Taillight blues.

I should have known it would be a lousy night. The proverbial strong line of thunderstorms blew through the area late in the afternoon. When I showed up for my writing workshop at Wayne State, I was one of two (2) to do so. And it wasn’t a very productive session, either, even with a vastly improved student-teacher ratio.

I got disoriented leaving the library — why are college campuses laid out so oddly? I ask you — and had to walk halfway around a long city block, in the driving rain, to find my car.

And then it was out onto I-94 for the chariot race home, only things were moving slower because of the rain. But it was moving, and then the taillights up ahead started winking red for something involving police lights. This being Detroit, it could have been anything from a flooded dip in the road to a rabid pit bull firing a machine gun. I was slowing down in the center lane when the person behind me on the right did the quintessential D-town freeway move — the multiple-lane high-speed cutover in heavy traffic. I felt the crunch as s/he clipped my left taillight.

And watched as the offender sped off into the twilight.

I scanned my options for a moment and considered the correct one was probably the most ridiculous: Pull over, stop, call 911 and await further instructions for a no-injury, minor-damage accident during a howling thunderstorm. Or I could get proactive. Reader, an air bag of inspiration deployed; I gave chase.

Hit me and take off, will you? Well, we shall see about that! The vehicle, a pickup, was easy to track — DODGE in big white letters on a black tailgate. I gained on it, dropped in behind, flashed my brights in search of the plate number. At which point the driver felt an urgent need to exit, which fit my purposes perfectly; I could catch up the way a yellow flag bunches up a Nascar field. I got the license plate, scrawled it on my writing-workshop folder, and what’s this? S/he’s pulling over? Excellent. I pulled over behind the truck. As soon as we were both stopped, the driver laid rubber going away. I followed for a few more blocks of amateurish left-right-left-right shenanigans, then stopped and called 911. I didn’t need to get lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood at night. The man at the state police post was very nice. I have to go down today and file a report, at which point the system will yawn in my face. As much as I might hope for a CSI-style investigation, complete with flyovers with infrared scopes and Marg Helgenberger gathering paint chips from my bumper, this is a no-fault insurance state. No injuries, no complications, sign here and here and here and pay the $500 deductible.

So that was my night. How was yours?

It got me thinking later, when the blood had settled a bit. The last time I was in an accident serious enough to get insurance adjusters involved was nearly 20 years ago. I was sitting at a light at Creighton and Fairfield in lovely south-side Fort Wayne, Indiana when I looked up to see a driverless car leaving the gas station, approaching my passenger door at a 90-degree angle. It hit me hard enough to push me into the next lane. I got out and walked over to the car. Sitting behind the wheel was a smiling, gurgling, apparently unharmed boy of about 2. His father had left him unrestrained in a running car while he went inside to buy cigarettes or something. Guess what he said when he came out to discover his son had had his first fender-bender before he was toilet-trained.

“I told him not to touch nothin’.”

Well, at least I have amusing accidents.

Moving on, then. I see Brian got a little miffed at the “grave-dancing” in yesterday’s comments, over the late Rev. Fartwell. No less a pinko than Roy opted out as well. Fine, it’s a defensible choice. When someone dies, it zeroes the scales, or at least reduces them by 21 grams. Don’t speak ill of the dead, etc. At the same time, though, we have to give a dead man his due. I really don’t have an ax to grind with the guy — he existed in the realm of Ann Coulter for me — so I started thinking back, as dispassionately as I could, on the Rev’s public statements, trying to recall if, even once, he tried to be taken seriously, if he ever brought anything to the discussion to indicate he wanted to play fair in the fields of policy debate.

And I couldn’t think of anything. Tim Noah at Slate gives us the highlights. And let’s not forget his role in the Clinton Chronicles. I won’t say “good riddance,” but I will say: I won’t miss him. Oh, and thanks to Kirk for finding this YouTube clip from the breaking-news cycle that shows, as if you needed to see it again, how credulous too many journalists can be.

The iPod threw out a gem on yesterday’s bike ride — “It’s Madison Time,” by the Ray Bryant Combo. It’s the most complicated dance record in history, I think: Now when I say hit it, I want you to go two up and two back, double cross and come out of it with the rifleman. Later verses call for a “Cleveland box,” “Jackie Gleason” and a “basketball, with a Wilt Chamberlain hook.” What-ever. I first heard the song in “Hairspray,” original recipe. I figured it, like so much in that movie, was an obscure Baltimore reference, and thought of asking Ms. Lippman about it. Asked Google instead, and I’m so glad I did. Because it turns out the Madison started in…Columbus, according to William “Bubbles” Holloway, anyhow. (Warning: Really obnoxious embedded sound.) The scanned newspaper clip on that page shows a sharp-looking line of black folks doing the Madison at “the LVA Club on E. Long St.” Get out!

Let’s bring the bloggage full circle, back to Detroit, as we wrap up with Detroitblog’s report from the Cinco de Mayo parade:

The Freep mentioned the parade on its front page the day before, so I expected an influx of newcomers eager for a glimpse of the city outside the usual downtown radius most people think of as “Detroit.” Instead there was a mere handful, consisting either of pale hipsters exposing their pasty flanks to the climbing sun, or several odd academic types in their 50s, complete with standard professorial attire like a tweed jacket (seriously), whose confused demeanor suggested they came to observe this mysterious and heretofore unfamiliar phenomenon called Local Mexican People, who constitute nearly the entire population of this area.

The prof types near us looked slightly disappointed or bewildered as the parade plowed forward, as if they expected to see perhaps a solemn procession paying tribute to ancient Mayan roots, or marchers carrying effigies representing genocidal conquistadors imposing an alien culture on meek native peoples, the kind of scene that brings a flutter to the modern academic heart.

Instead they got chihuahuas, Virgin Mary tapestries, low-cut shirts, pit bulls pulling children in wagons, child boxers, tortillas handed out from floats, and hot rods galore, painted in varying levels of gaudiness and beauty. Their facial expressions suggested that they were seeing brazenly and merrily paraded before them the same supposed stereotypes they’ve likely lectured their students to avoid assuming.

But every ethnic parade is a host of stereotypes, or cultural icons, depending on your point of view. One person’s stereotype is another person’s “screw you, I actually do like hot rods.”

Me, too. Off to do battle with the insurance industry.

Posted at 8:29 am in Current events, Popculch, Same ol' same ol' |

25 responses to “Taillight blues.”

  1. alex said on May 16, 2007 at 9:14 am

    Sucks being without a computer, as I was yesterday. And it really sucks to have missed out on dancing on Jerry Fallwell’s grave. When I heard the news last night it brought me great cheer. I wouldn’t ordinarily take pleasure in the death of anyone, but that scumbag had absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He spent a lifetime ripping off little old ladies and lonely imbeciles. Too bad he didn’t croak a helluva lot sooner.

    But I’ll miss his entertaining pronouncements about cartoon characters conspiring to make homosexuals out of your children, and homosexuals conspiring to depopulate the earth, yada yada. Even Coulter can’t top Fallwell on her best days.

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  2. jcburns said on May 16, 2007 at 9:16 am

    And then there was the time in a US rental car in Quebec where we (why yes, me and Nancy) were clipped-and-then-ran-upon late at night at freeway speeds by some sort of swerving Quebecer in too much of a hurry. Maybe you have a certain vehicular magnetism.

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  3. LA mary said on May 16, 2007 at 9:49 am

    I had a hit and run on a freeway ramp a few years ago, and the DMV, Allstate and CHP all ganged up on the a-hole. I didn’t pay a dime. My kids got the plate number and the system worked. Good luck. You might be surprised.

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  4. brian stouder said on May 16, 2007 at 10:35 am

    Well, I followed Nance’s link to Roy, and this struck me as the most interesting sentence

    For one thing, I believe in doubt, and death is the certainty that concentrates doubt most powerfully.

    The “I believe in doubt” phrase made me chuckle (just the other day a person said he “believed in nuance”, so the dissonant ‘belief in doubt’ made a funny echo), but then the “death is the certainty that concentrates doubt most powerfully” sharpened up the point nicely.

    Maybe the nicest analogy we can draw, when loudmouths who lead lives full of errors but without any doubts – is back to Nancy’s (and Elmore Leonard’s) metaphysical tour bus.

    Falwell had the audacity to take the driver’s seat and grab the wheel, and the certainty of a lost guy who won’t stop for directions

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  5. Danny said on May 16, 2007 at 11:04 am

    I never paid a lot of attention to Rev. Jerry Falwell, but reading through a few things around the web yesterday, the one which was most striking was Larry Flynt’s statement that he considered Jerry a friend and a genuinely nice guy.

    So while everyone is acting all “certain” here about their opinions, maybe a healthy dose of “doubt” would be in order.

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  6. LA mary said on May 16, 2007 at 11:16 am

    Doubt what? His sincerity in saying what he said?

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  7. nancy said on May 16, 2007 at 11:32 am

    I know it will amaze you all as much as it did me: The police ran the plate, and it came back invalid. The trooper said, “Black Dodge pickup? Those things are getting stolen like crazy lately.” In other words, I was hit by a likely car thief in the crime’s world capital.

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  8. LA mary said on May 16, 2007 at 11:38 am

    I think you were lucky he took off when you chased him. He might not have been a very nice person.

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  9. nancy said on May 16, 2007 at 11:43 am

    Oh, I know. I had many second thoughts, but when I saw him still in reach, I thought, what the hell, go for a plate number at least.

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  10. Dorothy said on May 16, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    I had a tractor trailer back up at an intersection just before an on ramp in Franklin, OH about 4 years ago. The goofball never even knew he crunched the front of my car! I started to give chase, too, but fortunately there was a cop just giving a ticket to someone on the berm. I pulled over, honked like crazy, and HE went and chased the tractor trailer. His company paid for the whole thing, too.

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  11. ashley said on May 16, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    The guy in Cali that ran me over on my motorcycle and left me for dead, then tried to drive off with the bike wedged under the front of the car, then took off on foot was the same deal. Stolen car. Feh.

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  12. Jolene said on May 16, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    Being a “nice guy”–that is, being pleasant in person to people who fit within your definition of acceptable people–is not really much of an accolade. The statements that Tim Noah quotes in the piece Nancy linked to firmly establish that Falwell’s “niceness” had some pretty narrow limits.

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  13. Dorothy said on May 16, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    I’m not sure I’d take Larry Flynt’s recommendation about someone’s niceness with a grain of salt. I’d be more likely to ignore it. Isn’t that a little like Sylvester Stallone defending Barry Bonds?

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  14. Kirk said on May 16, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    Stalin was probably pleasant enough to FDR and Churchill over cigars and vodka.

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  15. ashley said on May 16, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    My friend Michael has a rather amusing piece where he puts Falwell in the middle of a Chick tract.

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  16. nancy said on May 16, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    No surprise Larry and Jerry liked one another. They recognized themselves in one another — both hustlers, both looking out for numero uno, both laughing all the way to the bank.

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  17. michaelj said on May 16, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    Thanksgiving break, 1969, my freshman year at Holy Cross, a UDHS friend and I traveled 670 miles home to Detroit from Worcester. Joe lived in Gesu Parish around Six Mile, and at 2 am we were on the John Lodge about 500 ft. from our exit. Down in that infamous ditch (did I hear they raised it?), an extremely unfortunate snockered soul wandered into the path of the car directly in front of us, and set off a chain reaction crash that eventually ensnared 24 or 25 cars.

    The wayward vagrant catalyst somehow recovered, though I personally saw him airborne for about 30 ft. , and mounted some sort of absurd lawsuit in which I later testified by telephone deposition. Nothing came of it. We emerged unscathed despite riding in a ’66 Corvair. The Corvair did not.

    Ten days later, we hitched a ride back to Massachusetts with a classmate from Toledo. 30 miles outside of Buffalo, on the backroad connection between Queens Highway 401 and the NYThruway, we skidded on black ice and rolled this guy’s GTO convertible about five times, 30 ft. down a steep embankment and came to rest upright. Driver was white as the two feet of snow we landed in. My friend and I laughed our asses off. I think it was a sensible decision that that was the last road trip we ever made together.

    Here‘s a page of odious Falwellisms for anybody that doubts this whited sepulcher’s execrably black soul. I’m not in the Grave Dancers Union, but dying doesn’t give you a ticket out of jail when you’ve been a world class anti-Christian hypocrite your entire life.

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  18. nancy said on May 16, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    We had a ’66 Corvair! I learned to drive in it. My mother LOVED that car — it was really ahead of its time. She never forgave Ralph Nader for killing it.

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  19. ashley said on May 16, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    Ditto. My mom was a Corvair fanatic…’til they got too old, dad made her switch to Caddies.

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  20. Colleen said on May 16, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    My ride home from the hospital was in a 66 corvair. It had to go away when my dad broke his leg and couldn’t work the clutch.

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  21. michaelj said on May 16, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    Ok, all you newspaper junkies and would-be copy editors, is this headline intentionally outrageous or outrageously unintentional? I was almost afraid to read the story–thought it might be some weird Prince of Wales-Camilla tampon thing only more beastly.

    I never had an opinion about Ralph’s Corvair Crusade. Geetting Noxious W elected, that’s another story. Our Corvair ended up looking like a discarded black PVC trash bag. Ralph Vader just ended up looking like the omphaloptic center of his own universe.

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  22. joodyb said on May 16, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    jesus, nancy! you CHASED him? in detroit? i bow down to the Warrior Goddess. too rich for my blood.

    colin chased a pursesnatcher into a dark alley in barcelona (he took kft’s purse) as we watched in horror. the spanish police told him to never do that again.

    if it makes you feel better, my turn signals went t-ts up yesterday. and i will have to pay for whatever it is that caused it. i’m pretty sure.

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  23. basset said on May 16, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    “S/he’s pulling over? Excellent. I pulled over behind the truck…”

    Nance, that wasn’t very smart. Neither was walking halfway around a building at night at Wayne expletive deleted State by yourself. You were testing your luck big-time.

    Falwell? He hated and probably feared people like me and encouraged others to do the same, that’s all I can say.

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  24. nancy said on May 16, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    I’ll give you the first example, but not the second. WSU is a pretty busy place at that hour, easily the most quote diverse unquote campus I’ve ever been on. In my half-block sojourn, I passed dozens of people speaking about that many languages. Lots of girls in hijabs walking alone, too. It’s a new world.

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  25. Ricardo said on May 17, 2007 at 11:57 am

    In California, I buy the Uninsured option after getting hit by a 15 year old driver with out of state plates. Hit and run is covered under that option in this state and doesn’t require the deductable that collision coverage do.

    Michigan passed the no-fault law the year after I moved out west, so I am not up on those laws now. I don’t think you will need to pay for a hit and run.

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