Monday, December 27, 2010

Do The Right Thing

We really hadn’t intended to be a part of a high speed police chase but somehow that’s what transpired. Because hubby had been tired at the last Thruway rest stop, I was at the wheel. We were having a really lovely chat, the kind that can materialize when darkness falls on the highway and there are no ears buckled into the back seats. We’d just dropped our oldest two boys off at the airport in New York City. They were on their way to sunny Brazil, to spend their Christmas holidays with family friends. We had about an hour to go before we could collapse into our warm beds.

Then we saw him. A white full sized car in front of us was weaving around a bit. Then a lot. He started spending more time crossing over the lines than he did driving between them. I stayed back just enough to stay out of his way, but tried not to lose him, knowing he was tragically close to striking an innocent victim.

Suddenly our casual conversation had disappeared and we were frantically wondering what we should do about our fellow driver. Should we call 911? Who has jurisdiction on the open Thruway?

Then, before we could make a move, he put on a blinker and headed for the exit. Immediately we realized we’d be able to catch his license plate as he slowed down for the toll gate. I put on my blinker and we followed him. He approached the easy pass lane and barely slowed down enough for the sensors to register. In that brief moment, we caught his plate number and wrote it down. Then we zipped through the easy pass lane after him.

If I had been alone I probably would have let it go. I would have called in the plates and turned around to make my way home. But my husband is a man who takes responsibility. For years I’ve called him our ‘undercover super hero’ because he’s always the one who steps up and does the right thing, even when it puts himself in danger. By the time we entered the dark winding roads of rural Upstate New York, my man was committed to stopping this guy, hopefully before he killed someone with his reckless driving.

For almost 20 miles, as he continued to cross the center line (causing other cars to honk as they barely missed him) and weave around the corners, we followed him. For most of that time we had the 911 operator on the phone, describing to her the landmarks we were passing, so she could send the authorities to the correct location. Around hairpin curves, at speeds higher than I was usually comfortable with, we tracked him and kept the 911 operator up to date on his status.

Finally, as we passed through a small town, we saw the fruits of our effort. Two local police cars were standing by, ready to intercept this obviously intoxicated driver. Our part of the journey was over. We hung up the phone and turned around, winding our way back to the Thruway. But as the adrenaline continued to course through our veins, we had a different discussion. This one about the senselessness of a traffic accident caused by an impaired driver.

For much of our chase we were certain we’d eventually be assisting at a crash scene. The driver of that white car was so out of control, it’s a miracle no one died that night. All of those public service announcements, preaching the dangers of drinking and driving, suddenly became very personal. We talked about the reasons a person might be stupid enough to get in a car when they’re not able to drive safely.

The holidays bring more than the usual circumstances that would lead to a person driving while impaired. It starts at the office holiday party, or a friend’s Christmas party. Everyone’s relaxed, joking around, the alcohol is flowing freely.

Then someone decides it’s time to call it a night. Everyone knows he’s had a few too many to be getting into a car. But it’s an awkward situation. No one wants to spoil the fun. No one wants to be the one who stands up and says, “Maybe you should call a cab.” It’s easy to tell yourself, ‘I don’t know that guy very well. Someone who knows him better should say it.’

Because let’s face it, it’s a hassle to call a cab. It’s a pain to have someone drive you home. There’s the expense of the cab ride, or the favor owed to the chauffer friend. And there’s logistics of getting back to the scene to pick up your car the next day. It’s so much easier to look the other way. “He’s a really good driver, he’ll be fine.” “She doesn’t live that far from here. I’m sure she’ll make it without a problem.”

This weekend, as you celebrate the ringing in of a new year, think about the choices you’re making. If you’ve ever seen a drunk driver on the road, you’ll ignore the wimpy excuses. When it seems too hard to stand up and do the right thing, imagine the innocent car that may never see that drunk driver coming. The one with toddlers buckled into car seats in the back. The one traveling to grandma’s house for the holidays. Then step up. Do the right thing.

Consider it a gift to the universe.

Consider it a gift to yourself.

Tis the season to do the right thing.


Carrie Link said...

Thank you for this, and thank you for saving untold lives that night!

mtmnmom said...

It's too bad that more of us "regular folk" don't follow your lead- thanks for giving us all a good example, and glad there was a happy outcome and not another senseless tragedy. Happy New Year!