Driving the Famous Writer


Driving a Famous Writer around is not the same for me since Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Halberstam was killed in a car crash. His car was driven by a Berkeley student who pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to jail and community service.

In slang terms, I like to say, “That just totally f*cking sucks.” It is awful for Halberstam’s family, and awful for the student driver, Kevin Jones, who must have admired the very writer he ended up killing.

So when I was asked, after a reading at my MFA alma mater, to give a Famous Writer a ride to dinner a few weeks ago (by my friend who happens to be a Famous Writer herself), I said yes with both enthusiasm and caution. After all, Kevin Jones was also asked by his journalism department (probably just as casually) to give Halberstam a ride to an interview. He was probably excited and probably said yes very quickly. Without the cautionary tale in the back of his mind.

My G*d! I’d have TWO Famous Writers in the car! And a third person, a writer en route to fame himself!

I was thrilled. And honored. But I also drove the speed limit on the freeway for the first time in years. I did not want to be responsible for killing at least two great literary minds. It was kind of a buzzkill really–I didn’t end up talking to the Famous Writer much, though I had a great chat with my friend.

I wonder if my experience might have been different had I done the driving before Halberstam’s death. Would I have driven a bit faster? Had a more engaging talk with the Famous Writer (in the backseat, so I would have been looking into the rearview mirror) instead of focusing so intently on the road?




Filed under Life, MFA, Writing

3 responses to “Driving the Famous Writer

  1. My heart goes out to the people affected by this accident.
    I’m very surprised, and saddened, that the driver was jailed for a number of reasons (but I’m not a lawyer so what do I know):
    UC-Berkeley – if they invited Mr Halberstam to speak and arranged travel for him they must be partially responsible; especially if University staff asked the driver to drive him or were party to it.
    Secondly – and this is no reflection on you – wtf is your MFA alma mater thinking when they asked you to drive the famous writer.
    They should know about the case you write about and not put you in the privileged, yet risky, position of driving a famous person; they should pay for a professional driver – only by doing that do they pass responsibility for the journey to another party.
    I think UC-Berkeley should have been in the dock – they had a duty of care to the student and the writer.

  2. The student who crashed Mr. Halberstam had a history of bad driving – I think he’d even been in a similar crash before.

    The college doesn’t have the $ to hire professional drivers so they take the chance.

    Glad it worked out okay. Whew!

  3. Luckily I have a pretty good driving record (knock on wood!) and the drive was not as far (Halberstam was being driven nearly 40 miles to his destination), and it was a great experience for me, to have that extra time with the writers. I’m glad my friend asked me to drive.

    And yes–schools just don’t have the money to hire professional drivers. What to do, right?

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