My first mistake was utilizing a parking bay at the local post office.

This is never a sensible practice, since every North American post-office parking lot appears to have been laid out by the same maniac who designs the blueprints for amusement-park roller coasters. What with all the narrow driving lanes, mysteriously angled parking bays, and more one-way arrows than a William Tell convention, it’s usually all one can do to survive a Pony Express Headquarters visitation with one’s vehicle intact.

The above having been stated should explain to the reader why yours truly never parks within a country mile of a U.S. Mail building—except for the day of The Incident.

On said day I cruised in through the main parking area entrance, and blow me down if my eyeballs didn’t behold an almost empty parking lot. Elated with my good fortune, I maneuvered my pickup truck into a vacant bay, making sure there was an empty bay on either side of the pickup, just in case. Can’t be too careful, you know—or so I thought.

My passenger alighted and I settled back to enjoy the sunny day during her absence, listening to the strains of Meat Loaf emanating from the truck radio. Another day in paradise—and then It Happened.

The Jeep that had been parked two bays to my left started to back out. Okay, so he was leaving—nothing unusual about that—except that the driver seemed to be making a sharper-than-necessary K-turn, in reverse, at about one mile per hour, and the vehicle’s acute-angled turn was getting sharper and sharper by the second, as his right rear was heading toward my pickup.

Since his Jeep was piled to the gills with packages, I figured the driver couldn’t see my truck, so I gave the horn a quick advisory tap. And he inexorably carried on heading toward me at a snail’s pace. After a couple of yards of this misdirectional motion, I managed to get a visual on his rear-view mirror, trying to ascertain if the driver was drunk, an idiot, or somebody looking for trouble.

Surprise, surprise—there was no driver behind the wheel.

At that stage I realized there was no alternative but to attempt to get my vehicle out of there with alacrity. The motor fired up, I slammed the shift lever into reverse, took one quick glance over my shoulder, and of course there was a car blithely cruising down the lane behind me. No escape route.

So Meat Loaf and I were obligated to observe The Jeepster back up into my truck in slow motion. Naturally the owner of the self-propelling vehicle had seen fit to replace the factory rear bumper with twin open-ended steel pipes fit only for gouging gashes in other peoples’ vehicles in a post-office parking lot. So now my Chevy was cosmetically challenged because some moron had left a stick-shift vehicle parked in neutral without applying the emergency brake.

Trying to keep my normally intemperate disposition one degree below Rage Flash Point, I waited for The Jeepman to appear on the scene. To his credit, on his arrival, he took one look at the situation and produced an insurance card from his wallet. I suggested to him in vitriolic terms that it might be advisable to remove his vehicle from the scene—preferably without attempting to engage me in conversation in my volatile state—which he did.

And that was the end of the story.

Several hours later I mentally rehashed the situation, trying to figure out if there was a way I could have handled the situation differently and avoided vehicular contact. Short, of course, of having parked eleventy-seven miles from the area, as is my wont. And as is so often the case when incidents occur in my life, I retrospectively analyzed the occurrence from the perspective of Colonel Cooper’s seven Principles of Personal Defense.

1) Alertness: Yes, I’d been alert. Unfortunately I’d been scanning for hobgoblins and the dregs of society, not for a riderless horseless carriage.

2) Decisiveness: My actions had been decisive, but under the circumstances, too little too late—and my escape route was blocked by a passing car.

3) Aggressiveness: Aggression, in this case, wasn’t required. But I shudder to think what would have happened to Jeepman ten years earlier with my more youthful, less mature lack of restraint.

4) Speed: The alacrity was there, but because of the missing observational elements in the Alertness phase, I ran out of time.

5) Coolness: Pretty proud of myself on that one. The good Colonel’s teachings probably saved Jeepman a beating—and me a prison sentence for assault.

6) Ruthlessness: Again, like Aggression, it was better left unused in this specific instance, but it was available on tap. And it would have surfaced immediately if Jeepman hadn’t made a wise choice and not escalated an already potentially volatile situation.

7) Surprise: The Surprise element wasn’t quite what Mister Cooper meant in his treatise. Mea culpa. This time the joke was on me.

So what’s the big deal? This was merely a fender bender, not a gunfight. Why all the preceding melodrama about a simple, non-life-threatening incident? Because the gist of this article is to point out that one should always expect the unexpected—especially if, like yours truly, you were apparently born with an implanted poo-poo magnet.

And if you stay with Colonel Cooper’s primary principle of Alertness, the ensuing principles will pretty much take care of themselves, irrespective of whether it’s a fender bender or a fight. Yes, the next time I stop off at the Pony Express station, I’ll park where I normally park, even if the area looks like Desolation Row. And yes, next time I’ll leave the motor running—and have an escape route.

Thanks, Jeff. Even in death, my indebtedness to you keeps on mounting.

[This column first appeared in the August 2007 issue of S.W.A.T.]

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