Friday, February 13, 2009

The Latest Near Death Experience

I know I promised this yesterday, but I wanted to give it the attention it was due, to capture the moment with the clarity that comes only from reflection over time.

Yeah. I just kept forgetting.

Indeed, it is Saturday, time for me to tell you what I did Wednesday night!

In case you have forgotten, I went to KenapocoMocha that night with the intention of visiting the knitting group that meets there. Rachael and I wanted to scope it out and see if it was our cup of tea/coffee/chocolate. We had experienced several days of unseasonably warm weather prior to that day, but storm clouds had rolled in, accompanied by wind. The cold front coming in, I think.

We had a touch of rain, nothing too serious, and the thaw had caused the river to rise a bit. It wasn't serious either, it hadn't reached our steps yet (these lead down from our house to the bank; we use them to gauge flooding. The closest it has managed to come to the house was the third step down). We hadn't had to cap the little pipe that keeps our basement from flooding. We were golden.

I was late, and Rachael called to say she was too, so I sighed with relief and set off. I drove the way I usually go when heading to North Manchester. There is less traffic and less stops along the way; I rarely have to deal with slow drivers I can't pass or waiting for traffic so I can turn. But, though there was no warning as I set off down the road, I found multiple patches of flooding that covered the road completely. The first was shallow (I could see the bottom), and I drove through. As I did this, I thought that I ought to have turned around as I didn't know how many more flooded parts there were.

They tell you on the news never to drive through flooded road bits because there is no way to tell how flooded it really is. For me, this was not an issue--I had driven on this road so many times that I knew each bump and curve. The worry was that the road had washed out underneath the water. That happens a lot around here, the roads are hardly ever repaired or maintained in any way. Chip and Seal, that's all we get. That is when they take tar and smear it all over the road when it's nice and hot outside (midsummer--they pick a dry and usually windy day). Then they pour dusty fine pieces of gravel all over the hot tar to cover it. The wind will force the dust from the road into the air so you choke on it, and, failing that, the car in front of you will toss up the dust to cover your car (and make you choke on it if you are like me and have to drive around with your windows down as "air conditioning").

If you are very lucky, a hunk of gravel will get thrown up into the air by the car in front of you and smack into your windshield. This will be pebble sized, but the speed at which these things travel is enough to fool you. If your luck holds, it will chip your windshield. This has happened to my family at least twice in my life. With our kind of luck, the little spiderweb cracks come out of it and end up slashing through right where you look through as you drive.

I could, potentially, have hit a part of the road where there was no road. But I didn't even suspect this, since there wasn't enough water to make a current, and the current usually washes out the road.

So the near-death thing wasn't really on the way there. But I count it because it makes me seem like I have the kind of skills to evade my inevitable demise. You then think I am the kind of driver they use in car commercials because I can do crazy things with no risk. I was that person, racing through the puddles on the road and looking cool in my late model American-made sedan. Yeah, I am cool. I know it. Why else would at least twenty people in my area be driving the exact same car in the same color? They want to be like me.

Or it's a popular car, because where we live we buy American-made or get relentlessly harassed by our friends and neighbors. Kind of like when you were in elementary school, and everyone had that one brand of shoe and you were the most unpopular person around for not having them. My real car is a Honda. With a big, nasty dent in the hood from where a deer lept onto it at high speed. And it rains on the inside. My car doesn't beep when you leave your lights on and the battery dies so often I never leave the house without jumper cables and my cell phone. My car is so worthless, they blew it (one like it) up in the Criminal Minds episode "Identity" in season 3. I watch it over and over. So if anyone wants to be like someone in my family, it would be my mom. The Taurus is her car.

The near-death came on the way home. It was dark, the wind had picked up, and it was rainin' sideways. The stars were covered by the thick storm clouds, so the only light came from people's headlights and most other drivers didn't bother turning off their brights because it was just too dark to see otherwise. Wind was pushing me all over the road.

I took the "safe" way home this time, and half of my drive I was getting pushed toward the other lane of traffic. Luckily, the other lane's drivers were being pushed toward the ditch, so no collision hazards. No, the trouble came on the second half of my drive. I was being pushed forward, to the extent that I couldn't stop at my turn. Nope, just kept right on going. I needed to turn around. Normally, I would just use someones driveway like everyone does. That is what I tried.

I spotted a driveway, and as I was now driving slowly, started the turn.

It wasn't a driveway. Not even a road. It was just another chunk of road leading into a ditch. Now my car was across two lanes of traffic on a pitch-black roadway with wind and rain making it impossible for other drivers to see me until it was too late for them to stop.

There's the near death. See?

So I tried, as quickly as possible, to back up and go on before the headlights approaching in the left lane were all I could see. I made it. Then I found a road to use as I cut down toward home and back toward the road I wanted, so I was using a road with two lanes and no flooding.

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