El Matador, León Cobarde

Well I don’t know, I don’t know, OH where to begin…

Being a frequently transparent person, arguably to a ridiculous degree, I once again am sharing with you… my criminally small audience… the latest downpour of shit that has rained down upon yours truly.

Last Saturday I went to El Matador State Beach in lovely Malibu, CA. I brought with me some baked (wink) goodies to enjoy with the intention of laying on the soft sands, drifting in and out of consciousness with only the sounds of the ocean waves. And whatever sound it is that seagulls make. SqwaAhaaaaaa. Anyway, it was a beach bumming kind of day and an overdue one at that. Recharge the ol’ batteries, etc. A therapeutic day spent with nature. My roommate had also tagged along, but I figured he’d explore the coastline while I snoozed.

Of course, there was a line on this particular day just to park at this normally scarcely populated beach spot and I wasn’t going to tolerate that kind of noise. No, no. See, just a little further up the road was another back-up spot to park that didn’t have a street sign posted. A secret little lot. So I dropped off my roommate on the side of the PCH and went back on the highway to search for parking. I looked both ways… twice. Once in the turning lane, my rear sightly over the line of the left lane, I glanced and saw two cars heading in my direction, perpendicular to my vehicle. The car in the left lane was about to slam into the left corner of my bumper, maybe 100 feet away at most, unless it moved to the right.

Now, I love my little Toyota Prius. It’s a practical smart car for practical smart people. But it’s true that it’s pick-up is lackluster at best. So in that moment, stationary at this point, I realize I can’t pull forward fast enough to avoid a tap to the back bumper. There is also most definitely not enough time to reverse or otherwise adjust. I had to depend on the other two driver’s to avoid me and the easiest obstacle to avoid is one that isn’t moving, one that’s predictable. I remained where I was, expecting the car to shatter my bones or kill me, ideally the latter if those were the only two options on the table. I’m a rip off the band-aid kind of person.

I felt a grazing on the car, opened my eyes, and saw the car had already passed the long way around, oddly, in front of me. Seeing no damage and the driver awkwardly returning to the right side of the road and taking of, I too resumed driving. My car was running perfectly! I was in shock, to say the least, by this near-death experience. The last time I’d experienced such a thing was an intentional act last April when I stood on the ledge of my apartment complex, contemplating the pros and cons of ending it all. Needless to say, I was not thinking clearly after revisiting what I call “the void”, that place where any future becomes nebulous. My nerves were shot.

A white truck came up in my rear-view mirror, tailgating and flashing it’s lights at me. A driver appeared to be pointing an iPhone at the back of my car, filming. I panicked and picked up speed. Maybe I was just being paranoid? Nope. That truck followed me up a winding, mountainous road off the PCH. No flashing lights, so it wasn’t the authorities. Fortunately the turning radius of the Prius is fantastic, so I managed to spin around and reverse course, a maneuver that cost the truck precious time. It was enough of a head-start down the mountain to throw him/her off my trail. I waited until the truck came back down, then… went back up. Not bad, eh?

But I didn’t have the capacity to savor that small victory. Because then I heard sirens. I saw a helicopter. I heard an ambulance. And I began to sense in the pit of my stomach that something had gone terrible wrong in those scant seconds that I had closed my eyes just prior to the expected impact and, ergo, my probable demise.

Still rattled and unable to think clearly, I continued up the mountain road to clear my head. The roomie could wait. I had a sick feeling that something was very, very wrong and that I was in very, very great deal of danger. Shortly after I felt on alert, a sheriff vehicle coming in the opposite direction pulled in front of me and flared the sirens. The officer hurried out with his gun immediately pointed in my direction. Having previously been beaten by an officer and having borderline-PTSD from my relatively brief yet traumatic experience in state prison, I nearly pissed myself. How serious was this?

I stepped out of the car, hands raised, and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t want any trouble, I don’t want any trouble…”. This wasn’t my first rodeo, but it was the first I’d ever had a gun pointed at me near the top of a remote mountain road without any witnesses. I don’t trust cops… or humans in general really, especially when they’re holding a gun in my direction… and this was no different. I was a zombie at that. I was gone. I noticed the right headlight section of my Prius appeared to have had a bite taken out of it and began to piece it together.

I went through the motions of being handcuffed, questioned, read my rights, and left in the backseat of a squad car while they searched my vehicle. Peering through the window I could see a computer screen open in the front seat and saw the dreaded words: “FELONY HIT AND RUN”. The car listed was a white Mini Cooper, with notes that said it had flipped and rolled. My heart sank. I felt sick. Who was in that car? Women? Children? A family? What if it was a whole backseat full of babies?? I felt how I imagined a first-time killer must feel. An overwhelming sense of guilt, remorse, horror, and regret.

At that point I had fully snapped. I struggled to breathe in the 97-degree heat, cramped in the back of a squad car, recognizing that my life could be over. Again. I began to consider taking a dive off that mountain road, straight down into the canyon abyss. I’d gone through too much in the past few years… the death of my father figure (my Grandpa) and my close friend/cousin committing suicide less than two weeks later in 2009… substance abuse and legal trouble in 2010,… becoming a fugitive in 2011… an inmate in 2012… a parolee in 2013… a homeless man in 2014… a suicide attempt in 2015… and now this?? I had established a home, was finally starting to get back on my feet after what felt like a 5-year journey through hell. And finally when I see that light at the end of the tunnel it winds up being… another jail cell? For potentially years??

It was while in that mindset that the officers decided to do a field sobriety test. Not exactly the best timing when I was barely able to stand upright. But I somehow concentrated and held it together enough to pass every test… except for one. I was told to take nine steps forward, heel to toe, counting each step, then pivot and repeat the same walking back. After, the officer said, “Did I tell you to look at your feet?” My mind went blank. Then I replied, “When you demonstrated what to do, you told me to look at YOUR feet. So I assumed you wanted me to the same.” Seemed reasonable to me, but not to the officer who now apparently had the right to take a blood sample.

I should make it clear right now that I had not ONE drop of alcohol in my system, but I was still concerned because I AM a medical marijuana patient and do smoke, responsibly, on a daily basis. I most often smoke at night a few hours before bedtime to relax, decompress, and have a restful nights sleep. My plan had been to get stoned after I got to the beach. I’d had a couple small puffs earlier than morning, but many hours had passed. So just to be clear, I was sober. Regretfully I spent many years where this was not the case, but this time… for once… it was. Unfortunately, it also appeared I had intentionally run from the scene of a major accident. Because the other car had flipped and rolled, it was assumed that whoever was inside was at least injured if not outright killed, which immediately upped things to felony status. Hence the shit-storm.

Back in the squad car I was asked if I was suicidal. I laughed and muttered, “For years, sir.” I was taken down the mountain to the nearest hospital for evaluation and to have blood drawn for the officers, all of which was fine by me. I had disclosed right off the bat that I was a legal medical marijuana patient and had even demanded a breathalyzer test (which oddly they declined to give) to further solidify my sobriety. After we went back into the squad car to head to the station for booking, an officer commented that the victim, a single female driver, had already left the hospital even before we had with only three aspirin.

And not. One. Scratch.

I’m proud to be an atheist, but I cannot find another word to accurately describe this other than a miracle. How does a car going 60mph flip and roll and the driver walks away without a mark?

I was held in solitary at the county jail with a bail set at $50,000. No chance of affording that! My elation at the safety of all involved couldn’t counter the flashbacks to my NY experience, the general demeaning and inhumane insult of being deprived in a cage as though an animal, and had no end in sight. (We have GOT to come up with better ways of dealing with non-violent prisoners). The central air was cranked to oddly cold levels resulting in 48 hours of being curled up, shivering, torturing myself by endlessly replaying what happened and what I could have done differently to avoid being where I was. On Monday I made a phone call and found out my arraignment set for Monday had been pushed to Wednesday. Just as I was preparing myself for an extra 48-hours of shivering in solitary confinement, the jailer opened my door.

“Let’s get you out of here, Mr. Bond.”

Turns out I had to be arraigned in front of a judge within the first 48-hours of my arrest and Monday being Columbus Day pushed it back too far. I was released on my own recognizance, no bail required, and without a court date. This is normally uncommon for a felony, but it turned out there was an exception being made for good reason. It wasn’t a felony anymore. In California, because there wasn’t any injury and because I wasn’t driving under the influence, my charge had been reduced to a misdemeanor. I couldn’t believe it.

Oh, there’s still a legal battle ahead. It’s still an ugly charge and the process won’t be pretty. (It never is). And that brief re-visiting of a traumatic nightmare is still taking it’s toll on my psyche, but my nerves have begun to ease.

I was so freaked out from the near-collision and had been so tightly wound-up with anxiety and depression for so long that I was frankly not of a sound enough mind to handle any further trauma. While the fault for the accident itself remains questionable, the bottom-line is that it was undoubtedly reckless to leave the scene before first taking it in full inventory of said scene and reacting accordingly. But the driver must have tipped a ways down the road, likely from jerking the wheel and hitting the brakes too hard, plus being a top-heavy car like a Mini Cooper it was designed to inevitably topple. Still, I should have been more proactive. In the moment I simply thought, “I’m alive” and “I need to feel safe” and anything else just didn’t permeate beyond those two thoughts. I caved to pure instinct. I keep reminding myself that I was a stationary object, that I didn’t actually hit a car at all, that I had been sober, and that the turn I was making was in fact legal. It wasn’t so much a hit-and-run as it was a got-hit-and-ran.

Regardless, I still feel my reaction was an uncharacteristic and undeniable moment of sheer cowardice. That being said, I was a lucky, lucky coward.

– – – –

A few extra oddities:
The first chick I asked out since moving to CA had been named Irene and it just so happened that her name was carved into my jail bed (bench) in giant letters. One of my roommates was in a car accident just a few hours before mine. My holding cell number was identical to the one I had in NY. And the brand of peanut butter and apple jelly that came with the jail food? “Lucky”.

Universe, you’ve got some explaining to do…

By the way, if the other driver happens to ever read this, please reach out to me! I haven’t been given any information yet so you remain an unknown. I am beyond thankful that you are okay and would very much like to discuss how best to resolve this curveball life has thrown our way. We are both very fortunate to still be breathing!

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