Thursday, February 19, 2015

Vehicular Mishaps

A car like this saved my life.
I have been involved in a couple of fender benders, collisions and one OH-MY-GOD-I'M-GOING-TO-DIE vehicular mishaps in my day. Only three of which where I was behind the wheel. All were exciting. None were, to my certain knowledge, my fault. Though in one instance I learned that when on the road always assume that the other driver:
  • is a complete effing idiot,
  • has no business on the road and
  • is barely in control of his/her vehicle.
  • Otherwise, you might die. Seriously.
I am here to entertain you, beguile you and maybe even educate you concerning my experience of automotive experiences I'd just as soon had never happened. Those of you eyeing the exits because I said "educate" can settle down. Eyes front, pay attention. This is not a lecture, none of this material is testable. Unless of course Tuna decides to make it a topic for a Tuna's Trivia Tuesday. I have no control over him. He is, after all, retired Navy. Unlike Juvat and I, who are retired Air Force.

The nautical types tend to get obstreperous, especially when they've been at sea for a while. Just sayin'....


He came out of nowhere...

Long ago, when I was a mere youth, I was out of a Sunday with a lady of my acquaintance. We had been on a picnic, of sorts, when it was mutually agreed that we should head home. No, it wasn't something I said. She had to work that night. She was a nurse...

Again, you guys up back, settle down. Yes, I did know her when she was a student nurse. And...

You guys are flyers, aincha?


Our picnic was off the beaten path, down a dirt road, near a pond. A most pleasant and bucolic setting. We trundled down the road in my 1968 VW Beetle until we got to the main road. The dirt road met the main road at the top of a small rise just at the outskirts of a small town, Perkinsville I think it was.

Now before proceeding onto the main thoroughfare, I had looked both ways, made sure my path was clear and then had a screaming idiot come flying up and over the rise at somewhere well north of the posted speed limit. He just kissed the right front fender of my Beetle with his left front fender. Enough to cause a rending and bending of steel and an immediate desire, on my part, to commit bodily harm.

Fortunately he did stop. Then proceeded to dismount his vehicle and storm back at my vehicle, all in a huff.

Bad move cupcake. He was just a wee, thin thing. All sorts of chin whiskers of the type found on escapees from the 1960's and with an air of hemp about him. (Think about it...)

I got out of my car (where my female companion began to fret that something violent was about to occur and begging me to "please be careful") and just stood there.

When the bespectacled refugee from Yasgur's Farm beheld that I was a stout and sturdy yeoman of the county (his vehicle sported New York plates) he slowed up a bit and modified his visage. Going from "I am so going to kick your ass" to "oh my, is everyone all right?"

I smiled and asked him if he was aware of the speed limit. He was not.

I smiled and inquired as to whether or not he was in possession of controlled and/or illicit substances and had he been partaking of said substances.

"Are you a cop?"

I assured him that I was not a member of the local constabulary.

Surveying the damage to my VW, I noted that the fender was a bit twisted. Not bad.

His fender, on the other hand was badly scratched and had serious indentation. I also noted that his vehicle was rather more expensive than mine.

We agreed that the accident was primarily his fault as he had been speeding. Yes, I did pull into traffic but as said traffic was exceeding the posted speed limit and coming up out of a blind spot, he copped a plea. So to speak.

No police were called and he departed the scene. Still, no doubt, buzzed on weed. Though I'm pretty sure that the whole thing had seriously harshed his mellow.

He slammed into me when I cut in front of him...

One night in Colorado I sat there and listened to the operator of a pick-up truck say this to one of Ft Collins' Finest. Shortly after the ee-jit had decided there was no need to wait for oncoming traffic as he was "in a hurry." (Yes, he said that to the cop as well.)

The massive industrial strength steel of the back bumper of his truck had scarcely a mark on it. Whereas my trusty VW Jetta looked as if it had taken an anti-tank round in the right front corner of the hood.

And after the guy cut in front of me and headed into the parking lot of our local King Soopers, where he parked his vehicle, my car was sitting in the roadway. Somewhat the worse for wear.

He sauntered over and I suggested, check that, I freaking ordered him (in my best sergeant's voice), to call the police. As two frantic young ladies ran over to screech "We saw the whole thing, do you need us as witnesses?" at Your Humble Scribe.

"Why yes ladies, that's mighty kind of you."

Pick-up guy grumbled and went in to call the cops. Who showed up right quick.

After speaking to the young ladies and to me, the officer of the law took pick-up guy off to the side and talked to him. (Which is when I heard him exclaim that bit above. Seriously.)

Then pick-up guy and I got into the officer's car. (Yes, I was surprised at that. But it was rather cold out, it was for warmth, not for "you're under arrest.")

I admit to a certain amusement when the officer politely informed pick-up guy that he was "in the wrong" and was being cited for driving into oncoming traffic.

I must admit, I was somewhat disappointed that we weren't going to have a summary execution right there beside the road. After all, my poor car was trashed, it would be in the shop for a week or more, whereas pick-up guy could buy his milk and go home to bitch about "damn college students" (for such I was at that time).


So there I was*, on my way to work in The Nuke's ancient Toyota Corolla, which we had got dirt cheap for a reasonable price and which ran like a fine Swiss watch. Well, if Swiss watchmakers made cars, I imagine they would run like that.

Now this Corolla had been The Naviguessor's first car and The Nuke had inherited it when her brother went off to the Fleet in his brand new car. I believe The Nuke was on a summer midshipman cruise at the time and I was using her car occasionally rather than let it sit idle for a month. So that's why I was in her car.

We called her car "The Tank" and it had been so anointed back when it was The Naviguessor's ride. The muffler had developed a hole and it sounded like a tank, hence the name.

Exactly like that. (Well, there was no rattling from the tracks as it had no tracks. The Corolla that is. It had wheels and rubber tires, no tracks. Yes, yes, I do know that tanks also have wheels and rubber tires.)

Now for this story I need some pictures (all courtesy of Google Maps), so here they are -

Figure 1: A general overview of the area in which this incident took place.
Note the circles with numbers, this is where significant events occurred within the incident in question.

Figure 2: Over the shoulder look from Position 1.
Vehicles coming down this road are not normally in the mood to slow down.
As if drivers in Southeast New England understand the meaning of the phrase "slow down."
Figure 3: This picture corresponds (roughly) to Position 2 in Figure 1.
Shows the two roads just prior to the merge.

Figure 4: This picture is just after Position 2 in Figure 1.
It shows the two roadways coming together. One lane on the left, merging into two on the right.

Figure 5: This picture is just about at Position 3 in Figure 1.
This is right about where the impact occurred. Note the two telephone poles on the right. I certainly did.
Now at Position 1 (in Figure 1) I am traveling at about 45 mph, the speed limit. I always Check Six before the merge with an "over the shoulder" look (Figure 2). I note a large flatbed tractor trailer combo. The flatbed trailer is empty.

At Position 2 I am moving forward at the same speed. The tractor trailer seems to be increasing speed. Perhaps to compensate for the rise ahead (clearly seen in Figure 5). I am not worried at this point. Been in that position many times, most drivers (should they wish to get in the far right lane from this far left lane) usually wait until the road has clearly narrowed down to two lanes from three.

Just before Position 3 the tractor trailer is now on my port quarter, (think left rear) and not in my peripheral vision.

Hhmm, where is that sum-bitch? I wondered, then I glanced in the driver's side mirror.

There I see a very, very large truck tire. Seconds away from impacting the side of my car and sending me into one of those two telephone poles in Figure 5 or (The Good Lord willing) in between them.

It always amazes me just how fast the brain processes information when spurred on by a shot of adrenalin. I saw the tire, about two feet away. Looking further aft, I saw the underside of that flat bed trailer.

I realized in an instant that I had two choices, neither one very good.

Joe Flatbed was determined to be in my lane at the same instant in time as me. This would not be possible according to physics and other scientific things. (Science!) No, I had two choices:
  1. Slam on the brakes and lay on the horn. Hoping that I did not go underneath that trailer. While I'm not the handsomest chap on the planet I think I would look far worse with no head. Besides which, I always wear a ball cap. With no head, that would not be possible. Going under that trailer just felt like a bad option. OR
  2. Immediately accelerate while laying on the horn. If I could get in front of Joe Flatbed, then I would be alright. Of course, he could still clip the tail end of The Tank and immediately cause other difficulties. BUT
I would not be under that freaking trailer. So, Option 2 it is.

Accelerating and laying on the horn, it looked like I was clear.


Oh shit, oh dear.

What was that?

The next few moments were a blur. I remember looking at the dashboard, for some odd reason, perhaps to find a different radio station. I looked out of the car and was surprised to find that:
  • I was not rolling AND
  • The Tank seemed pretty steady with no sway AND
  • I seemed to be doing a complete 360 degree turn AND
  • I had very little sensation of motion AND
  • I was yelling "FIRE TRUCK" (without the "ire tr") in one long flowing bellow. One syllable from impact to "landing." (I remember this like it was yesterday.)
The car comes to a stop in Position 4. I am still facing in a southerly direction, in the north bound lanes. As I marvel at my apparent survival (and see Joe Flatbed actually pulling over on the other side of the highway) I notice something...

Remember that slight rise in Figure 5? Coming over that rise, and not 50 yards away, is a rather large RIPTA** bus. At speed. Heading directly at me. (He is at Position 5 in Figure 1.) The driver does not think it odd to have a car facing him (headlights on mind you) in his lane.

Oh shit, oh dear.

I survive getting clipped by a semi, only to get wasted by a freaking RIPTA bus.

I remember that I just sighed. Didn't even close my eyes but I stared hard at that bus driver. Willing him to pay attention.

After what felt like hours I saw the driver sit up straight, grab his wheel and swerve out into the left lane (I was blocking the right). (Position 6 in Figure 1.) He blew past me. At speed.

I'm still sitting there. Marveling that once again, I'm not dead.

At this point I dismount and walk onto the shoulder. The four way flashers are on, I'm kind of at a loss for what to do next. I spot a co-worker in the lane I had just left so precipitously, she called over and asked if I was alright. I assured her that I seemed to be fine.

Shortly thereafter, the local constabulary showed up and asked me if I was alright. I assured them that I was. Asked if my vehicle was driveable, I responded that I didn't know, let's give it a try.

I got back in and pushed down on the gas. It didn't go anywhere. The policeman said to just take it out of gear and he and the rescue guys (who had also shown up) would push me onto the shoulder. I did, they pushed. It was then that I realized that the car didn't move when I pressed on the gas because the transmission wasn't engaged. "P" stands for "Park," it also means "won't go."

In "Drive" the car functioned fine (I discovered after being checked out by the medics). After a brief conversation, another cop showed up. He had just finished ticketing Joe Flatbed, citing him for "failure to yield" I think it was.

The cop did mention that Joe Flatbed could clearly hear me yelling FIRE TRUCK (again, minus the "ire tr") as he watched me do a 360 in front of his truck, right before his very eyes.

Both cops thought that was funny, so did I. At that point in time. When it was happening I was not seeing the humor in anything at all.

But I survived.

When I got to work, the boss asked me "Why are you late?"

My co-worker (who had asked me if I was okay at the scene), looked askance at the boss and said, "He almost died this morning you idiot! Leave him alone."

He left me alone. I went to get coffee. Two weeks later, scanning her somewhat crumpled car (which had taken a lot of cosmetic damage to the left quarter panel), The Nuke looked at me and said...

"Dad, what the Hell did you do to my car?"

And the story you just read, is what I told her.

**Rhode Island Public Transit Authority


  1. Cool story. Glad to see you are coming along with your nautical terminology.

    1. Working on it Cap'n.

      My son was a SWO.

      The youngest daughter is an NFO, married to a Nasal Radiator.

      My oldest daughter is a Nuke SWO, she's always accusing me of trying to act "salty." I tell her it's for my Navy audience. Yeah, she scoffs.

    2. Roger that Cap'n.

      Though I might need to "Standby for heavy rolls."

  2. Obstreperous. That's like, free-spirited, right? I actually had a DivO use that word to describe my military bearing on my second eval with VF-84. I assumed it was a compliment. He was later convicted of unauthorized use of the squadron thesaurus.

    That's a bad feeling when Sir Isaac takes the controls.

    "Someday we'll look back at this and laugh," said a woman who had moments before crashed into me at speed while I was stopped at a red light.

    1. A good non-com (sergeant or petty officer, take your pick) is always "noisy and difficult to control," in other words, "free-spirited."

    2. So many people do not understand the difference between Laws and Laws of Physics. Simply put, you CAN disobey Laws, but not the Laws of Physics.

    3. I get that. I have the scars. There may even be one or two t-shirts reminding me of that.

  3. Sarge, I think I see the problem. Your roads. They're just too darn straight and wide, thus giving drivers time to do all the things they really want to know, texting, nattering on the phone, eating, drinking, that sort of thing. They're bloody death traps man!!!

    1. Hahaha!

      Good point HD. On the other hand, I've been in a small car out on the roads near RAF Waddington, a contractor chap we were visiting on "Official Business" lived in a small village nearby. He took the four of us (one Canadian, one Dutchman, one German and me, very international we were) to dinner at his home.

      Those small English roads, barely large enough for a bicycle, usually lined with hedges, not to mention driving on the left. By the time we got to his house I was traumatized. Do they allow Americans to drive in Britain?

      Seems like a very bad idea!

  4. "...nautical types tend to get ______________, especially when they've been at sea..."

    You could fill that space with any number of words.
    They'd all be accurate.
    You could probably also leave out everything after the comma.

    1. Hahaha. True.

      I should have mentioned that you were the inspiration for using the word "askance" in this post.

  5. I read Chuck Yeager's autobiography years ago and a part of what he said always stuck with me - that is, when asked how he survived so many near mishaps he said that he was always looking for the out. No guarantees, of course as even the best succumb to too much against them, but it can increase your odds.

    I always hate it when people pull up to my left or right on the freeway and just want to hang there.

    And that road with the telephone poles right on the edge - no barriers - wonder what brilliant traffic engineer planned that one.

    1. Always be looking for the out.

      Folks who just hang off your side, gigantic pet peeve.

      "Brilliant traffic engineer" - sounds like an oxymoron to me.

    2. If driving by myself and nobody behind me, I tend to assertively brake the car, spitting them out front. Typically with varying indications of confusion on the blind spot hog's part.

    3. I do that too, Juvat. I suspect most of them wonder "how him do that?"


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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