Friday, July 25, 2008

Footnote: Personal responsibility

My wife, our older spawn and I decided to pay a visit to our village's annual festival last night, stopping on the way so I could withdraw cash from an ATM inside a local grocery.

Emerging from the store, I found Mrs. KintlaLake out of the car, engaged in a rather energetic conversation with two men and a young woman. I quickly learned from my wife that this woman wasn't terribly adept at maneuvering her beat-up sedan -- it took her three tries to squeeze it into an adjacent parking space. On her third attempt, she'd gunned the engine and collided with an orphaned shopping cart, banking it off the men's car and into mine.

Both cars were occupied. Bad luck, that.

I bent down to examine the "damage" to my car -- two small dings, low on the front bumper, the sort of thing I'd ordinarily chalk up to what can happen when I choose to park in a grocer's lot.

Problem was, this 20-something sprite of a girl had copped a plus-size attitude, calling me every name in the book, apparently because I had the gall to see whether or not my car had sustained any damage.

"It was an accident!" she screamed. "It wasn't my fault!"

"It may have been an 'accident,'" one of the other men said, "but it was definitely your fault."

True enough -- and that's when I knew what I had to do. Although I had no authority to detain this woman for her irresponsibility, I was perfectly entitled to inconvenience her. My family and I were in no hurry, so that's exactly what I did.

Interrupting her tantrum, I asked her to produce her driver's license (which she did) and proof of insurance (which she didn't), and I transcribed the information onto a note pad with excruciating deliberation. As a bonus, one of the store's security guards came over to investigate, adding a good 15 minutes to the affair.

The young woman took full advantage of the guard's presence by calling my wife out -- that's right, she actually challenged Mrs. KintlaLake to a fight -- right in front of him. Amazing and unwise.

The whole time, however, my wife and I remained calm, cordial and businesslike. I don't know if our 13-year-old, who watched it all from the back seat of our car, noticed how we dealt with the situation, but I hope he learned something.

In the end, I have no intention of filing an insurance claim or pursuing the matter further, nor do I harbor the delusion that I taught this irresponsible little shrew a lesson. It certainly wasn't the first time she'd shown her immaturity and I suspect it won't be the last.

This time, at least, refusing to accept responsibility for her actions carried a price -- it cost her a half-hour of her life, 30 minutes she'll never get back, and I collected.

But was it a waste of my time? Not at all -- all three of us found it entertaining as hell. In fact, we laughed about it all the way to the festival.