Today I was excited to publish the first official post here on Off the G for my new side project that I have begun working on. However, yesterday when I was planning on putting together the final touches (which in my case means sitting down and writing the whole thing in one go from start for finish), I instead spent my free morning in throes of what could best be described as an existential crisis. After getting off the subway at my subway stop of Bedford-Nostrand, I exited the station only to be greeted by police, firemen, and a whole plethora of emergency vehicles, many of which I didn’t even know existed. They really dug deep to bring out all the cities rescuers for whatever was happening. From where I stood, it looked like it was something on my side of the street, maybe a fire on Clifton Place. I thought I would cross Nostrand Ave, walk on that side of the street toward Clifton, just so I could get a look at what was happening. Of course I was concerned, but I’m also human and curiosity was getting the best of me. After crossing Nostrand, I turned to walk towards Clifton, when I realized that I couldn’t turn to walk towards Clifton. I saw the back of a car jutting out of what looked like the store front of the coffee shop on the corner. Without giving myself time to process what I was looking at, I just loudly belted out, “HOLY SHIT.” I stood there for a second and then kept walking, because I’M NOT RUDE. But I wasn’t totally sure what I had seen was real. If that was what I thought it was, then that’s Civil Service Cafe, the cafe I go to almost everyday on my way to catch the G, and there was a Dodge Charger sticking out the front of it. It was like a scene from Spider Man 2, and you know what scene I’m talking about. Not the one where he puts her in a web and then climbs down and kisses her like a creep. The scene where a car goes through a cafe window. My brain could not reconcile this. So I called my boyfriend. It was about 9:30 in the morning, I knew he had probably walked by the same block on his way to work about an hour earlier. When he answered I wanted to ease my way into describing what I had just seen, making sure that if he saw it first he could give me his own firsthand account, and then I could jump in and say, “Yeah, what you said.”
“When you went to work this morning, were there a lot of firemen around the Bedford-Nostrand stop?” I asked.
“Okay, I think I just saw something crazy…”
After describing what I thought I saw and putting together a timeline, we figured whatever happened, did so sometime between 8:30 and 9:30. While talking to him, I decided I had to circle back, so after passing a few more cops on the parallel street to the accident, I turned back towards Nostrand, this time walking on a different street so I could approach from a different angle. And also so I wasn’t passing the same people who would label me a rubber necker. I stayed on the phone with my boyfriend the whole time I circled the scene like a buzzard. Then I finally rounded the corner and could see the accident once more. Holy shit had not been an appropriate response before. This was a holy fuck. I started talking to my boyfriend as if we shared the same set of eyes. “The bricks are gone!” a statement which made total sense to me because I could see that the car had not just plowed through the front window where there is seating, but it came in at an angle, blowing out the side window, too, which in turn took out part of the brick wall. I was not paying attention to my phone call so much anymore as I started turning to the people around me for answers. “Were there people inside?!” “What about the dog who lives in one of the above apartments?” “Is anyone hurt?” “What the fuck happened?” The answers ran the gamut: 2 people were seriously injured; one person said one of those injured at the very least had a broken leg; the cafe was open but not it wasn’t as busy as it could’ve been; someone overheard the driver saying he was hit, but that person didn’t believe it and rolled their eyes; no one had answers about the dog. The rescue workers weren’t sure if the building was structurally sound, which explained why everyone was just standing around, looking at it, talking on walkie-talkies and pacing back and forth.
I decided I had to head home, one: because I’M NOT RUDE and two: because I actually had a lot of shit to do and I was seriously eating into my time to do it by looking at a car through a cafe window. I didn’t care that I was walking by the cops I had walked by earlier when I was trying to be slick and circle around the block. I figured that someone passing them twice while talking on the phone was probably not on their radar as much as the vehicle that had jumped the curb into a business. I hung up the phone and attempted to get back on track with my day. But I couldn’t. Stop. Thinking. About. It.
At roughly the time the car went into the window injuring four people in the process, I was at a coffee shop in Brooklyn Heights. I had never been to this coffee shop, but I knew chances were that I would be back since it’s right by where I work, so when they offered me a punch card I figured I’d take one. I went to put it into my purse realizing I had no idea where my punch card for Civil Service Cafe was. I made a mental note to locate it when I got back to my apartment since I would be back on a schedule soon where it would make more sense for me to get coffee by my apartment. There has to be a term for when something you rarely give any thought to, like a cafe punch card, pops into your brain at the exact moment when something gigantic and relevant to that thing you suddenly thought of is happening miles away. Like the universe sending you a message. If there is a term for it, it’s probably German. And it probably means “Universe Hello Signal.” Another example of “Universe Hello Signal”: the day Billy Mays died, my OxyClean exploded and ruined one of my raincoats. This is a thing that happens all the time and we need to recognize all the “Universe Hello Signals” we encounter.
I know that I struggled with being able to focus on anything other than the car in Civil Service Cafe because I kept thinking of the people who were in there, the woman who was trapped under the car and had what sounds like an extremely broken leg that she may lose. I kept thinking of them because I could’ve been one of them. And it’s a very selfish way to view an accident like this, but it’s also a realistic and human one. It’s how you can feel empathy for those involved, because you can imagine yourself or someone you care about in their place. I was obsessively refreshing stories and Google searches and twitter feeds trying to get answers. How did this happen? Was everyone truly okay? Who was working? Did their paper goods order come in recently because I know for a while they just kept pouring their coffees into extra large cups and apologizing about the lack of lids, so I would have to sneak into Dunkin Donuts and just pilfer a lid or two.
When I wasn’t adequately satiated with online searches, I started texting anyone who I thought might have even a peripheral knowledge of Civil Service Cafe. Somehow texted someone who hadn’t heard about the accident yet felt as if I was creating new content on the matter for my brain to absorb. And even if you didn’t have a peripheral knowledge, if I had already texted you that morning, I just pretended we were still in the middle of a conversation, even if I hadn’t texted you in about an hour. “So yeah, I’ll let you know when I hear about that thing from an hour ago. Oh my god, so you’ll never believe this. I get coffee every morning, and the coffee shop I usually go to has A CAR THROUGH THE WINDOW. Crazy, right? Ok, I’ll get back to you soon about that other thing.”
I kept finding excuses to walk by the cafe, to read more hastily written articles that didn’t quite know the facts. Finally, I had to go to work. But at work I snuck more texts. My best friend had seen it on the news and was giving me lives updates. When I got out of work, I met my boyfriend who had walked by it again at 5:30. The car had finally been removed, the news was starting to sound a little bit more coherent. It seemed like there may have been at least two cars involved. Then another text sent me to another article that said the second driver who fled the scene had been arrested. And the final paragraph in the article left me questioning my whole day. “One violation was issued to the building owner for ‘a structure rendered non-compliant due to a motor vehicle impact.'” Am I reading that wrong, or does it seem like the building owner got a violation for his building getting hit by a car? How does a building avoid such a thing? I don’t get it. The world collapsed into chaos for me once more.
I was excited to possibly go to Civil Service Cafe to work on my new side project and reveal it for you today. Instead, this is what I have to offer you in it’s place for now, a shoddy retelling of how I saw my local cafe fucked up hopefully not beyond repair. I know that this accident didn’t happen to me, although I 100% framed this whole story as if it did. There are people who were injured and witnessed it and live above it and work there who will be impacted in a much more significant way than I ever will. But, I still wrote this thing and you still read so I guess…we’re both narcissists? I will be sharing my new project soon and be back to posting regular Off the G posts this month between bouts of mourning Civil Service Cafe, and hoping and helping for it’s swift recovery and return. Until then-
-Off the G