Fact Check

The Dishonest Note

A fellow returns to his car to find it smashed up and an unusual note on its windshield.

Published Mar 15, 1999

Claim:   A fellow returns to his car to find it smashed up and an unusual note on the windshield.



[Smith, 1983]

Returning to the car he had left in a nearby car park, a friend of a cousin of mine was rather perturbed to find one side of the vehicle all scratched and dinted. Seeing a note on the windscreen, he breathed a sigh of relief, for he thought that the culprit had left his name and address so, at least, he could make a claim for the damage against the other driver's insurance company. However, on opening the note, his relief turned to dismay when he read:

Dear Driver,

I have just run into your car and made a hell of a mess of it. As a crowd had gathered, I am forced to appear as if writing you this note to apologise and to leave you my name and address. As you can see, however, this I have not done.

A Well-Wisher1

[Cerf, 1970]

Chicago Editor Spectorsky returned to his snazzy sports car to find a freshly crushed fender and this note affixed to his windshield wiper: "The people who saw me sideswipe your fender are now watching me write this note, and doubtless figure I'm telling you my name and address so you can contact me and send me the repair bill. Ho, ho! You should live so long."2


Origins:   The

Cartoon of the legend

earliest sighting of this legend turned up a 1963 Herb Caen column in The San Francisco Examiner. Since then, the legend has popped up all over the United States and Britain.

Key to this story is the nature of the message left by whoever hit the car. The note is an on-the-spot confession, but even more importantly, it's a plot device to let us in on what's happening. In real life, someone who felt pressured by the gathering crowd to pen a message before hightailing it would write a phony name and address rather than a confession. Why would the miscreant risk having a nosy onlooker catch him before he's made his getaway? Why set it up so the wronged driver finds out he's been had while he's still in the parking lot and might locate a witness who recalls what the other man and his vehicle looked like?

Barbara "sideswipe tripe" Mikkelson

Sightings:   In an episode of the television sitcom Mama's Family ("Where There's a Will," original air date 20 June 1986), Mama (Vicki Lawrence) reports on an awful afternoon that culminated with her finding such a note on her badly damaged car.

Last updated:   31 March 2011


    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Curses! Broiled Again!

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.   ISBN 0-393-30711-5   (pp. 118-120).

    2.   Cerf, Bennett.   The Sound of Laughter.

    New York: Doubleday and Company, 1970   (p. 363).

    de Vos, Gail.   Tales, Rumors and Gossip.

    Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1996.   ISBN 1-56308-190-3   (pp. 115-116).

    1.   Smith, Paul.   The Book of Nasty Legends.

    London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.   ISBN 0-00-636856-5   (p. 78).

Also told in:

    Cohen, Daniel.   The Beheaded Freshman and Other Nasty Rumors.

    New York: Avon Books, 1993.   ISBN 0-380-77020-2
  (pp. 42-43).

    Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill.   Now! That's What I Call Urban Myths.

    London: Virgin Books, 1996.   ISBN 0-86369-969-3   (p. 44).

    Holt, David and Bill Mooney.   Spiders in the Hairdo.

    Little Rock: August House, 1999.   ISBN 0-87483-525-9   (p. 98).

    The Big Book of Urban Legends.

    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 149).