The police officer sat in his ghost car for a few moments before getting out, letting me wonder why he stopped me. I knew I wasn’t speeding, and that made me worried.
This was yesterday.
Over the last 48 hours I’ve been pummeled with what I can only take to be clear messages to get my shit together in certain areas of my life. I’m not sure I’m a believer that these kinds of jarring events are signs from above, but maybe it doesn’t matter — it makes sense to treat them like they are.
Turns out my license and auto insurance expired three weeks ago. A cop in an unmarked car spotted my outdated tag and pulled me over. He gave me two pink forms entitled “You have been charged with an offense”, saying that I have to appear before a magistrate in a few months to receive my fines.
As I was staring at the forms, sighing over however many hundreds of dollars they will ultimately cost me, he said, “Always better to find out this way.”
I’ve never let my insurance lapse before, though I have come close. I always get a reminder in the mail at the end of the year from Public Insurance, and I guess I had come to count on that letter to make sure I remembered to fulfill this extremely important responsibility. Of mine.
When I checked my “Automobile” file at home, it turns out I had received it in December, but I mistook it for an informational letter about minor changes to the insurance price structure, even though it clearly said “RENEWAL NOTICE” at the top, and IT’S TIME TO VISIT YOUR INSURANCE AGENT somewhere in the middle. So I never acted on it, just filed it for reference.
I only got pulled over because I was in the middle of trying to make up for another stupid oversight on my part. I was hurrying home at lunch to try to track down my landlady, because it happened to be the last possible day to renew my lease. If I didn’t have my form filled out and handed in by today, I could lose my apartment. They gave me the form in mid-December. Interestingly it was dated the same day as the insurance renewal notice.
I actually was a bit ahead of the game this time when I went on the second last day (Sunday) to drop it off, but nobody was in the lease office. I tried two more times later on, and phoned a couple of times with no answer.
After I’d gone and renewed my insurance and license, I tried the lease office again and caught the landlady just as she was headed out. What a relief: home and car both safe. I could have lost them both. A week ago I would have said I’m as about on top of things as I’ve ever been, and that’s probably true, but these two blunders occurred in December and happened to ripen at the same time.
The thought of an accident haunted me all day today. There was blowing snow and the roads were slippery. Life has been going rather well for me this last while, and if I’d gotten in an accident, the tone would have changed pretty quickly. My car would be gone with no recourse. And worse, I could be on the hook for a lot of money I don’t have, to say nothing of what would happen if someone came after me with a civil suit. I was driving around with zero protection from that kind of catastrophe because evidently I’m still not quite organized enough to make sure.
When I arrived at the office a coworker told us he’d been in an accident on the way to work. Someone ran a red light. He sensed them coming, and hit the gas to try to get out of the way. The other car struck the rear bumper and destroyed it.
The omens kept piling up all day. One minute after I left the office for a job site, I had a flashback to yesterday’s brush with the law when I saw red and blue lights up ahead. A cruiser was stopped but one lane was clear so I proceeded carefully into the intersection, and noticed two completely totaled cars up on opposite boulevards, windows smashed, airbags deployed.
Another lesson descended on me about a half hour after that. My car battery has been a workhorse for me for six years, but this January the harsh winters here finally broke its spirit. Ever since I had to get it jumped one icy, hungover morning in front of my friend’s house, it’s been letting me down repeatedly. I know it needs replacing, but it hasn’t been the right day yet.
I left my lights on for about five minutes at a job site, and it wouldn’t start.
I got some guys from the construction crew to jumpstart it. I wanted to leave the engine running for a while to make sure it would start on its own next time, but I was almost out of gas. I’d decided not to fill up earlier, reasoning at the time that the gas situation wasn’t really urgent until I’d driven for a while with the fuel light on.
But when it started up again, the needle was way below the E, farther than I’d ever pushed it. I needed to go straight to a gas station or I’d have to ask the same guys for a lift and a jerry can. Lesson learned. Again.
As I was driving nervously to the gas station, I was dismayed to find the traffic blocked by a city bus unloading in one lane and a car stopped for no apparent reason in the other. I was three or four cars back, and couldn’t see what the holdup was. Some people were honking. I was expecting my engine to chug to a stop at any moment.
Some of the students coming off the bus lingered in front of the traffic, apparently unconcerned that they were blocking everyone. Eventually the bus began to move and the traffic funneled slowly into the free lane. By this time I realized it was a serious accident that had just happened, and not just a group of inconsiderate people trying to make sure I run out of gas.
As I carefully pulled by the crowd, I looked in front of the stopped car. A group of six or eight people were crouching around something. I knew what it was before I saw it: a motionless person lying on the icy pavement, wrapped in blankets and coats. A very distraught woman whom I took to be the driver of the car was comforting the person. Other people were on their phones.
I wanted to get out and at least ask if I could help, even though there wasn’t much I could do other than ask. But if I stopped my car, it wouldn’t start again. If I left it running it would run out of gas. There were enough people helping already. With considerable guilt, I crept away and drove on to the gas station, on whatever fumes remained. I made it.
I was a little shaken by the accident, but much more at the thought that I could have been the one who overran the crosswalk and hit someone. And if it had happened before I’d gotten pulled over, my life could be in a very bad place right now.
As if to add an exclamation point, I had another run-in less than an hour later. Coming up on a complex intersection known to locals as Confusion Corner, I had a green light, and a van in the far left lane must have gotten Confused and turned right across all three lanes of traffic. I slammed on my brakes and laid on the horn, but it was icy and I kept going.
It was probably only a second or so in total, but it seemed like I had a lot of time to think as I slid helplessly towards the side of the van, on the old non-winter tires I meant to replace in November. I had time to lock eyes with the horrified woman in the passenger’s seat, a clean-cut middle-forties redhead.
That one second took so long, I had a chance to almost relax and accept that I was indeed going to hit the car. With my eyes still locked on the redheaded woman, I felt a sudden gratitude that twenty-four hours earlier, I was scrambling to get my lease renewed and had the great fortune of getting pulled over and charged with two offenses.
The driver floored it, I missed by a few feet.
The world is quietly asking you to get your shit together, every day. Listen before it has to shout at you.
Photo by Stevelyon