I have a car, a 2000 Jeep Cherokee called The Starship Giggles. It’s my pride and joy. It boasts a 3″ lift, 33″ tires, and a rather delightful sound system, assembled by yours truly. Well, that darling truck of mine was run it off the road today.
It is important to realize–for myself, and for you–that there is no way this accident could have been avoided. It was the only choice, an eventuality. If I was going slower, I would have still wrecked. If I had divine foresight that this man was going to swerve into my lane, I would have still wrecked. The only way I avoided hitting the truck head on, was by driving off the road.
Into a ditch about twice the width of my tire.
Now, this is on a country road, in rural, Southern Virginia. Saturday evening, heading southeast in the setting sun. It’s golden hour, and the drive is beautiful. This time of day and part of the valley lends itself to a fine haze in the late afternoon. It’s a haze that adds drama to the rolling, gentle ridges of Appalachia. I love this drive. I know these roads well. I know where it’s slow and treacherous, and I know when it’s banked and smooth, with a comfortable viewing distance of the road (open her up!). And in my Jeep, man, this ride is tops!
I’m enjoying the drive with a friend of mine. We’re remarking on the beautiful views, and he shares a story of a wreck he had on a bike, where the driver was coming into his lane, head on, and he could either clip him, hit him head on, or bail into a fence. He bailed into the fence. The fence was barbed wire.
Just as he finishes his story, we pass this random Italian restaurant, truly in the middle of nowhere. We want to go eat there sometime. As we’re discussing what the atmosphere in that restaurant would be like, a white utility truck comes into view, rounding a corner. It’s towing the yellow line; it’s an uncomfortable dabble. I slow down as he drifts back into his lane. Cool. Then, he again drifts back into my lane, coming at me near head-on.
My mind immediately shifts to calculating how much room I have next to his car. Can I make it? Can I squeezer around this dude who is in my lane? It’s like a buzzer is going off–my brain is overwhelmed with error signals. Critical failure imminent, and what not.
I start to swerve into the right turn. Doing everything I can to not hit him, and keep all four of my tires on the road. A vain effort. My right end slips off the road and into this tiny, narrow ditch of a shoulder. I’m tightroping my car, trying to keep from hitting the wall and the lip of the road, while damping the swerve away from the guy who was driving on the wrong side of the road. I later walked along the path of the accident, and I’m amazed I made it as far as I did–a good 40-50 ft.
I hear a bang and a hiss. The sound comes from the back of my car, but I know it’s my front tire. I don’t recall what I did with my feet, but I remember swearing a lot and cutting hard into that turn. Jeep Cherokees are wonderfully built machines with a penchant for rolling. Especially when you drop as far as you do with 33″ tires.
I start to spin out, I hear my tires squeal. We come to a sudden and complete stop, nose-first into a mud wall. My car gives a final sputter of a very hard stall. It is silent. No hissing, thank god. “We’re OK.” I said out loud, “I’m OK. Are you OK?” I look over to my friend, he looks intact. “I’m OK.” He says. “Are you sure?” He says, “yes.” I instinctively turn the key in the ignition. She starts. “The car runs, good. My tire blew. That’s what that bang and hiss was.” I unbuckle my seatbelt, and ask one more time if he’s ok. He’s fine. I get out of the car and walk around to the driver’s side. My car completely covers the east-bound lane and protrudes into the west-bound lane. And we’re on a blind turn. I look at my wheel, tilted outward and deflated, flabby. It’s propped up by dirt. The hub is peeled, in a spiral, like a citrus for a fancy cocktail. “I probably broke an axle.” I look at the glass, the grill sticking up at an odd angle, entirely off the car and pinched between the front end and a wall of mud. I stick my bottom lip out and nod.
I dread this. I have dreaded this very thing. Every single time I’m on the backroads, I think about how awful it would be to drive off the road into these berms. I think about how badly that would destroy my car. Now, mind you, the suspension in my car has been a nightmarish journey, involving pinpointing bizarre mistakes in the lift job that causes my car to chew through track bars and tie rod ends like nobody’s business. Any further suspension nightmare is not welcome.
I walk away from my car and realize two cars are waiting to pass me. I walk around, and wave each on, then turn to the truck. The driver of the white truck had pulled over and watched everything happen. He was walking toward us asking if we were OK. I said we’re fine and asked if he could pull me out, it was dangerous to keep blocking traffic like this.
Now facing east on the west-bound side of the road, I can really see what’s happened to my car.
I’m angry, the immediate surge of adrenaline having lost its affect. I was saturated; I was adapted to the extreme alert state. The man immediately sets to work on my car, asking if I have spare. I do–a 31″ that originally came with the car. We’re trying to remove the bumper and I ask what he was doing in my lane. Silence. He brings out a block of wood and asks me to drive up on it.
This is a utility truck, equipped with a crane, impact wrench, air-pressured shop lift, just about every tool you’d imagine, and a giant cooler of water and gatorade. Of all the cars to run me off the road, this was a pretty useful one.
I give up on trying to ratchet off the bumper and just rip it back with my bare hands. “Well that’s one way to fix it.” “It’s destroyed now anyway,” I replied. “What are we saving, really?” While he’s working, I’m getting the spare out, and my friend runs up the road to wave down cars before the turn. The first car that had passed stopped up the turn, set its flashers on, and the driver got out and waved cars passed as it was safe to do so. I do not know this man, and he guided traffic for at least an hour.
At one point I stare at my car, shaking this and that to see if anything further is broken. It seems sturdy. I just keep thinking how much work this would be to fix. New tire, new hub, new grill, new bumper, new passenger front panel, new axle, and who know’s what else underneath. Everything under the hood looks more or less OK. The radiator is indeed untouched. A win. I turn to the guy and say, “If it’s alright with you, I’m going to call the cops. I’m sorry but I just can’t afford to fix this. I gotta make a claim.” In retrospect, the idea that I would do anything but is utterly absurd. I just feel bad. I feel bad for this guy who ran me off the road. It’s poo to be run off the road, but I think, for a decent person, it’s poo to run someone else off the road, too. That wouldn’t make me feel good. He says, “of course” and I dial the local police department.
The fellow in the truck hitches my wheel to a crane and raises the car, then sets it on the shop lift. With an impact wrench, he removes the lug nuts and pulls off the wheel. The tire is slashed all the way to the wall, no hope of saving it. He puts the spare on and sets the tire, then asks me to back the car off and turn the wheels left and right. She can start, she can drive forward and backward, she can get home. How in the world?
The car is good to go by the time the cop shows up. He has to charge the guy with failure to maintain the lane. I feel even more bad, but that is what happened. The policeman doesn’t even talk to me, mind you. After we get all our paperwork, we ask why, and he says, “oh, when I drove up and I saw where you were, and your tracks, I knew what happened. Plus he admitted to crossing the line, so there’s nothing to really ask about. Usually I can tell by looking at what happened.” Whoa. That’s never worked in my favor before.
So I’m out a car. I was going to work on it tomorrow, oddly. I estimate $1500-1800 worth of damage, by shop rates. I brought it to my shop. They know me and how I like to work, so I know they’ll be reasonable with their estimate. My side panel can be bent back into shape. They’ll save and repair before they replace, so I know the cost will be low…which I believe is the right thing to do, because what’s the point in trying to gauge the guy (and/or his insurance)? I don’t want to be that way. I am devastated to have this done to my car that I work so hard on with my own two hands–and sometimes my feet because subwoofers can also tighten bolts, did you know that?
Today, I am grateful for the fine Chrysler engineering, my obsessive disaster fantasies preparing me for this moment, my ability to drive really well, my good buddy reassuring me that I not only did the right thing, I did the only thing. I’m grateful to not only be alive, but totally safe. I’m grateful we didn’t roll!