“I can’t believe this” Maude muttered into the glove compartment as she fished out her insurance and registration.
A minute ago the car ahead of her had slammed on its breaks to avoid colliding with the Hummer that had barreled out of the gas station. Maude tried to turn onto the shoulder but there wasn’t enough time. Her car crashed into the other with a nice, loud crunch. She had bit her lip in her moment of panic and could taste the blood.
The Hummer drove away either unaware or unconcerned.
A middle-aged woman in a pink pastel suit and pearls climbed out of the car in front of her waving her arms angrily. Maude couldn’t hear her but it was easy enough to know what she was yelling- “What were you thinking?!”
She took a deep breath, opened the car door, and stepped out slowly. She approached the woman cautiously saying, “Hi. Can you believe that guy? Are you alright?” She paused. “I’m fine- just a little blood.”
The woman glared at her and circled the mangled bumper of her car which was now scraping against the ground.
Maude continued, “Did you happen to get the license plate number? Maybe we can report whoever it was for reckless driving?”
“Of course I didn’t! How could I have?” the woman snapped. “And anyway, you shouldn’t have been tailgating. This is your responsibility!”
Maude began to feel tears welling up, “But it’s not my fault! If the Hummer didn’t pull out, this wouldn’t have happened.” She took a deep breathe and then calmer said, “Maybe we should call the police so we can fill out an accident report.” The woman didn’t respond so Maude pulled out her cell phone and placed the call.
While waiting, Maude sat down on the curb. The woman paced and made a call on her own phone. “Today of all days,” Maude thought. “I should have just taken my bike to the store and this all would have been avoided.”
An uncomfortable ten minutes passed with the woman screaming into her cell phone. She shot angry looks at Maude and the damaged cars alternatively. When the police officer finally appeared, she slammed her phone shut and stormed over.
“This woman was tailgating and rear-ended me,” she explained before the police officer could open his mouth.
“Wait, wait, wait” he said and pulled out his clipboard. “My name is Officer Murphy. I am going to need both of your driver’s licenses and registrations, but first I need your names.”
“Ok and now I need to know exactly what happened. Ms. Stewart?”
“Well as I said before, this woman was tailgating me so when I stopped she rear-ended me.”
Maude interjected, “But it wasn’t my fault. This red Hummer cut her off so she had to slam on her brakes. There was nothing I could do!”
“Ok,” the officer said. “You both need to calm down. Maybe one of the gas station attendants saw what happened.”
Maude nodded. All of the energy had drained out of her body.
Officer Murphy waved the gas station attendant over. The attendant was a blank looking young kid with messy, curly hair. Both women looked at him dubiously as the Officer began to talk to him.
“So did you see what happened?”
“Did you see what happened?” he repeated.
“Yeah. So the gas station made a left and the Hummer went straight onto the road. Then the rear of that car,” he pointed to Ms. Stewart’s, “collided with the front bumper of that one when that part of the road stopped short.”
The two women and the officer simultaneously glared at the young kid.
“Do you think you’re funny?” snapped Ms. Stewart and Maude thought she might slap him.
Determined to get the kid’s statement to work for her, Maude decided to jump in.
“So,” she began carefully. “You said the Hummer went straight when the gas station made the left. Did the gas station give the Hummer enough time to pull out?”
The kid shook his head no.
“See! If the Hummer wasn’t involved this never would have happened!” Maude cried out.
Ms. Stewart was furious.
“This is ridiculous! What is that kid talking about? Gas stations moving! The roads stopping! Both of you are crazy and all of you are wasting my time,” she said exasperated.
Officer Murphy jumped in and said to the kid, “We have your statement. You can go back to work.” And then to the ladies he said, “Well, it doesn’t matter if you look at it as the Hummer’s fault or the gas station’s fault. In rear-end collisions the owner of the car that was behind is financially responsible for the accident.”
“But that’s ridiculous! How can there be only one way to treat every single case? Don’t you question that? What if we try to find more witnesses? Maybe someone from across the street or down the block saw what happened? Maybe one of them will remember the Hummer’s license plate and then that driver will have to pay for the damages.”
The Officer mostly ignored her and continued. “I suggest you two ladies exchange license, registration, and insurance information. I am going to file the report saying the Hummer cut you off as opposed to the gas station making a left because…” he trailed off. “Well, frankly, down at the station cars move, not gas places.”
The two women watched him pull away and dug out pens and paper.
Maude said one last time, “But it wasn’t my fault.”
Ms. Stewart replied, “I don’t care. Who’s your agent?”
What was I trying to do?
I was trying to construct a story that toyed with the ideas of agency and models. In the story, the Hummer and both of the women had agency. However, in the end the Hummer was not held responsible and may not have even been conscious of what it caused. I believe that just being a part of a system gives something or someone agency and to have agency you do not necessarily have to make conscious decisions.
The gas station attendant was my attempt to portray having different models of the world. Maude was willing to work within the boy’s unconventional model but Ms. Stewart was not. Officer Murphy understood what the boy and Maude were getting at, however, for paperwork’s sake and convenience’s sake, he reported the accident as the Hummer pulling out.
Finally, on page 4 Maude protests that every single case should be treated the same way and suggests that they need more viewpoints to point to get down to the truth. This was my attempt to emphasize the importance of “the view from many some wheres.” The more, different types of people working on a problem the more likely a good answer will be found. So if they had sought out the people across the street and down the block, they might have been able to correct the problem.