when I’m burning down the railway track

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months wondering if I’d do the right thing in a crisis. Last night I did.

Chester St in Davis was narrower than usual last night, due to piled snow from last night’s storm. I alternated between walking down the one-way street with traffic to my back and jumping up on the slushy sidewalks. Just past Cottage Ave I squeezed past a guy unloading his pickup.

Ten seconds later I heard a bang and a WHUMPF. Looking back, I saw the guy leaning around the corner of his pickup. He had his arms up in disbelief, looking toward a car that was passing him (and approaching me). The open door of his truck swung erratically.

The car took off. Without hesitating I took off after it.

I got the first three digits of the license plate when it hit the corner of Chester and Orchard and made a sudden left. My messenger bag slapped against my hips as I jumped across the sidewalk, sprinting and huffing. The car remained at a tantalizingly consistent distance – outpacing me on the long stretch of road, then slowing up when it was about to turn. Just a little closer, I thought.

The driver made a right on Milton, a narrower residential street. I sprinted halfway down the block, passing a woman scraping off her car. The driver got to the end of Milton, abutting the much busier Massachusetts Avenue. He waited, signal blinking (really?), to turn right. I prayed for the North Cambridge traffic to hold up for just ten more seconds. If ever I needed a legendary Masshole driver to refuse to yield, now was that time.

He turned while I was still over a hundred yards away. Lost him.

Winded, I retreated to Chester Street, where the pickup driver and a local hefting a power drill stood in conference. “Ya get his license plate?”, the maintenance guy asked. “First three digits,” I said.

” ‘sbetter ‘n I thought! You took off after him like a track stah.”

I gave the hit-and-run victim my business card, noting the first 3 digits of the license plate down on the back. Don’t know how much it’ll help – I didn’t get a look at the make or model in the dark. “Call me if you need anything,” I said, resuming the interrupted walk back to my apartment.

I don’t know what I intended to do if I caught the driver. The odds of my catching that car were pretty low in the first place – I’ve never been a great runner, and wearing a heavy coat and a messenger bag didn’t help. And the devil knows the police aren’t much more likely to catch anyone with only three digits off their tag.

What I’m most proud of is my reaction time. Someone was in trouble, I had an opportunity to help, and I picked the right thing to do without hesitating. I stuck with it, even though I had no obligation to, until the opportunity seemed lost. I don’t care whether or not I was a good citizen or some sort of hero – what’s important is that I went from zero to sixty at the drop of a hat.

It doesn’t quite answer how I’d handle myself in a fight. But, no pun intended, it was a good dry run.


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