Tonight, I called 911.
Just a few hours ago, I was lazily computing away when I heard an overworked engine mixed with the sound of spinning tires and gravel. They’re doing some work on the water mains throughout the neighborhood, so I at first put it down to some kids joyriding, kicking up some of the fresh construction material as they took a corner too fast.
But this was something else entirely. The noise got louder, more insistent. When I heard a loud bang, I sprang to the window. As I looked down from my second floor position, I saw to my shock that a van was driving off my lawn at high speed. In fact, in the intervening seconds, the van had jumped the curb, rocketed through a narrow passage between a hydrant and a telephone pole, then circled through a turn that brought it so close to the house that the van’s left tread disappeared into the garden before scraping against the front step with such force it sheared off a large chunk of concrete. Even after this collision two feet from my front door, the vehicle was moving so fast it left treadmarks on the concrete walkway.
After watching the van bounce back into the street, I paused in surprise. What the hell was that? I thought at first. I rushed around to other windows to see if I could still see the van. Instinctively, I doused the lights as I did so. No sense revealing my position if some maniac ran aground nearby — and perhaps I was imagining it, but didn’t it sounded as though the racing engine was still close?
I couldn’t see anything, so I decided it was time to call the police. I walked downstairs and began to flip through the phone book excitedly. Is this an emergency? What’s the non-emergency number? Is it under ‘Police Department’, ‘City of’, or in that blue government section? I flipped the pages in a hyper fashion. Fuck it, I decided. Time is of the essence.
I dialed 911, and though excited, tried to be brief and professional: someone drove through my lawn, yes, a van, no I’m not sure of the color… I gave my address and the nearest cross streets and listened as the dispatcher put out a call for a “possible 1055,” then told me to call back again immediately if I saw him again.
A few minutes later, as several cruisers converged on the intersection two houses down, I slipped out onto the lawn and surveyed the damage — but was immediately distracted when I noticed that the van itself was just up the road. After peeling out of our lawn, he’d careened off a tree near the corner house, finally slamming so hard into a hydrant that even after slipping a heavy chain around the back axle, a tow truck couldn’t disengage the two. In yet another close have, the van had just missed the newly installed hydrant that crews hooked up last week. Had he stopped three feet to the right, there may have been water works.
I say ‘he’ for convenience, as the driver was missing. As the cruisers zipped around my block, I got the story from the police captain: someone had stolen this van from a house 20 blocks south, and in fact may have stolen another car before that (there were reports of an entirely different van: white, no plates) in another part of town. As barefoot neighbors streamed out of nearby houses, the story spread. Everyone gossiped excitedly about the car thief who was clearly drunk, probably injured, and last seen entering the woods behind my house. Several late arrivals trooped down to get a look at my “stoop.”
Interest soon waned once it became clear the man wouldn’t be found. After the tow truck took a different approach and managed to extricate the van, everyone returned to their beds to sleep.
But I didn’t. I turned on the exterior lights and walked the Wonder Dog around the house, then returned to my desk. And when, a short while ago, I heard the sound of sirens and speeding cruisers once again, my first thought was: I hope they caught that fucker.