By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
It's true, accidents happen in other places. I could have been making that same left turn into my own driveway back in Ohio, say. Some impatient fool could have ignored my blinker and tried to pass me on the left up there too. He still would have plowed into my front end. The bumper on my Corolla would have crumpled just the same way. The steering knuckle would have buckled and the suspension would have gone to shit. All conditions being the same, an impatient driver anywhere would have ricocheted off my front end then slammed into the back of the surveyors' truck parked in front of my house.
Those are the laws of physics.
But that's where the similarities would end.
Because as it all goes down in my little slice of unincorporated Miami-Dade, just south of North Miami and north of Miami Shores, the man who can't wait for me to turn left can't afford car insurance either. He can't really even afford a car, at least not one of those cars they sell at licensed car dealerships for $239 a month or $150 a month or even $99 a month, not even with zero percent interest (which he wouldn't qualify for) and no money down (he'd still have to cover taxes and tag). And those dealerships require that you have insurance, to say nothing of a driver's license, which these days means you even have to have legal residence status.
Those are the laws of the INS, which as everybody knows discriminate against Haitians, especially under Dubya.
But in Miami everybody has to drive.
So when the man described by the police report only as a "5'9'' Haitian male" -- and by his compatriot and my neighbor, a light-skinned mechanic named Roger, as that "neg la" (black man) -- spots a broken-down blue 1990 Honda Accord with a For Sale sign parked on an oil-soaked square of pavement across from my house, he convinces Roger to let him take it for a test drive.
Sitting in the Honda in the seconds after the crash, it may occur to the 5'9'' Haitian male that 1) the police may arrive and ask troublesome questions and 2) it will cost more than the $400 he had in his pocket to repair the truck and the white lady's car and so 3) he will no longer be able to buy the Honda.
Better to just drive away.
The two surveyors and I watch as the Honda peels around the corner.
"Oye, te dio un píngazo al camión,bro-ther," says the skinny surveyor to his more substantial partner, conveying the impact on the truck with a phallic word heard only in Miami and Cuba. "Píngazo: He fucked up your truck."
Seeing me, he adds in English, "A dark blue 1989 Honda Accord with no plates."
An impressive demonstration of surveyor's acumen -- off on the model by just one year -- but then all that really matters is that there are no plates. No driver.
"But his friend is there," says Roger, hurrying across the street and pointing to a hulk in a striped shirt and a stocking cap. "He will tell us his name and where he lives."
The 5'9'' Haitian male steals the car, but leaves his friend behind!
By the time the police arrive, though, the friend is gone. Hopped a number two rumbling down North Miami Avenue.
The getaway bus.
But at least we have Roger.
"What are all those cars with no tags doing in front of your house?" the cop storms, after checking the scene.
Roger forgets English.
He stares as the officer surmises that the car is not stolen, that he's covering up for the missing guy.
Then, in mid-intimidation, the cop is called away to a real emergency. We wait to give our statements to a Public Service Aide, an officer who handles routine noncriminal matters.
"I knew this story before I got here!" announces PSA David Carrero as he eyeballs the scene. "They're in on this together!"
In on what?
To clear himself of whatever it is, Roger calls the woman who asked him to sell her Honda. She agrees to come to the scene to report the car stolen, despite Officer Carrero's stern warning that if it's not stolen, "You're in big trouble."
"Oh dear," she tells me when Roger holds his cell phone to my ear, "I was getting rid of that car so I took away the insurance last week."
Let's face it: Even if the police find the driver, he won't have the money to repair my car, especially if he goes to jail. And how realistic is it to expect money from the owner of a $400 car? I resign myself to paying the $500 deductible and taking whatever rate hike comes my way after my insurance pays my claim.
At least, that's how the scenario might have played out somewhere other than Miami.
But when I call the number on my Aries insurance card that evening, no one answers.
When I call again in the morning a smooth jazz track with an occasional flourish of chimes alternates in an eternal loop with a chirpy voice that says, "Aries also offers 24-hour claim service." Right. After about twenty minutes, a voice named Jeff takes my call. He takes my story. He gives me a claim number.