Well, every now and again you have a new experience. Yesterday was one of those days. I had left work on time for once in a rather chipper mood: I was meeting up with my friend Rick at Sylvia Park to go watch a movie. It was his only evening off for quite some time so we decided to make hay.
It was about 6:10 pm; I was travelling on Beach Road towards the motorway and had come to a stop behind a car waiting in a queue at the lights on Parnell Rise.
Suddenly, I felt this powerful force from behind, the kind of force that sends shock waves through your entire body and snaps your teeth shut; an insistent force akin of falling on the ground, except in this case the ground had come horizontally at me and hit my car from behind.
I didn’t even look in the rear-view mirror, my eyes intent on the car in front of me. I watched as my car shunted inexorably forwards, hitting the white car in front of me. Again, as my car slowed down I felt my car hit from behind again, almost as though someone had reversed and taken a second go at my car.
At times like these, pragmatic gregarious Stephen takes over. I am not sure where he comes from because I can get quite cranky after a long day’s work, but when the unexpected happens, I turn into Mr. Congeniality.
I quickly got my car off the road, got out and had a quick look at it. The rear bumper was badly damaged but everything else seemed quite fine.
The blue Holden that had hit me was just sitting there in the middle of the road. My heart leapt: what if they’re injured? I walked up to the car and looked in through the open driver’s window. â€œAre you alright?â€
â€œYesâ€ answered a man whose name I came to learn was â€œRichardâ€. Richard fought comically with his fully deployed airbag for a moment and then got groggily out of his car. He looked to be a bit older than me, but with a young face, a face that wore a rather dim expression at the moment.Â By this time the lady whose car I had hit emerged from her car as well.
â€œEveryone OK? No one injured?â€ I said, in imitation of someone taking charge. There were general murmurs of everyone being fine. â€œRight, well, it looks like it’s all under control thenâ€ I suggested cheerfully. â€œHas anyone done this before? I suppose we should collect each others’ details.â€
As if reading my mind, the woman in front of me had gone to get a pen and paper and was taking down license plates. I did the same on my phone. Richard handed out business cards and I followed suit.
â€œWell, this is a good way to meet people in Aucklandâ€ I joked weakly as we traded personal information. â€œI guess the next step is to contact the insurer. I am with AMIâ€
It turned out everyone was with AMI. â€œOh good, I guess they can just shuffle some money around thenâ€ I grinned unnecessarily enthusiastically at the thought of imagined accountants having some fun with the numbers.
â€œOh yes, it’s all very straightforwardâ€ Richard exclaimed in a way that suggested this was not the first time he’d done this â€œit’s easyâ€.
â€œAre you sure you should be driving at all?â€ the woman asked him pointedly, â€œbecause you smell like you’ve been drinking.â€
â€œWell, yes, yes I have had a fewâ€ Richard confessed weakly. Now the reason for his rather dazed and confused demeanour became painfully apparent (as well as the reason for the crash). I had not seen him in my rear-view mirror when I came to a stop, he must have come up behind me at pace and simply not had the wherewithal to apply the brakes.
â€œI think you shouldn’t be drivingâ€ the woman pressed, you should go sleep it off before you get back on the road. â€œYes, you’re right, I will, sorryâ€ he apologised. He turned into Mr. Apology from that point onward, cheerfully complying with our requests for information, punctuated by the occasional apology.
I called Sarah who gave me AMI’s number, I called them and gave them my information, they spoke to the woman in front of me for a bit and I then explained how Richard fit into the equation. The telephone operator tactfully declined to talk to Richard. I asked if I needed to do anything else. A kind of veiled way to ask if I should call the police, she answered â€œnoâ€.
We waved goodbye to the woman and I stood there with Richard, the smell of green radiator coolant wafting on the warm afternoon breeze. â€œWell, I guess we’re doneâ€ I said in an effort to end the protracted transaction. â€œYou look after yourself and try to find a quiet place to go sleep it off, ok?â€
â€œYes,â€ he agreed, â€œsorry, I won’t drive any more, I’m going to go park my car somewhere for a bit. Sorry about all this.â€
â€œNot a problemâ€ I lied as encouragingly as I could â€œcould have happened to anyoneâ€
I shook his hand, because that seemed like the right thing to do, then got back into my car and drove away to watch my movie. Last I saw of him, he was driving slowly in his blue Holden, leaking green radiator coolant and trying to find a quiet place for a sleep.
I was in two minds as to whether I should have called the police. On the one hand, he was drunk driving and was a danger not only to himself but to others on the road. On the other hand, my magnanimous side wanted to let him try sleep it off and retain what little dignity he had left, acknowledging that someone driving drunk early on a Monday afternoon has quite a few problems in their life to deal with already.