South of Chehalis, there is a blind curve on I-5, in a section where the speed limit is seventy. On the last bite of my burger, I turned it to find brake lights ahead of me in the left lane. Unsure if I could stop in time, the brake-slamming included heading for the shoulder. My seventeen-year-old car stopped like a master, and I missed the bumper ahead, at the last second checking the rear view mirror, remembering the guy riding my butt for the last quarter mile, me not being able to get over to let him pass. I heard his brakes of the home-painted car squelching, and saw his rear end fishtail out to the center lane. He hit my backside, bumping me up in the shoulder a foot or two.
I wasn’t hurt, I wasn’t shook, more annoyed. But I wasn’t going to adopt that tone for whatever was next. I tossed the burger wrapper on the floor and went out to meet him and my new damage. A young kid in a baseball hat, with one red earring. “Are you okay?” was the first thing he said, not a bad sign. I nodded. He looked out to the horizon, when he said “no” to my question of having insurance. Of course he didn’t. He was quiet, polite, and dazed by what had happened. “I’m so glad my two-year-old wasn’t along,” he said as he continued to look beyond our incident with a dreamy gaze. Non-belligerently he added, “You can write down my license but I’m not giving you any other information.” Still looking to horizons he was, and I had to smile at the quiet defiance. “After all,” he said, motioning to his bumper, “there is no damage.”
“We’re not talking about your bumper,” I said, holding steady with a pleasant tone. Why do anything else, he may have an AK-40 in the backseat, where the kid usually sat. “We’re talking about mine,” I said, pointing to the gash, red from his paint.
He turned to look at me and seemed to focus. “Oh yeah.” Then out of the blue, “I have a job, it’s not like that.” I took a piece of paper and pen from my purse, and asked him name.
“My name is Bobbyjoe, one word,” he said. Of course it is, I thought. “I’m from Chehalis.” Of course you are. I could picture Bobbyjoe’s life – the child from the high school sweetheart sucking down any disposable income, the low-life night job, the tiny house in need of paint. “Can you work with me on a payment plan?” he said.
We exchanged information and I drove off. I no more wanted to call the police than he wanted me to. I was just five miles from my Sunday I-5 secret turn off, that doesn’t make the trip faster, only prettier, avoiding all the freeway stopping in south and proper Tacoma, and keeping the car moving. I’d rather move at thirty miles an hour in the view of Mt. Rainier, than sit on I-5 looking at the bleak housing beyond JBLM’s security fencing.
I took the exit, and once on the country roads, felt the relief of being off I-5, the accident and my luck washing over me. I could be injured, dead, others could be hurt, cars could’ve been ruined. Bobbyjoe’s wife could be a widow with a two-year-old. I also considered the good chance all the information he gave me was fake. It was a risk I’d taken.
An hour later, as I was entering onto I-5 at Fife, having missed the backups, my phone rang. It was Bobbyjoe. He wanted to tell me that he worked on cars and would like to buy the new bumper and fix the car himself. He assumed I was already home, that I lived in a similar small town as he. I told him I didn’t like talking on the phone in the car when I was supposed to be watching the road, and I’d get back to him.
Of course he wasn’t going to drive to Kirkland with a new bumper and work on the car, where, in my driveway? I called him the next day and we negotiated a deal: he would pay the cost of a new bumper, which he’d already thoroughly researched, in payments, and I would take care of the rest. It was about a 1/3-2/3 split in his favor. I wanted him to regard a kindness being done for him, to not tailgate, to realize how lucky we both were and the drivers around us, and I told him so. He said he was aware of our good fortune, and that he didn’t get paid till the 20th. I knew I had no recourse, I might never see the one-third. “I want to do what’s right,” he said.
Two weeks later on the 20th, he texted me and said he had just gotten paid, and where should he send the first money order, even though I had written my address on a paper for him at the scene. I sent it again.
Though he says he mailed it, nothing has come in the mail yet. I will not go after him, I will not threaten him with calling the insurance company armed with his license plate number. There is no blood from this turnip. Only hope. I will look for the envelope in the mailbox, his handwritten scrawl maybe transposing numbers that caused a delay. I hope he hasn’t changed his mind about doing what’s right. I hope he never does.