Hit and Run | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Hit and Run 

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By Susan Messer

It's the noon hour, a warm fall day, and I'm out running. My standard route, two or three miles around town. I pass within a few blocks of the big high school. During lunchtime the streets belong to the teenagers, young thrill seekers drag racing down the streets, hanging out of car windows, shouting to friends, running stop signs, while most parents are at work and only a handful of residents like myself are left behind to dodge the action.

A dark Mercedes passes me from behind. The driver's got his window open, and he's waving a big Styrofoam cup in a crazy-eight pattern. A van approaches from the other direction, and when the two vehicles meet the Mercedes driver tosses his cup at the van. It bounces off and lands in the street, and the two vehicles keep right on going.

I don't like litter. I grew up in the 70s, during the antilitterbug campaign, and I feel soapboxy on the subject. What do they think--the world is their garbage can? But it's not my nature to speak up. My husband isn't so afraid. Once, in a parking lot, we saw a nun toss something as she got out of a car. She was young, wearing a short black headpiece, and was with several other nuns. "Excuse me," my husband said. "I think you dropped something." He stood there, pointing down at her litter and calling out to her, until she came back and picked it up.

So I'm looking at the lonely Styrofoam cup as it rolls back and forth in the breeze, muttering under my breath about the decline of Western civilization, when to my surprise Mr. Mercedes pulls around the corner, heading my way. I pick up the cup and stand in the middle of the street, my electric green running shorts like a target, waving the cup around just as he was a few minutes ago. When he pulls up beside me, I'll do like my husband did with the nun: "Excuse me. I think you dropped something."

But instead of slowing down to see what I want, he speeds up. As he flies by, I toss the cup at him, and it arcs right in through his window, hitting him on the temple of his sunglasses--clunk.

He slams on the brakes, his face a mask of rage.

"What the fuck are you doing?"

"Don't throw your stuff in the street."

"Don't throw things at me!" As if we've got a long-term relationship, and this problem has come up countless times.

"Just don't throw your stuff in the street." Now I start to get scared: this is about the time a teenager pulls out his automatic weapon. But he just steps on the gas, leaving me in a cloud of dust.

I run for home, peeking over my shoulder in case my new enemy circles around again. Within a few blocks of my house I hear sirens. They sound like they're all around me. A police car speeds by, lights flashing; it blockades my street. I'm already picturing the courtroom: It was just a Styrofoam cup, your honor. We all make mistakes.

Two doors up is my house, my haven, my sanctuary. I glide past the police car, but the officer doesn't even look at me. His eyes are focused farther up the block, so I look that way too, seeing the fire engines, a small knot of neighbors on a lawn. Gradually the knot loosens. The police and firefighters get back into their vehicles, and the crowd disperses: a false alarm from my neighbor's security system. A moment later I'm safe in my house, the door closed behind me, trying to catch my breath.


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