “Assess your situation.”

She got back in the car and did her best to melt the arctic icecaps, all without moving an inch. At some point, another female, somewhat older, came along. It was hard to tell if she was intoxicated.

“I have plenty of insurance,” she kept assuring us. She was also unable to move the vehicle, but only had a few moments to try before a squad car came along, shining a searchlight. Two police officers got out, including 2nd Precinct Officer Millenacker, Badge No. 004778.

While everybody had been distracted, the original driver was making her getaway, walking slowly and unsteadily on the ice, moving as quickly as a panicked turtle but clearly attempting to leave the scene. One officer pinned her in the beam of his flashlight, and that was enough. She wept while being placed in the back of the squad car, questioned if she had any sharp objects like knives or scissors.

She kept babbling she was sorry.

The whole next day, I couldn’t shake the memory of her crying face. I worried how much this incident would mess up her young life. I also wondered what happened to the girl with one sock. I tried to picture the unfortunate owner of the other vehicle. At least his car wasn’t towed away to who-knows-where. Then he’d really be worried and confused for, quite possibly, days.

It was Monday afternoon when the owner of the other vehicle called me. I had left my name and number as a witness, written on a flap from a box of Twinkies, right next to the police card bearing notification of Case No. 08-032892.

“Did you at least get the license plate number?” he asked, in a pleading tone.

I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. “Dude,” I said. “Oh, dude, you had to be there.”

After we spoke, I returned to my task: moving boxes of books at a house I own up north. I found one I wanted to bring to the cities and threw it in my backpack: “Beer, Booze, and Books, A Sober Look At Higher Education,” by Jim Matthews.

The intro begins with the following quote: “I don’t want the time of my life to ruin the rest of my life.”

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]