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?