Doing the Right Thing

It was a late afternoon when I pulled into the underground parking area of the hotel where I was staying for the better part of a week. I’d put in a long, hard workday and wanted to park the car, go to my room, and unwind a bit before dinner. The next day’s work was likely to be similarly demanding.

At the bottom of the concrete ramp, I noticed the bright tail lights of a SUV about to back out of a parking space. I waited, keeping what I considered to be a safe and courteous distance. I did not honk or flash my lights. I did notice the driver was female and the SUV was red.

With alacrity, she backed up, but turned too sharply. Her front passenger bumper struck the black sedan to her with such force the whole sedan shook.

I admit to being a bit shaken myself when that happened.

It was dimly lit. I did not see the precise damage but imagined it to be more than minor.

Before she made further maneuvers, I decided to seek another parking space. I did not know what damage she was capable of inflicting, and thought it best not to know. It seemed prudent to put greater distance between the two of us.

I drove around her and descended another level. I did not notice her license plate or glance in my rearview mirror.

The hotel, which is one of the better in the city, expressly announces that drivers park their vehicles in their lot at their own risk. I accept the potential inherent liability, but should such risk also include being struck by another vehicle?

I mulled that as I entered the lobby of the hotel from the elevator. I debated whether to take an elevator to my room or speak to hotel personnel at the front desk.

In the end I went to the front desk.

“I just witnessed an accident.”

The clerk perked up.

“I don’t necessarily want to cause a problem, but it’s something I thought you might want to know.”

Then I described the red SUV striking the adjacent black sedan.

Another hotel employee joined us.

This particular hotel does not require motor vehicle ID at check-in and I thought it quite possible that neither driver (of the SUV or sedan) would be identifiable, although I did think it probable that both were staying at the hotel.

I provided as much information as I could recall.

They made notes.

Later that evening, after dinner, I returned to the parking area and, on the 2nd level (down), at the end of the row in which I found a spot, I saw the red SUV, parked by itself. It was one level below where it had previously been.

My curiosity piqued, I walked over and noticed scratches on the driver side front bumper.

“Aha,” I thought. “This is the offending vehicle.” I imagined the thoughts that the driver might have entertained. Thoughts of embarrassment and desire for secrecy. The wish not to be found out. Thoughts harbored by some mentioned in Holy Writ: Adam. Eve. Jonah.

The list goes on. Some of us are on it.

I copied down the SUV’s license plate number.

I went up one level and found the black sedan. It had not moved. The rear driver side panel was deeply scratched and a thin chrome strip lay near the panel on the cement floor. Inside the front windshield was a “Student” ID.

On a wrinkled fragment of paper towel I wrote: “I think what did this was a red SUV, license #: “ I placed the note under a windshield wiper.

I searched but did not find a pre-existing note, such as from the driver of the red SUV.

As I walked to the elevator, I noticed two men approaching. One was the hotel employee with whom I had previously spoken; the other was a security guard.

I showed them the red SUV. The security guard confirmed that it was, indeed, the offending perpetrator. He peered inside.

“This is an AVIS rental,” he said. “We’ll be able to track down the driver.” He made some notes.

We approached the black sedan. He knelt and examined the chrome strip on the ground near the scratched driver side rear panel. “This came off the SUV,” he said.

They walked away.

Decades earlier, I’d parked my VW in the hospital parking lot. When I emerged from work, I noticed the driver door caved in. Fortunately, the car was still driveable.

There was a note on the windshield, from someone with whom I was casually acquainted.

“Sorry,” it read. “I hit your car. I’ll pay to get it fixed.”

And he did.

Beethoven once said, “To play a wrong note is insignificant. Playing without passion is inexcusable.”

Hitting another vehicle (or structure, or, worse, animal or human) happens. Many of us do it during our lifetime.

Trying to hide or deny it is inexcusable.

It was going to inconvenience the driver of the black sedan to get the vehicle repaired. He shouldn’t also have to pay for that repair — whether he be a student or millionaire.

The driver of the red SUV should acknowledge what she did. The fact that she did it was not necessarily something for which she would seek expiation (although if, at the time, she lost her temper, maybe uttered a four-letter word, perhaps).

If she tried to ignore or hide (which, to me, seemed plausible, even likely, from where she subsequently parked the SUV), that’s a different story.

I wanted to give her the opportunity to do the right thing.

Whether she does I’ll probably never know, but, from the transpiration of events, at least she’ll be encouraged to.

I don’t wish her a flat tyre or accident. I don’t wish that, under different circumstance, someone hits her vehicle and doesn’t leave a note.

Still, karma seems operative. Galatians 6:7 comes to mind. What goes around comes around.

Just to mention the darker side of human nature, a friend once told me that some people once witnessed a man striking another vehicle with his. They seemed relieved that, before departing, he wrote a note and placed it on the windshield of the car he’d struck.

However, one witness then decided to read the actual note. It read: “Sorry, but my luck is your bad luck.” Nothing else. The writer was gone.

I think the world would be a better place if those of us who live in it act as if we’re members of a small community that cares about itself and its members.

After all, isn’t that what the hereafter is all about?

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