A few days ago, I read a post by Kirsten Lamb, the guiding force behind MyWana, a supporting and encouraging community for writers. Her post, The Cone of Shame Not Just for Pets Anymore, reminded me of my very own cone of shame moment.
A few years back, I joined a van-pool to make the ninety minute commute to and from work. Twelve government employees crammed, shoulder to shoulder, in a van every morning before daybreak for the drive down into the city. As the new kid in the van, I had to take the back middle seat, the place where no fresh circulated air ever reached. The rules were explained by the driver, a crusty old fart with the disposition of a rented mule.
“We leave at 630, if your aren’t here, I’m not waiting for you. I will pick you up and 515 in the afternoon, and if you not there, I’m not waiting for you.”
The drop offs were executed with the precision of an airborne drop behind enemy lines. Your designated stop came on the horizon, you unbuckled and gathered your briefcase. The door slid open before the van came to a stop and out you went. The van pulled away from the curb and sped toward the next drop. No delays, no prisoners.
I really thought the guy was a blowhard until the day I saw him actually leave someone. She broke the rules, because she wasn’t at the pickup spot at the designated time. She was two blocks away, running to the van when he pulled away.
Then came my turn. A meeting ran late and I hoofed it the four blocks to the pickup spot. Ahead, at the intersection a van pulled to a stop. I started to trot to the corner and was fifty feet from the van when it took off. I was late and my ride home just sped down the street.
I waved and yelled, pleading for the driver to stop. I looked insane and desperate. I know this to be true, because a car skidded to a stop at the curb, drawn by my impromptu seizure. The driver rolled down the passenger side window and leaned towards me. Instead of offering to call the men with white jackets to come scoop me up with a butterfly net, the man said, “Get in! That your van?” I nodded, winded form my sidewalk calisthenics. “Get in!, I’ve been in a carpool before!”
There was not a second’s consideration of stranger danger. It wasn’t like this was downtown Beirut, it was Sacramento. Nothing ever happens in Sacramento, right? That is a subject for another time, just suffice it to say I knew I wasn’t being abducted into sex slavery.
So I hopped into my rescuer’s car, a low slung white Mustang, and shot back into my seat before I had fully closed the door. The driver explained he had been left by his carpool before, so he knew what that felt like. The man punched the gas and chased down the white van, which now had a five block head start. The guy had to be channelling the soul of some dearly departed race car driver. Thick homeward bound traffic meant nothing. Weaving in and out of all three lanes of traffic, we closed on the target.
Yellow lights at an intersection turned red before we made it through and we pressed on to intercept. Alongside the van, with the Mustang in the center lane, I waved and tried to get anyone’s attention inside. The partial profile of the driver, behind his tinted window, paid no attention.
The Mustang pilot accelerated once more and slid past the van. In a sudden move, the Mustang pulled into the van’s path and slammed his brakes, slipping diagonally across the lane in front of the van. A quick thank you and I bailed from the car and hopped toward the white van. My rescuer continued on his path, content that he saved me from a long walk home.
I ran to the van doors with shocked faces pressed in the windows.
I didn’t recognize any of the faces.
Like a dart to the temple, it hit me. This wasn’t my van. I damn near carjacked a van full of strangers.
How do you diffuse an awkward moment? You try to explain to your kidnap victims that all these commuter vans look alike and that you are very sorry for disturbing their ride home. Or, you could pretend you saw an old friend and run in the opposite direction.
The seven block run back to my van pick up spot left me winded and sweaty. My real van pulled in a few minutes later and no one asked why I looked like I’d been chased by a jaguar.
I earned my cone of shame that day and I’m proud to state I have not carjacked anyone since.
So, let’s hear it…what is your cone of shame moment? Come on and share. No judging here among the cone-heads.