Drive Me Crazy

My car before the bumper fell off

Last week may have been one of the craziest of my life. Specifically, one day last week was one of the craziest of my life.

I was running late for work (a fact to which I would later point and partially blame for what happened) and was driving down my home street of South Claiborne. Out of nowhere, a car darted out in front of me, and, predictably, we crashed. I’ve been in one other car accident –– hit by a drunk driver –– and I immediately feared the worst: a totaled car, a serious injury, a lot of money thrown away. (I later realized that none of these things was the worst that could have happened, but more on that later.)

The two young guys in the car looked at me for a moment, looked at each other and drove away. I stared in horror and shock and disgust –– “What were they thinking?” –– I managed to memorize their license plate.

Thankfully, I wasn’t hurt, and I could tell the damage to my car, while enough to merit a very sizable repair bill, was relatively minor. Also, thankfully, my boss, Errol Laborde, was gracious enough to give me a ride to work. Everything still seemed pretty surreal –– surreal but overall OK. I spoke with my parents shortly after the accident, making sure to begin the call with “I’m fine” before scaring them to death with the news. My father’s words of encouragement particularly stuck with me: “Jordan, you shouldn’t even be upset or sad today. It’s just a car –– who cares? You should be celebrating. You’re not hurt; you’re alive! You need to go out and celebrate –– today should be one of the happiest days of your life!”

He was right about a couple of things: I wasn’t hurt, and it was just a car. So that night, I went out to eat some delicious Caribbean food, drink some margaritas and enjoy life. That’s when I got a call from my roommate asking me to come home. Something had happened to the house.

I came home to find that a car had actually driven through part of the house –– and was sitting in the middle of my landlady’s living room. Thankfully, no one was in that part of the house –– it’s a small connecting apartment behind the main house where my roommates and I live –– and my landlady stays there only occasionally, but we were still in complete shock. Apparently a man had had a stroke or heart attack and veered off of South Claiborne into the house. His car shot straight through the garage door, missed my roommate’s car by inches and smashed straight into the apartment. Our neighbors saw it happen, and one of them busted the car window with his elbow to get the then-unconscious man out.
We stood outside for hours watching everything unfold: ambulances, fire trucks, police cars, tow trucks. (They even had to bring in a larger tow truck because the first to arrive at the scene was ineffectual.)
I was embarrassed to admit that I’d never met my neighbors; this was our introduction, one that turned into a strange, twisted bonding experience. I ran inside and grabbed as many beers as I could carry –– everyone was a little on edge –– and we stood around in the freezing cold trying to figure out what to do, how to help. Eventually the clean-up process began: helping pick up the sad, obliterated bits of her bed and her furniture (the TV and fridge miraculously survived) and having strange Katrina and Gustav flashbacks.

When our landlady, Ms. Angela, finally arrived, she was unbelievably calm. I had been infinitely more upset and flustered about a car accident that now seemed like a minor fender bender. She was actually more concerned for everyone else than she was about the gaping hole in her house: Was the man driving the car OK? Did anyone get hurt? Was my car OK, and was I hurt in my accident? I couldn’t believe she was concerned about my missing front bumper when she was missing two walls.

In the end, everything turned out as decently as could be expected. After cleaning the debris and trying to lend some support, everyone made their way back inside, marveling at this crazy night. Within a day the garage was repaired, and temporary walls were put up on the house. I’m now driving a rental and still can’t quite believe everything that happened that day.

All in all, it was a strangely positive experience: I found a new perspective on being alive and healthy; I bonded with my neighbors by sharing both beer and that crazy experience; I learned a valuable lesson from Ms. Angela about dealing with crisis. It seemed very appropriately New Orleans to somehow glean something meaningful from such a terrible day. We pick ourselves up; and we learn; and, when all else fails, I know I can be the one to supply the beer.