April 2, 2020

It’s Easy for Things to Escalate

It was a beautiful day last Saturday, as I pulled into a parking space at the synagogue, intending to greet people coming to attend that day’s bar mitzvah service. After I shut off my engine, I looked to my right, and saw a woman in the car next to me. It occurred to me that I had parked a bit closer to her car than I meant to, and she might have difficulty getting out.

But before I could start my car again to correct my parking job, she started to pull out, and I thought, “Okay, she’s leaving anyway.” That’s when I heard a scraping sound, and felt my car rock as the left front fender of her car ground against the right back portion of my car.

I got out of my car, and for a moment thought I was going to have to memorize her license plate quickly, since it appeared she wasn’t stopping. However, she pulled into a different parking space nearby. I looked at the back right part of my car and saw where she had hit it, and, on first glance, it looked like some paint may have been scraped off.

She got out of her car, so I walked over, and said, “You hit my car,” to which she replied, “No I didn’t.”

So I said, “Here, I’ll show you,” and I pointed out the obvious area on my car where the dirt was scraped. She still denied hitting my car, and said, “It’s such a nice day, and I was looking forward to working out at the JCC, and you’re ruining it.”

I refrained from saying, “You hit my car, and now you’re saying I’m ruining your day?” Instead, I walked over to the front left side of her car, and pointed out the corresponding black dirt scrape on her car.

“Here,” I said, “You can see where your car hit mine. I just need your information, in case there is any damage.” But she refused to exchange any information with me. Instead, she said, “I think you’re trying to frame me.” She accused me of parking over the white line (I admit, I did unintentionally park over the white line) on purpose, so I could trick her into pulling out of the space and then accuse her of hitting my car.

I told her I’m not the kind of person who would do a thing like that, and that there were plenty of people at the synagogue who would be happy to vouch for me. She said, “There are plenty of people who would vouch for me, too.” I told her I wasn’t accusing her of trying to cheat me. I told her I believed that she didn’t feel it when she hit my car, but that she had hit it, and now we needed to exchange our information.

She replied, “You’re scaring me.” Please note, at no time did I raise my voice to this young woman. I didn’t call her any names. I didn’t say she was lying when she denied hitting my car. I was trying to do everything I could to remain calm, despite her insistence that I was trying to cheat her. She said she wanted to call her parents, and I told her that was fine with me.

So she called her parents, but she still didn’t want to give me any information. She called over the security guard, to ask his opinion. He told her, “If you leave without giving her your information, that’s technically a hit and run, which is a felony.” This statement did not calm her down.

She called her parents again, and while she was speaking with her father, I asked whether I could speak with him. I wanted to tell him I believed her when she said she didn’t feel it when she hit my car, since she didn’t hit it very hard. I wanted him to know that all I was asking her to do was what everyone is supposed to do when they’re in a car accident. But she wouldn’t let me talk to him.

On her father’s advice, she called the County Sheriff. So then we both had to stand there and wait for the officer to arrive and take down our information.

The whole thing illustrates how, once someone gets the wrong idea in their head, they can be resistant to let it go, despite the evidence (such as matching scape marks on our two cars). And it shows how a person can escalate what should have been a 5 minute exchange of information into a 45 minute ordeal involving a hapless security guard and a County Sheriff who seriously did not need to get involved.

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