out of character

Coming home from West Virginia the other weekend, we ended up behind a car that was swerving all over the already-really-curvy roads. It’d veer completely over into the other lane and then slow to a crawl. It was emanating a weird, toxic-ish smell. Trash flew out of the window. I picked up the cell phone, ready to call the police.

We drove cautiously, our senses on high alert. The car did some more swerving. More slowing to a crawl. Then the teen girl in the passenger seat started shouting at us/the world/no one in particular, and they pulled over to let us pass.

I jotted down their license plate number as we drove by, and then my husband announced, “They’re acting like idiots. I’m gonna talk to them,” and jerked the car over in front of them.

My husband, the guy who doesn’t like to make phone calls, speak in public, and talk to strangerslet alone confront themstalked up to their car and, more or less, chewed them out.

The whole time he was lecturing and gesticulating, I was thinking: WHAT IF THEY’RE DRUNK. WHAT IF THEY PULL A GUN. WHAT IF HE GETS SHOT. WHAT IF THIS IS THE END.

(Tense moments bring out my melodramatic streak.)

But the kid (my husband said he looked to be sixteen or seventeen) turned off the car when my husband approached and acted respectfully subdued.

“Dude,” he said, “It’s the car.”

And my husband responded, “Dude, then get it off the road.” (Except he didn’t actually say “dude” back.)

As my husband walked back to our car, my younger son said, his voice full of awe, “My dad’s a hero.”

And then my husband was back in the driver’s seat, very much alive, and we were on our merry way. I didn’t smell any alcohol, my husband mused, but what about drugs? There’s that synthetic pot…

His only regret was that he didn’t offer them a ride. “If this had happened to my dad, he would’ve said, ‘That’s it. You’re not driving any more. Get out of the car. You’re coming with us.’ That’s what I probably should have done.”

This same time, years previous: ailments, rhubarb crunch, and honey-baked chicken.


  • Anonymous

    Notifying the police probably wouldn't have been a bad idea, offering them a ride…not so much. You guys didn't know anything about them, and putting your family at risk isn't required in good stewardship. By stopping, you put the kid on notice that he was doing something dumb and he had been busted at it. (Whatever got tossed out of the window wasn't the fault of the car.) Sounds like you shouldn't be beating yourselves up over your actions on this one. You already went above and beyond.

  • Margo

    LOVE this story. Sure, people get hurt from confrontations like this and bad things happen, but I just love stories of people stepping out of their normal groove.

  • Gretchen

    Wow, that was brave and a little dumb – but let's just go with brave. Launching our children as new drivers was definitely one of the most tense and scary parenting times for me. I trusted them to not be idiots, but I am well aware of all the other idiots on the roads that put at risk our beloved, inexperienced drivers.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Brave and dumb—that's exactly what it felt like. But I kept thinking: What if we do nothing and then there's a head-on collision and people die? How will we feel then? We're still kind of kicking ourselves for not alerting the police…

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