Overheard on the train, again

It’s a frequent problem. Say you have just run into someone who was at one point quite a close friend but whom you haven’t seen for a long time: how does the conversation go? How can you return to your former chumminess after all this time? How do you pick any of the myriad life-experiences you’ve had between your last meeting and now to retell so as to exemplify what has been happening in your life in the intervening period?

Well, on the train from New York to Princeton Junction I got to witness just such an event. A girl sitting opposite me stopped a chap who was passing through; it became clear that they had been in the same fairly close-knit social group in New Jersey at some point (probably when they were at school) but had since fallen out of touch. As it happened, both were now working in Manhattan: she as a personal assistant for some public-relations dragon, he spending eight days a week living it large in investment banking. It sounded to me like two stereotypical ‘young-adult jobs’ from a movie (cf. The Pursuit of Happyness, The Devil Wears Prada). Because of his lengthy working hours, he is living in New York in an apartment he shares with some mutual acquaintances, but she evidently still lives with or near her parents somewhere in northern New Jersey.

After a while, the well of ‘Did you hear about so-and-so?… No, she chucked him…’ conversation ran dry and so our friends turned to personal anecdotes to keep things going. I’m afraid I wasn’t in a position to take notes (it would have been too obvious, as we were facing each other), so can’t give direct quotations. However, the young lady told a story the gist of which was as follows:

She had been at a party and had somehow become quite inebriated. She then got into her car to drive back to her father‘s house (at this point, a collective sharp intake of breath from those of us in earshot and listening in on this not-at-all-muffled conversation: we could guess what was coming). Quite close to home she drove off the road into some sort of electrical substation, thus cutting off the power to the whole neighbourhood. Somehow, in spite of some fairly extensive injuries, she was able to drive away, and so went home.

About ten minutes later there came a ring at the doorbell, and she opened the door to two policemen. They had been sent to investigate the damage to the substation, and had seen her car in a sub-par state in the driveway. They asked her straight off whether she had driven in to the substation, and she replied that she had. However, she reserved her right to avoid self-incrimination as clarified by the fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and refused to answer any more questions. Her father hadn’t realized that she had come home, but attracted by the sound of the doorbell he came to find his daughter in conference with the long arm of the law just as the said long arm was trying to drag her down to its local lair, but he persuaded the knackers that it was more appropriate that she should be taken to the hospital for attention to her injuries.

The trial is pending. The defendant has already admitted that she drove into the substation, and so presumably will face a conviction for dangerous driving. But the more serious charge would be that she was Driving Under the Influence of alcohol (or Driving While Intoxicated: the crime is given one of the two names in the various states1) when the accident occurred. This would certainly have a penalty on her licence, and possibly also come with time in gaol to match. However, apparently her solicitor has advised her that the police cannot prove that she was drunk when she had her accident; instead, it is supposedly a realistic proposition that she was so traumatized by the crash that she got home and immediately put away half a bottle of Bourbon, thus explaining her condition when the police showed up at the door. Even the defendant herself thought that this was a hilarious proposition, and those of us seated around who were purposefully not listening in exchanged amused glances. Anyway, good luck to her and her lawyer; I hope the jury appreciates her appeal to basic evidentiary logic. Evidently the lawyer comes from the O.J. Simpson school of defence (‘if the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit’).

Still, at least the crash happened in densely-populated New Jersey, and not as she was trying desperately to drive across the desert in the middle of the night.


  1. In Austin, at the beginning of this trip, I was surprised and disturbed to find a fleet of taxis which bore the name ‘DWI Guy’ on the side. I wondered why any taxi driver would advertise the fact that he had been even accused, let alone convicted, of driving drunk, or indeed why any potential passenger would get in such a taxi. It was only as I was leaving that I realized that they were in fact advertisements for a local criminal defendant who specialized in drunk-driving charges.

One Comment

Thomas Flynn

6 September 2012, 8.09 am 

You say “solicitor”, I suspect she said “lawyer”. She clearly needs to benefit from the wisdom of James Duane and Officer George Bruch Officer George Bruch of Virginia Beach PD. Summary: “DO NTO TALK TO COPS!” I fully intend to follow their advice even though the 5th amendment does not really apply in New South Wales.

Leave a comment

Double line-breaks are automatically converted into paragraphs. Comments are moderated before being published. Your email address is required as a sign of good faith: I will never publish it (see the Privacy Policy). You will probably need JavaScript enabled in your browser to submit this form.