Late Spring, 1994


"Late Spring" is my best estimate, as I don't believe Summer vacation had started yet, but it was definitely a balmy night.  My friend Brandon had dropped by to see me at home, where I was alone for the evening.  We were both 16 years old, but unlike me, he was allowed to get his driver's license and his own used car shortly after his birthday, which was only 12 days before mine.  It was a red car, and that's all I have to go on, because I don't remember/know shit about cars.  As he was about to leave for the night, I piped up "Hey, I got my learner's permit, let me drive your car!"  He hesitated at first, but then gave in to my charms, and I hopped behind the wheel.

Honestly, I don't think I had ever driven a car on an actual road before this.  My parents were overly cautious and didn't particularly seem to like me much around this time, so they weren't rushing out to give me lessons.  After backing out of our driveway into the street, I started frantically moving the steering wheel to seemingly get my bearings (Brandon later said he thought I was just trying to be funny).  We headed slowly down the street with the intention to turn into the nearby marina, which I just calculated is all of 1000 feet (exact route mapped here).


Right before I was about to turn off the main road (Nautilus Trail), I flipped on the turn signal, but then realized I had flipped it the wrong direction.  I took my eyes off the road and fumbled around to correct my error, and all of a sudden Brandon was yelling "PETER!!! PETER!!!"*  I looked up and saw that I had slowly drifted off the side of the road road over the curb, and before I could do anything else, I plowed into a mailbox and comically sent the mail inside flying into the air.  The expression "surreal" is often overused, but that's how it felt, like some bizarre nightmare where you're experiencing a tangible and vivid overload of instant terror. 


I stopped the car and sheepishly looked over at him.  He just stared straight ahead, blinded by rage and disbelief. 



We surveyed the damage.  The plastic mailbox had been obliterated, and the wooden post attached to it had been lifted completely out of the ground.  The car had a flat tire, and a headlight had been busted.  It's probably my imagination, but I seem to remember steam rising out of the hood.  I was repeatedly apologizing, which probably wasn't helping.  Brandon drove the car into the parking lot of the marina to further investigate the damage that I had needlessly inflicted on his poor innocent car.

After a few minutes, we noticed a couple of police cars had shown up where I had hit the mailbox, which was about a few hundred feet from where we were.  I saw a woman outside talking with the cops, and I think she pointed us out, because the cops then got in their cars and drove over to see us.  A lady cop approached us and stated that this woman had told her that two boys wearing black shirts had hit her mailbox and driven away.  We readily admitted that we were who she was referring to, and Brandon took a step toward the cop attempting to explain that we weren't fleeing the scene, we just wanted to pull off the road.  "Please step back, and put your hands on the car!" the cop barked at us.  We both put our hands on the car, while she radioed someone for some reason. Backup? Brandon glared at me. "Thanks a lot, Peter," he sneered.

I was taken to the scene of the crime in the back of a police car, where they talked to the person whose mailbox I destroyed.  Some neighbors, who had known me since before I was born, began to gather around the scene and idiotically gawk and squint at me sitting in the car, and I tried to hide my face just like on TV.  "So this is what it's like to be on this side of it," I thought to myself.  The took me to the police station separate from Brandon, I suppose so we couldn't get our stories straight.  They questioned me in a room that was also separate from where they questioned Brandon, where I told them the truth but alertly lied about wearing a seat belt, which Brandon overheard and later complimented me about.  After we were questioned, the cops filed whatever paperwork they needed to, and advised me that I'd probably have to appear in court and that I should tell my parents about what happened.  They then let us go, and Brandon drove me home in his tattered auto.  While on the way to drop me off, Brandon suddenly started laughing.  "God, you're like Beavis or something," he said, and then began to make grunting sounds to mimic Beavis driving into mailbox.  I certainly couldn't argue with that.

Brandon driving me home that night.

Of course I didn't tell my parents what happened.  I thought it would probably just going away somehow.  The shit hit the fan early that Summer when my dad picked me up from work one night.  He didn't say much to me on the way home, and kept staring at me while he was driving.  It dawned on me instantly, "Oh shit, he knows."  Sure enough, when we got home, my mom was sitting at our dining room table and said they received a letter from the police station, saying that I got in an accident and there was now a ticket on my driving record, before I even had my license. I tried to play it off like it was no big deal, but they seemed to think it was a big deal. 

I had never been to juvenile court before, and my mom certainly didn't ever expect to have to take me there.  But there we were, sitting and waiting for the judge to call us into the courtroom.  We were seated next to a mother and her delinquent son, who were talking to the kid's lawyer about whatever was about to happen.  The kid was younger than me, but he wasn't new to this situation.  He was wearing just a regular t-shirt whereas I had gotten dressed up, and he was extremely agitated while I was sitting quietly in shame.  His mom kept getting him to try and tuck in his shirt, and kept untucking it right afterwards, mouthing off to both her and the lawyer.  It retroactively reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where "Gavin" talks back to his mom outside the Try-N-Save.

My mom had tried to get me to cut my long hair before the court date but I refused, and while we were waiting to be called into the courtroom she kept taking it upon herself to try to tuck my hair behind my ears.  The hair would slip out, and again she'd tuck.  I was too ashamed to fight back, but it was totally infuriating.  Once we were called into the courtroom, the judge explained that juvenile court was different from adult court, in that you don't plead "Guilty" or "Not Guilty,' your options were "Admit" and "Deny."  I stood there and timidly pleaded "Admit," with my tucked hair and dress clothes in full force.  The judge remarked that he thought "I was a good kid who just made a mistake," and that he wouldn't see me back there again.  He was wrong.

EPILOGUE: Less than a year later, I was in a near-fatal accident that forever changed my life.  Looking back, I can now "Admit" that whatever happened was likely my fault, even though I don't remember what happened.  I haven't driven in any serious way since the accident, and I likely never will.  I think there are some people who aren't meant to operate a motor vehicle, and I'm one of them.  I'm consistently amazed that people are always constantly crashing into each other on the road. 


This tale was difficult to tell, mostly because I'm embarrassed that I couldn't drive one thousand feet without crashing on this particular day.  But I'm also embarrassed that I fucked up my friend's car, and while I paid the lady whose mailbox I crushed, I couldn't afford to help Brandon with the car repairs.  He and I have lost touch over the years, but if one day he reads this - dude, Beavis is real sorry.

*Friends from my hometown were in the habit of calling me "Peter" instead of Pete.  I really don't know why.