The L. A. Riots in 1992 had an unusual effect on me. They left me with the distinct impression that, given the right number of people, in the right circumstance, there was really no such thing as authority.
I believe my enlightened 15-year-old mind managed to sum it all up as: “Authority is a fucking joke, man.” I believe that was almost the exact phrase I uttered to my friend Brandon, who was visiting from out of town, the day I stole my mother’s car.
So here’s the story. Being 15, I was all excited to be getting my driver’s licence “soon,” and had somehow convinced my mother that it wasn’t a bad idea for me to start backing the car out of the garage into the driveway if we were going to go somewhere. Over the course of several months I did this, with permission, probably 80 times. So, of course, I considered myself to be a perfectly capable driver.
My aunt had passed away, and all funeral arrangements were scheduled the same week as Brandon was down visiting, so we were pretty much left alone for the duration of his visit. While Ma and Pa were off checking on the dearly departed, I took the opportunity to test my newfound theory about authority. No one’s here. I know what I’m doing. I’m going for a ride!
I asked Brandon if he wanted to come, and, to his credit (and my complete bewilderment) he said no. I went anyway. Nothing big, just a quick trip around the block, gone for 5, maybe 10 minutes, back into the garage, no one the wiser. And, it went exactly that way.
Got back home, parked, and played it off like no big deal. Easy.
The next day, I had more nerve. I told Brandon I was going out again, and again, he declined. I went anyway. This was not going to be a quick trip. I was going for a cruise. I took the car into Amherstburg, picked up another friend and drove around for a good 20 minutes or so. I dropped him off and started heading home. I may have been gone for about an hour at this point.
As I made my way home, a light drizzle started. Nothing bad, nothing to worry about. Just a sprinkle. I was clipping down a county road, lined with two of those 8-foot-deep ditches, then cornfields, going about 80 KM/H. I drifted just slightly to the right and my mom’s front tire edged over the 2-inch lip of the pavement, onto the soft shoulder.
Quickly, I corrected my steering, by far too much. The car shot to the left, I corrected again—again too much—and the car swung back to the right. The back end broke completely loose, sending me into a spin, across the street, landing me in the ditch, pointing in the opposite direction from I was heading, 3 feet from a ground-level electrical transformer box attached to a telephone poll, in the ditch.
Almost immediately I hopped out of the car. I wasn’t hurt; neither, for the most part was the car, except for the fact that it was now 8 feet down inside a dirty, muddy, Essex County ditch.
It was at that very moment, and I don’t know that everyone has one of these moments, but, at that very moment, I understood the term “consequence.” It felt like a living dream. I still kind of get chills thinking about that moment, and to be honest with you, it has very little to do with the thought that I was 3 feet away from being a bar-b-q’d 15-year-old. It was the simultaneous feeling of understanding and complete confusion. I think I said it best myself that day when I gracefully clapped my hands to the sides of my head and screamed: “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!” Concise. I like it.
A few moments later a car with a couple of guys pulled up and saw my situation. They offered to run home and grab a chain to pull me out. I accepted and they drove off. While I was waiting, however, someone else happened to pull up. An Amherstburg Police officer. And to make it better, I knew him.
He asked me what happened. I told him. He asked to see my driver’s license. I explained I was 15, and didn’t have one of those yet. He asked me my name, I told him, and that’s when he remembered.
“Didn’t I teach you VIP (also known as Values, Influences and Peers) in grade 6?”
Yup. That’s me. He asked about my parents, and I explained the situation.
The officer arranged to have the car towed out of the ditch. And then to an impound lot. And then he drove me home. He told me my mom would need to come and pick up the car.
When I got back, Brandon was freaking out. I told him what had happened and then proceeded to panic for the next couple of hours waiting for my parents to get home. The exchange between myself and my parents went pretty much the way you would expect, the one remarkable detail being that my mother hit me with the heel of her shoe (what are you gonna do? I deserved it).
In addition to me being “grounded for life,” the major consequence was that I was going to be barred from getting my license until I was 17. There were no criminal charges: this was imposed by my mother.
Maybe in the end, I thought, authority isn’t a joke. Of course, I was still alive. I was grounded, not in jail. I got hit with a shoe, but it wasn’t the end of the world. And when the Ontario government announced less than a month later the introduction of the graduated licensing system, my parents’ immediate reaction was to drop the idea of waiting the extra year to get my license.
Maybe authority isn’t a joke, but it also didn’t need to be taken too seriously either…