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City of Humans, Not Hustlers

Is it worth the risk to leave a note after rubbing fenders?

September 21, 1996|DEBI POMERANTZ | Debi Pomerantz teaches in Culver City. 'I cut a mental deal with myself: I would look at my car and if there was even the slightest damage, I would go back.'

As I squeezed out of the tight parking spot, I heard the scraping sound of my fender rubbing the bumper of the truck parked ahead. My first reaction was to keep going, and I did.

I justified my escape; there couldn't have been any damage from such a slight meeting of bumper and fender. But in truth, the main reason was that I didn't want to deal with the owner of the truck.

Los Angeles is full of hustlers. This minor brush could cost me thousands of dollars or even put me in the middle of a never-ending court battle. I would be blamed for every dent on the person's car and every problem in his/her life.

But the incident struck a nerve in my deepest ethical core. As a fifth-grade teacher, I tell the children that must they take responsibility for their mistakes. I cut a mental deal with myself: I would look at my car and if there was even the slightest damage, I would go back. Guilt led me to my final decision: I would go back regardless of the state of my car.

I felt great on the way back, as if I was on a mission to save the world, when I was really only saving myself. The white pickup truck waited at the scene of the crime. The back bumper had a scab; the rubber slightly peeled in the middle. I left a note, being sure to specify the situation and damage. I prayed that the owner would call before any future accidents were pinned onto me. I would pay ever cent I owed, but knew that I could not make up for the inconvenience.

Two days passed before I received the call. A deep, pleasant voice announced that he was the owner of the truck. Raymond graciously thanked me for leaving a note and said the damage was only $22. I offered apologies and payment.

Raymond said that he would not accept any money because I had left the note when so few people would have bothered. He talked a little about how his mother had raised him to be that way. Raymond's graciousness reminded me that my behavior should always be based on the belief that Los Angeles is a city full of humans, not hustlers.

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