In all fairness, I expected the opening to lead to an old joke.
My husband had just been wheeled away for a routine hip replacement operation when I found a note under my windshield wiper in the surgery center’s parking lot.
You remember the old joke, right, where someone returned to find their car damaged with a note on the windshield that read, “I hit your car and people think I’m leaving you a note with my name and address, but I’m not.” I got it very wrong.
“The woman hit your car when trying to park in the space next to you,” it read. “She pulled off and parked on other side.” The note included a description of the other driver’s car — an older vehicle, bright yellow — along with its license plate number and the time of the collision. My car’s fender was smashed, the bumper crumpled, and across it all was a smear of bright yellow paint.
What would be your reaction? Anger at someone damaging your car? Appreciation at someone leaving you a note informing you what happened and who did it? Maybe your spouse’s surgery? Or would it be the identity of the person who hit and ran?
I called my insurance company and went back inside to wait for the police to come and write up the incident. I couldn’t stop thinking about the other driver. What kind of person does that much damage to someone else’s car and then simply moves to the other side of the parking lot? A panicky teenager? An employee late for work? An irresponsible jerk? Then it dawned on me that the driver might be undocumented, someone for whom a simple fender-bender would cost everything. What if giving my insurance company her tag number would make me complicit in a deportation?
What kind of person, indeed?
There was absolutely nothing in the note that indicated an undocumented driver, but the notepaper was decorated with an image of the Statue of Liberty, and maybe that’s all it took to skitter my mind in a direction that logic would not have taken it.
The irrational leap to assume that the “irresponsible jerk” might be an undocumented immigrant is compounded by the assumption that anyone with note paper decorated with the Statue of Liberty is possibly some right-wing MAGA-loving immigrant-hating neo-Nazi. Then again, the person who left the note was someone who was empathetic enough for the victim of the car accident to take a moment from her day to get involved and do the right thing.
But the story wasn’t over, even after Margaret Renki’s conscience was absolved of complicity for the potential of taking the person who hit and ran to task.
As it turns out, she is white, a professional with advanced degrees, and fully insured. I could stop fretting about my own moral culpability, at least where my car’s mangled fender was concerned.
There’s a missing line here, as the “irresponsible jerk” turned out to be a white woman, a professional, with advanced degrees. What kind of person would do such a thing? That kind, apparently. Renki glosses over that detail.
But it all came back to me again at the body shop the following week. The service agent shook his head when I told him the circumstances of the accident. “We’re seeing a lot more hit-and-runs these days,” he said. “A lot more. I think it’s probably all these illegal aliens we’ve got now.”
This raises the conflicted problems of undocumented immigrants, some of whom drive without licenses in uninsured cars, some who get insurance long enough to register a car, then stop paying immediately as they can’t afford insurance and fail to see much point in it, as they’re judgment proof. In places where driving is necessary to work, to survive, the options become limited, untenable. At the same time, accidents happen, and are we better off being struck by an uninsured car driven by an unlicensed (and, perhaps, less than competent) immigrant?
Most do their best to drive carefully, even annoyingly slowly (in the left lane), as the risks associated with a ticket or crash are extreme, but accidents still happen, and sometimes their best isn’t very good. Do you suck up the streak of yellow paint across your fender in avoidance of complicity?
*Tuesday Talk rules apply.