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A writ of
mandamus

by Hart Williams 1998

Originally appeared in THIS WEEK WITH TEETH, August, 1998

And, clearly visible on the front was a chip in the paint, exactly matching the scuff on the bumper.  It was the same truck. We’d lucked out and caught the bastard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This eye never sleeps



It was spring, last. A friend of mine was driving in the Santa Clara neighborhood. He was with his daughter. They were on one of those side streets that spaghetti and dead-end endlessly out there.

And some idiot in a lime green truck shot through a stop sign and blasted them: bang. As my friend backed up, frantically checking to see if his daughter was all right, the lime green pickup squealed, shot off and was gone — too fast to get a license. Too fast to catch up.

Now, my friend is what we used to call a "good citizen." He is politically active. He attends civic meetings. He plays by the rules. So, of course, what do you think he did?

He called the Sheriff’s Department. Astonishingly, considering that they only had a couple of patrol cars on duty at the time, someone came over, and took down the details of the hit and run. The officer seemed genuinely concerned. Hit and run, it was clearly implied, was taken seriously. They even took paint samples, ceremoniously putting them in a ziplock evidence bag. Just in case.

Time passed, and the neighborhood didn’t seem quite the same for a long time: there is that gun-shy thing that you go through for a long time after a car accident. He found himself carefully eyeing the stop sign every time he passed it — at least once or twice a day.

And he heard nothing from the Sheriff’s Department. That was OK. He figured as much. Perhaps, though, they’d catch the guy. You never knew.

So, it was on the evening that he and I were driving up to Papa Murphy’s to pick up one of those obscenely overloaded pizzas with our coupon that he suddenly pulled off River Road.

"What?" I asked. "Did you forget something? I’ve got cash."

"I want to check something," he said. We pulled a "U" on a side-street and headed back.

"See it?" he said, pointing.

I looked. Parked in front of a convenience store was a lime green truck. And, clearly visible on the front was a chip in the paint, exactly matching the scuff on the bumper.  It was the same truck. We’d lucked out and caught the bastard.

After we returned with the pizza, he called the Sheriff. They were, he was informed, too busy at the moment. But they’d get someone out there. And we worried aloud that by the time a gendarme actually showed up, the perp would be long gone.

No one showed up that night. Or any night thereafter, as it turned out. My friend said he’d wait for his friend in the Sheriff’s Department to get back from vacation. Not only was the lime green pickup parked at the store night after night, but my friend became convinced that he knew where the guy lived. At least the pickup was parked there every day, if it wasn’t at the convenience store.

Time passed. Finally, snoop that I am, I asked last week what happened with the hit and run driver and the lime green pickup.

"They don’t have any report," my friend told me. "They’re not going to do anything."

And the carefully packed evidence bag? He shrugged. Gone; all gone. Your Tax Dollars at work: evidently they take the report and the evidence and toss it into the nearest dumpster. The dent is repaired. The paint smear on the lime green pickup is rusting now. But the law?

"A Writ of Mandamus" is a legal order one obtains from a judge ordering compliance with the law.

But perhaps the Sheriff’s Department can’t be bothered with the law. After all, there are other things to worry about. Still, I have to wonder what we come to when the most basic rules of civil society are ignored (while the jurisdictional agency in question asks for ever more money in bond issues to do their job). I’m sure they have their reasons. They always have their reasons. But a line from the Tao Te Ching keeps running through my mind:

"Make a few simple laws, and the people will be lawful. Make many complicated laws, and none will be obeyed at all."

I think of all who died in the cause of a civil society, unfettered by chaos and vendetta. And I wonder what they must think of us. Laws? We don’t need no stinkin’ laws. Still, I wonder what we pay the Sheriff for, anyway?


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