Parallel Lives

Rachel Manteuffel is an actor and writer living in Tysons Corner.
Rachel Manteuffel is an actor and writer living in Tysons Corner. (Courtesy Author)
By Rachel Manteuffel
Sunday, September 14, 2008

When I got to my car, there was a note wedged into the black rubber sill of the driver's-side window. On it was a license tag number and this: you were hit on your left rear taillight by the above minivan.

What? Really? I checked.

Sure enough: a puncture wound and spider crack on the lowest part of the taillight. The bulb was okay, but its cover had bled large bits of red plastic onto the road.

And ... now I knew who did it. A good Samaritan had seen my assailant drive off and had intervened in hopes that justice would be served.

It had been a triumphantly small space for me to have gotten my parents' minivan into, four hours before, so of course I remembered: the flash of hubris when sizing up the spot, the decision to go for it anyway, the knowledge of how pleased and privileged the long string of drivers waiting behind me must have felt to witness such a brave and methodical execution of so complicated a maneuver.

My mother has told me that my dad's flair for parallel parking is one of the chief reasons I exist. On some days I park like him, and on some days like her. So when it goes right, I impress myself. Probably, I was too close to the light-gray van behind me, and probably, there was no reason to engage the parking brake as I did, making the car un-nudgeable, but I went to meet my friend for dinner feeling like a big pile of awesome.

So that gray van was the one. And I had its license plate number. Which meant ... what? I should call the police? Well, the plastic on the street and the note were the only evidence that anything had happened, and driving away would forfeit any right I had legally. I think. Surely the police wouldn't care to come look at my busted taillight. It would cost, what, $40? Who cares?

But someone had gone out of his way to do the right thing here, leaving the note. Somebody cared about my car, about right and wrong, about me. He didn't know me, and I wasn't coming back for some time (these were the same factors that allowed the van driver to behave as he did), yet I was a person to him. The situation was not that my car was hit, really. It was that somebody had been kind.

It looked like a man's handwriting. Probably a young man about my age, 23. He put a slash through the zero to show it was a zero -- an educated slash. He took two tries to spell "your" correctly, which means the proper use of English matters to him. The whole thing looked casually offhand. It was all lowercase, which shows a lack of pretense. There was nothing self-important about this note. He had nothing to prove. I liked this man, and I felt he should be rewarded. I decided to thank him, if I could find him.

I turned the note over. It was a receipt from the CVS in front of my parking spot, time-stamped about 20 minutes after I parked.

He gave the cashier $7.50 for the $7.39 purchase, which is just adorable. This is a man who, unlike most men, carries quarters, a man who goes out of his way to make the beleaguered cashier's life easier. You don't meet someone like that every time your car gets hit.

Then I noticed the purchase: 1 Trojan Supra 3CT.

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