Carol Jane Remsburg
It happened on a late-spring afternoon on a Friday after work. It was time to plod homeward. It was hot and muggy. My car's air conditioner had long since given up the ghost.
The eastbound traffic headed for our local resort town was more than heavy; it was threatening. It seemed that as more and more of the traffic lights were installed, the more accidents there were. Therefore I'd begun over the last several years to give up my old ways of aggressive driving. I used to be the tailgater from hell. If you were in my way I'd dog your bumper until you took the hint and moved or I'd push you straight up the highway.
I'm older now. Hopefully, I'm wiser now. After too many near misses, I've taken a hint of my own and learned to give space to my fellow drivers. Even though I'm always still in a rush, I respect the possibilities of mankind and metal meeting in a loud crunch with the velocity of speed.
So it was that Friday afternoon. I was eager to retrieve my daughter and then turn back into town to perform the rites of our weekly grocery shopping. I was already tired and a little cranky, yet I was watchful just the same. When you follow the same route day after day, it does indeed become routine. You know just where the traffic usually bogs down at, but not on this Friday. The traffic suddenly, dramatically slowed more than a ¼ mile before it should have catching me off guard.
Driving my old wagon for the last 11 years I've seen many changes in the vehicles we all drive. Mainly, they've gotten TALL, as in SUV. While there've always been pickups and big rigs, most of the rest were relative low-riders where we could still see what was happening several cars ahead.
Following my recent conversion of keeping space between the vehicle directly ahead and myself, a backlash of others will simply drop in to fill up that space. First there was a car and then a big dark pickup followed suit filling up the void.
I reacted as I always have while driving in the left lane, I inched off a bit to the left to see what I could. What my eyes saw they didn't like. About 8-10 vehicles ahead, people were off the road. I began to slow yet not quickly enough. Suddenly that dark pickup that had obscured my vision took to the grass of the shoulder with frightening speed. Directly before me was a long line of stopped vehicles. I was staring into the back end of a black sedan—which wasn't moving—and I was.
My foot was already on the brakes and my sudden reflex to slam them on all the harder didn't work very well. It's my guess that about 10,000 miles worth of tread was left on the pavement without much success. There was little doubt in my mind; I was going to rear-end that black sedan. I glanced quickly at my rearview mirror. The fellow in the white firebird was going to hit me no matter what. I had no wish to become an accordion between the two making my old bomb a sub-sub compact car. Ragged, honest fear took over as I prayed really hard. I simply opted out and exited stage left onto the grass just as the dark pickup had. That pickup didn't leave me much room either.
The driver of the white firebird had even less time to react than I did. He did everything but stand his car on its nose. He was going to hit something and I wasn't sure if it was going to be the black sedan or me. Did you know you can pray really fast when you have to? Yes, it's true, you can.
In that last instant, everything was in slow-motion almost like the movies as every little nanosecond is drawn out to its fullest. In the end, I couldn't stand to watch. I scrunched my eyes closed and cringed. SCREECH!! BANG!! It was over.
The driver of the firebird had literally turned his car sideways trying to avoid the collision. He clipped the right rear bumper of the black sedan which slowly rolled forward and to the left onto the grass. The car seemed to be in shock as much as the driver was.
I hit my flashers and jumped out of the car. By then the traffic was moving again. The dark pickup zoomed back to the blacktop and disappeared. Another fellow in a pickup pulled over to offer the use of his cell phone to call the police.
During our wait, we three talked. We tried hard to reassure each other that we were all fine. The lady in the black sedan promised to have her doctor check her out. We functioned according to the decorum of the fender-bender ritual but without the acrimony and faultfinding that often accompanies such incidents. The gent in the white firebird was a gentleman and the lady in the black sedan was a lady. She kept very quiet. I don't know if it was from shock or if it was just her nature. The fellow from the firebird and I had to remind the trooper to check her out and see if an ambulance would be necessary. I never found out if he called one.
The trooper took the man's information and put him in the back of his car and returned to me. He took my name, address, phone number, and account of what happened. I was brutally honest with the trooper to the extent that I told him that if I had not pulled over I would have been the one that hit the lady in the sedan. I was officially notified that I would be 'on call' if it went to trial. I'm sure it won't though. I was 'free to leave.' I checked back with the lady and then the man wishing them both luck and a better evening.
Back in my car, I had to wait again for the traffic to clear before I could leave. Thoughts of the scene kept replaying in my head the rest of the 10 miles I traveled to pick up my daughter. It was a fast stop at home and then we came back into town for our shopping. Somewhere amid the frozen foods I realized how spent and haggard I felt. My adrenaline had just run out.
We've all encountered these types of experiences of near misses and some of us have had to endure the actual impact. Having done both, I'll opt for the near miss anytime. It can take weeks if you suffer the actual crash. With the near miss, you suffer only for a few days of the 'what ifs' and a session or so of the 'shakes.' Those 'what ifs' can haunt you.
I'll keep putting space between other drivers and myself. It won't always work but I'll keep trying. My next vehicle purchase I'll ensure will give me a nose bleed from the height of it, but at least then I'll be able to see what's ahead of me. Beware the road. It bites.