That Time I Lead a Freeway Chase With a Crazy Man in My Car

This morning I was talking to one of the parents at my little kid’s school. He asked why I assumed the helicopter sound from when my Scion blew a tire was an actual helicopter – did I have a guilty conscience? Um, yes. Yes I do.

As a case manager at LMP Community I used to drive clients to appointments, to run errands, or just out for coffee. Often I did this in my own car.

Driving mentally and emotionally unstable adults carries some risk. Once, as I drove over the bridge to White Memorial, a man went to grab the steering wheel and said he could flip us off the bridge and we would tumble into the street below like an Oreo: white, and black and white and black; not as sweet.

One day I was out and about with Tommie. Long before this date I had earned his trust and respect by fixing his toes.

Can we take a moment here to bet that when Jesus was advocating washing people’s feet, none of the feet he touched had a big toenail that turned on a 90 degree angle and traversed the width of the foot? If Jesus had encountered Tommie’s feet there would have been a new book called “Eww, Gross!”

Tommie was a large and affable man with an intellect of a 5th grader, a violent temper and was a pathological liar – which is to say, he was pretty much my average client and I was very comfortable with him.

Tommie, Carl and Donald on Stanford Avenue  - part of Los Angeles's Skid Row
Tommie, Carl and Donald on Stanford Avenue – part of Los Angeles’s Skid Row

So anyway, we are on the 5 freeway when Tommie saw a Highway Patrol car and became agitated. He began ranting and frantically waving his arms while talking about how we had to “Evade the po-po” or he would be “shot by a firing squad” because he was a Vietnam deserter. He was sweating and look authentically scared.  In what became the very last time I let anyone ride in my passenger seat, Tommie grabbed the wheel and we wobbled out of our lane – grabbing the attention of the very CHP he wanted to avoid. The CHP moved in behind my vehicle as Tommie lost his grip on reality. He started shouting that he wanted to “go out” on “his terms” and he would kill himself before being arrested again while he lunged to take control of the car. I was smacking away his hands, trying to drive, and pulling all the way to the left hand lane to the exit for 7th street. The CHP followed. I flew down the off-ramp and into a construction zone lined by big-rig trucks where I tucked my little Scion in between two large trucks and turned off the engine.

Those were three of the longest minutes of my life.

I slapped my hand over Tommie’s mouth and whispered for his to “shut it!” and threatened him if he bit me. I did not know if the CHP would care that I had to outrun them or risk death. I imagined my 11 year old daughter watching a prolonged car chase on the news and watching me drive through down town Los Angeles while eating popcorn.

Ten minutes later I restarted the car and drove across the 6th Street Bridge. The CHP was sitting on the bridge facing the direction we came from .There was no break in traffic for him to turn around and follow us. I threw up my hands while shrugging and drove directly back to the shelter where I had to run to the bathroom and wash my face.

So, yes. When I hear the flippityslap of a blown out tire, I think Police Helicopter and not “car problem” because I have outrun the authorities at least once.

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