Some may find this story infuriating. Others may find it comical. Some may be disgusted. Others may just purse their lips, shake their heads, and go, “yeah, that sounds about right.” But no matter how you cut it, this story is an eye-opener to anyone who thinks racism is not alive and well.
Saturday morning me and five white friends (and one Asian) piled into our rented Dodge Durango (it’s got a DVD!) filled with empty beer cans and red plastic cups. It was really more of a rolling bar than anything else. We were all hungover and knew there were exactly two cures for our ailments: More booze and Waffle House. So we all took a couple swigs out of a flask of Bacardi Gold and headed out to the nearest Yellow-and-Black bastion of mediocre breakfast. Unfortunately we seemed to be staying off of the only freeway off-ramp in the entire state of Alabama not containing a Waffle House, so I had to ask our Hotel Concierge, Tomika, for directions. Tomika gave me some typically southern directions that contained a bunch of landmarks named something like “Guy’s Auto Repair” and “The Old Baptist Church” and “Ray’s service station,” all essentially places that someone who had not grown up with a 205 area code would not understand. Needless to say, I couldn’t find the damn Waffle House.
I thought I saw one on my left and signaled to change lanes into the left turn lane. As I got over BAM! I was sideswiped by a white van. Now, I don’t ever buy rental insurance, nor do I even have regular insurance on my car at home, so I am shitting a brick. After a brief “Hey, what happened?”me and the driver of the van pull into a parking lot to exchange information. The driver is a middle-aged black man who was using the van for work. He was there with a black female, possibly a girlfriend, and a younger black man with gold teeth. I attempted to rectify the situation by offering him cash for the scrape of red paint on his van, but he insisted that we must call the police. Now mind you, I have taken two shots of rum and have a car full of beer cans, so I am in no hurry to have the cops show up. I offer him some obscene amounts of money to go away but he tells me no dice, since this is a work vehicle and his boss will need a police report.
Well, my friends decide this would be a good opportunity to throw away all the contraband in the dumpster of a nearby gas station, which they do. Just then, as I am sipping on a smoothie I purchased to get the rum off my breath, the cop shows up. My friends apparently were spotted by the van driver’s girlfriend, who attempts to alert the cop to the white kids from the Durango (It’s got a Hemi!) throwing away 45 empty Strohs. He tells her to shut up and apologizes to me, to which I reply, “Hey, they’re just cleaning out the car.” The cop immediately approaches the black man who was driving the van and says “What the Hell happened here?” The driver answered his question rather honestly, stating that he had been in the left turn lane and was unable to stop in time as I pulled out.
‘Well, why’d you move the cars?” the cop asked. I informed him we didn’t want to block traffic, which he found acceptable.
“So, you sideswiped this guy?” he said to the driver.
“No, he was getting in the other lane and I couldn’t stop in time.” He responded.
“Were you speeding?” asked the cop.
“No.,” The cop gave him a nod that said, “yeah, whatever,” and proceeded to take down the driver’s information. He then walked me to the back of my Durango and said:
“Hey, how are you? I’m officer Johnson. So, ah, are your friends okay?”
“Yes, sir we’re fine.”
“So what happened?” his tone was amazingly friendly for a southern cop. I told him that I had been trying to get into the left turn lane and that’s when I got hit. Which was true. I said we both kind of got to the same point at the same time. Which was also true.
“Yeah, that happens. Okay, well let me get your license and registration and all that and we can get you on your way.” So I handed him my suspended-in-Florida Washington State License, an insurance card from California in 2004, and a rental agreement. He took down my info, thanked me for my time, and sent me on my way. I was not issued a ticket, nor was I reminded to look before I change lanes. I’m not sure if the other driver got a ticket as I got the fuck out of there as fast as I could. I hope he didn’t.
Not to sound like an apologist, because I am not. At all. But I will be the first to admit that that accident was more my fault than the black guy’s. Unfortunately for the other driver, since no ticket was issued, it is, at best, a no-fault accident. So he will be paying for the damage that I did. Why? I’m not going to speculate, but the difference in treatment between the group of white kids (semi-liquored-up white kids, I might add) and the two black men was pretty stark. I felt bad, but not bad enough to ask the officer to cite me. That’s just stupid. Honorable, but stupid. At any rate, I’m not sure how I feel about this whole incident. I probably got away with something I shouldn’t have thanks to blatant racial discrimination. Should I feel guilty? Lucky? Stupid? Or perhaps a mixture of all three. I don’t know. But I do know that as much as it may be difficult to be a white man in Miami, it is exponentially easier than being a black man in Alabama.