Tuesday Night Crashes in Lents

June 25th, 2009  |  Published in this mortal coil  |  1 Comment


My apologies for the improvised iPhone pano above. It was the only way to capture the man who drove his van up into Glenwood Park, across the street from our house, along with the van itself. I had two shots of the incident on the iPhone, taken from two slightly different vantage points. As a result, the van has a certain swept-back look I’m not going to take the time to correct.

The incident happened on Tuesday night as we were getting ready to go to the Lents Neighborhood Association meeting, where a vote was held to formalize the neighborhood’s rejection of Merritt Paulson’s proposed Lents Park baseball stadium.

We heard a crash outside and ran to the window just in time to spot the van (pictured above) swerving up over the curb and into the park. The driver backed out of the park and began to slowly roll down the street. A group of young men ran the van down and I thought the driver might get pulled through the window. He stopped, though, and the young men backed away to stand there eyeing the van while the driver rummaged around inside.

I went into the front yard and saw a lot of neighbors gathered around eyeing both the van and the other vehicle it had struck before careening into the park. I went across the street and asked the young men if the driver was o.k. and they said he claimed he’d fallen asleep, and that he was “acting weird.” The front driver-side wheel was bent at a strange angle, so it seemed the driver wouldn’t be going anywhere too quickly no matter what his intent.

The van door opened up and a small dog jumped out.

“Well … the dog’s o.k.” I said to the young men. I walked toward the van. The driver clamored out so I called over to him to ask if he needed medical attention. He told me he’d fallen asleep at the wheel. He called someone on his phone.

I retreated back across the street to watch, not feeling the need to call 911 because there were plenty of people standing around who were busy repeating the particulars of the incident into their phones.

The driver eventually hobbled over to the owner of the vehicle he’d struck with his van and began to ask that they not report the incident because he had no license and no insurance. The victim demurred and the driver became more and more agitated, waving his arms around as his voice got louder. I decided to call the police and report that development so any squad cars en route might decide to get to the scene sooner than a routine fender-bender might dictate.

The police arrived and dealt with the matter with what appeared to be good humor. A police observer in a blue vest stood around watching the proceedings. We walked to the neighborhood association meeting.

It was probably a good thing we witnessed the accident and the ensuing small levels of excitement it brought to our block, because the atmosphere at the neighborhood association meeting was charged and people were agitated there, as well. I felt somewhat inoculated against low animal tension. Fortunately, I’ve got a stint as a small-town reporter in my past, so it was easy to slip into that mode and take the meeting for what it was: a meaningless formality allowed to move forward for its cathartic value.

I don’t have much more to say about the meeting except that it played out in such a way that caused me to indefinitely defer writing up the combined 14 pages of notes I’ve had from two ballpark-related meetings in the past week, and to harden my resolve to regularly attend neighborhood association meetings for a long time to come: People clearly understand the forms and trappings of democracy, but the meeting itself was a travesty of democratic process and behavior. We’re new to Lents, so it has been best to sit out these past few rounds of ball park meetings in any participatory sense. If we’re to be positively involved in our neighborhood in the future, we’ll have to deal with a lot of the people who participated in those meetings on both sides of the issue. Some of them did not cover themselves in glory.

To end on a positive note: http://cityrepair.org/

They sent someone to the meeting to talk about launching some projects in Lents and I’m eager to see what comes of that.

I told Al after the meeting that it’s the first time I’ve ever seen someone from Iowa greeted with the kind of mistrust people used to reserve for perfumed dandies just off the stage coach from New York City, but like I said: the crowd was tense. Most of them won’t be back next month anyhow.


  1. michael says:

    August 16th, 2009 at 4:02 pm (#)

    That was definitely an interesting and rather brief presentation I got to give. Better than none, and better than I was anticipating after sitting through that meeting.

    I met some of the more inspired, creative thinking, and community minded people that I have met in Portland there.

    We’ll be back on the 12th

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