On my way home from work the night before last, I pulled up behind a green pick-up truck next to Dehart’s. At first, nothing appeared out of the ordinary. We were just two cars waiting at a stop sign for a gap in the traffic.
When the gap came, the truck in front of me didn’t pull out. Huh, I thought. Seemed like enough room to me.
When the next gap came a moment later and the driver still didn’t make any move to pull out, I tapped my horn a couple times, as light and polite as I could manage. I peered into the cab to see if he was engaged in conversation with another passenger, but I could only make out one silhouette.
When another gap in the after-work traffic finally appeared and the brake lights on the pick-up continued their ignorant red glow, I leaned on the horn. I thought maybe the silhouette moved a little, but I couldn’t be sure. At any rate, the pickup certainly didn’t.
I checked the rear view – no one behind me – and threw my Jeep into park. I got out and walked up to driver’s side door, thinking something must be seriously wrong. If there was a problem with the vehicle, why hadn’t the driver gotten out or at least waved me around? The thought of a heart attack crossed my mind…
As I walked up, I noticed the window had been rolled down. The driver was slumped over, chin resting on his chest, eyes closed. Shit, oh, shit.
“Hey.” Traffic continued by us in both directions. I reached in through the window and gave his shoulder a push. “Hey! Are you alright?”
As soon as I touched him, his head bounced up. Red-rimmed, bleary eyes darted back and forth, searching for a focal point.
“Are you alright?” I repeated. His wide eyes locked with mine. They were the confused eyes of a myopic without his corrective lenses.
“Yeah,” Sounding as if, you know, of course he was okay.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Yeah. Why?”
“Well, if you’re okay, then why are you sleeping in your truck at a stop sign?”
“What?” His head swiveled sharply around – his eyes glancing through the windshield, at the rear view mirror, back to me – in jerky stops. Now he reminded me of a chicken. He obviously didn’t know where he was.
My concern was changing to annoyance; not for being held up, but at the possible danger this guy could have been to others. Considering the stop sign was at the bottom of a hill, how lucky was it that he fell asleep with his foot on the brake pedal?
“Are you drunk? Have you been drinking?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes!” He sat up straight, leaned forward and put his truck into gear. I wondered if I should let him go. I wondered if I could stop him if I wanted to.
“Look, man, are you sure you haven’t been drinking?”
“No, of course not,” he said without enough conviction to sway me either way. And with that, he checked the traffic and drove off. I stood there, out in front of my Jeep for a second, willing myself to memorize the spelling on his personalized plate. He was going the same direction I was headed, but my apartment was only two blocks away. As I walked back to my car, I dug into my pocket for my cell phone.
Should I call the cops? Should I follow him? I had the cell phone in my hand as I pulled in behind him. His truck took the next curve a hair wide, easing onto the white line and kicking up a small white cloud of dust. If any other car had done the same, I wouldn’t have noticed, but it was just enough to convince me that he still might not be okay.
As my turn approached, I was still weighing the options. I didn’t have the police station’s dispatch number memorized, only 911. This wasn’t an emergency, necessarily, so I didn’t want to call there.
And had he been drinking? Honestly, I don’t know. His red eyes could have could have been the result of a binge, or they could just as easily been those of someone who was tired enough to fall asleep at a stop sign. Also, I had been standing right next to him and hadn’t caught the faintest whiff of alcohol.
Just as I was about to be forced into a decision – follow him or go home – he turned into an RV park. I turned into my own parking lot across the street and pulled into my spot. As I got out of my car, I could just see his truck disappearing around some trees at the back of the park. Wait, was he navigating that path erratically? I wondered. Am I over-analyzing? I waited a minute to see if he was going to pull back out onto the road. He didn’t.
My internal debate continued as I walked inside: Okay, he’s off the streets – do I need to get him in trouble? Was if he was just tired? Is that a crime? Then again, what if he actually had been drinking? What if he gets back on the road and plows into someone? How will I feel if I hear that a drunk driver kills someone today?
That settled it. I picked up the phone book and called the police.
“Yeah, I’d like to report a traffic incident that I just experienced. It wasn’t an accident or anything; I just came across a guy that fell asleep at a stop sign.”
“Where was this, sir?”
“On Back Loop, at the stop sign coming down to Dehart’s,” I said. “I stopped behind a truck and when he didn’t pull into traffic for the third time, I started honking my horn. Then I got out of my car, walked up to his window, and had to nudge him awake. I couldn’t tell if he had been drinking or was just tired – I asked if he was alright and he said he was – then he just drove off. I really don’t know if he was drinking or not. His eyes were bloodshot, but that could have been from lack of sleep…” She wasn’t prompting me on the phone, and I felt like I was rambling. I could hear her typing, though.
“So, anyway, it was a green pickup truck, newer model, with a personalize license plate.” I spelled it for her.
“Sir, can you describe the person driving?”
Damn. Before she asked that question, I had been mentally patting myself on the back for having an accurate description of the truck and its plates. What more could they need, right? Now I realized that the only thing I could remember about the driver was his eyes. Was he balding? I thought maybe he was, but if someone told me he had been wearing a hat, I would have taken their word for it. Was he fat? Thin? Old or young? All I could see in my mind’s eye were those bleary, startled eyes. I flashed back to an anecdote a middle school teacher had once told me; it was about a staged college psychology experiment where a gun-toting, arm-waving man crashed into a classroom. He briefly disrupted the class and then fled. Later, no one could reliably describe the faux-assailant, but the descriptions of his gun were surprisingly accurate.
All this went through my mind within the space of maybe one second.
“Well, he was male. I’d say somewhere between 35 and 45 years of age. That’s about all I know for sure.”
She then asked me for my full name and home phone number. I gave them to her and pictured her confirming the information via caller ID.
“Alright, sir, I’ll dispatch an officer.”
I didn’t know what else to say, so I thanked her and hung up.
Crazy what can happen on the road between work and home, even when that distance is only half a mile.