Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Car Wreck Top 5. Number 2: Car vs. Critter

Reviewing my top 5 accidents of all time ...

At number 5, I revealed my destructive side by relishing the site of a car plowing into a salt truck.

At number 4, I learned about my lack of language skills as I was hit by a car in Japan.

At number 3, I contemplated fate as I was in a crash going home from my part-time job.

Today, number 2, is inspired by the kangaroo-killing cheesehead from a couple of days ago.

I didn't always love this city. I didn't always want to live here. I'm not sure if I do now, but I'm here, so I might as well pay the outrageous insurance premiums of this zip code. For a short time in my life, I lived in beautiful, hilly, snowy New England. The year and a half I spent there sure didn't seem like a short time at the time, but looking back on it now, my only regret is leaving so soon. A wise, alcoholic friend once told me, "Son, you don't regret the things you did in life, you only regret the things you didn't do. Now, get me another drink or you'll regret it." I'd like to think that I agree with my friend, although in this case, I sometimes do regret leaving.

I don't miss the driving. I lived in Greenfield, Massachusetts, but worked in Brattleboro, Vermont, which was roughly a 20-minute drive up an interstate with a number I've forgotten. Spending that much time in my car, watching the beautiful scenery--the mountains, the rivers, the forests, the unpolluted skies--I had a chance to really get to know and hate the drivers out there. Many, many, many people had this nasty habit of coming to a complete stop on the on-ramp to the interstate, waiting for the road to be completely free of all traffic before merging. At night, very few drivers thought it was a good idea to dim their brights as they approached oncoming traffic. And then there were those who would drive up really close and stay there, on your butt, instead of passing.

Winter driving was quite the adventure, especially Vermont, where the people love their five seasons and don't want you to mess with spring, summer, autumn, winter, or mud. Vermont, incidentally, is one of a handful U.S. states that has banned billboard advertising along the interstates. (At least that was the case eight years ago.) "The trees are our advertisements," they like to say. Because the people of the state are so interested in preserving nature, they try not to damage it. This is why they don't dump salt on the roads when it snows. Instead, they dump sand. Dump sand and plow the roads. I don't know if you've ever tried to drive on a mixture of snow and sand, so let me assure you: it's a slippery combination. Quite a few times I saw a car try and fail to make that final hill before Brattleboro, literally sliding backwards and into a ditch. Somehow, part-luck part-skill I guess, I never ended up in a ditch, but that's one of the reasons I drive a stick. Keep it in a low gear going up that hill and you'll make it.

One night, a cold, wet night, I was driving home in the snow and sand when a pair of headlights appeared in my rearview. They closed in a hurry and I started wondering if their intent was to mate with my rear bumper. When the driver caught up with me, he stayed right there in my tracks, quite possibly only six inches behind. "This is why I hate you drivers out here!" I shouted, but only my dashboard heard me. We stayed in that formation for the next several minutes and I counted down the miles before the Massachusetts state line.

On a cold, snowy night, you might not expect to see too many animals in the road, but this was beautiful, hilly New England, so of course there had to be something out there. The animals have places to go and a little weather situation isn't going to keep them indoors. A few minutes before my destination I caught site of a movement up ahead, a smallish animal was crossing right in front of me. I literally had a second, maybe two, to act, and I distinctly remember my brain clicking off our options:

Swerve ... and slide off the road into a ditch.

Slam on the brakes ... and get rear-ended by the idiot behind me.

My brain also flashed back to the night a few years earlier that my friend Thom and I were driving back to DeKalb from the Mississippi River and, being happy and high on life, Thom pronounced, "See? It's possible to have fun without alcohol or drugs." Less than a minute later he slammed into a deer, killing it and the car. We got a tow to Dixon, got to a phone booth, and wondered who would wake up at 3 a.m. and drive 30 minutes to come get us. My brother woke up ... but sleepily hung up on me as I was explaining what had happened. "See? This is why I hate you!" I shouted, but only the phone receiver in my hand could hear me. Someone else eventually picked us up, but ... on that road in Vermont, my brain only really focused on that deer twitching in the road, thinking it could send a signal to my hands to swerve or my foot to brake

Or ...

Ba-BUMP! Without having to explain why, my brain opted for going full-speed ahead. In the fleeting moment that my headlights illuminated her through the sleeting snow, I saw an enormous raccoon with an expressionless face, probably not worrying about swerving or getting rear-ended, only thinking about crossing the road, getting some food. I think the raccoon was a she only because I got the impression that she was pregnant. My trusty little Civic luckily bounced over the raccoon and kept going.

In the morning I noticed quite a bit of damage to that trusty car. "Oh yeah, you should see the other guy, I mean raccoon," I said to make myself feel better. The damage was in the $600 range. I had a $500 deductible. That's the way it had to be, $500 from me, $100 from the insurance company, and oh yeah, another thing from me: A premium increase on my auto policy. Months later when I was renewing my insurance, the guy on the phone insisted I had been in an accident, that it had been my fault, and that I had made a claim.

As I said, I sometimes wish I had stayed in New England longer. But so far in this zip code I haven't hit anything bigger than a squirrel, so it's not so bad.


Anonymous The mom said...

Boy, the insurance company saw YOU coming - that $100 is going to cost thousands!! It'll pay for hurricanes, fires and floods, whether you might be in them or not.
My daughter should post her car wreck: car vs police. Guess who won out in that collision?

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What were you doing driving anyway?! Snowshoes are the preferred form of transportation in them parts.

10:52 AM  
Blogger ap said...

Ha! Good points.
Mom, you're right: car vs. cops easily beats my stories.
Anonymous, yeah, many people in them parts actually put on "snow tires" or chains to survive the winters. Coming from Chicago, my little brain hadn't even heard of those options, so my little Honda Civic hatchback remained unprotected.

11:05 AM  
Blogger GrandOverseerPickle said...

For lack of better words,

Your wallet and that deer got:


8:55 PM  

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