Saturday, February 16, 2008

Unexpected

As I drove the van to the median and took a left turn onto Capitol Drive, I was suddenly behind quite a line of cars. It was morning drive time, and I had just dropped Grace off at school. I was on my way to work, and it was like most of my mornings. The only difference of late was that my city had been blasted by one snow storm after another. The medians and curbs along the boulevard had mounds of snow stacked up about four to five feet high. Driving down most streets is like driving down in a tunnel. It is difficult to see what is on the other side of the mounds.

I was only on Capitol drive for about ten blocks and then I took my usual right turn onto 92nd Street. Ahead of my mini-van was an emerald green sedan, an American car of some kind. The green car was in the right lane, and I moved over into the left lane.

At this point, our cars were now neck and neck driving down 92nd Street. Most of the snow had melted on the pavement, but there were some spots where the salt hadn't completed its job yet. The snow was mounded up on the curbs and medians in the same fashion as all the other streets. The snowy landscape was intensely bright, and my sun visor was helping to shield my eyes from the bright sun. Slushy puddles had formed since some of the snow had started to melt. I could hear whooshing sounds underneath the tires of my van, and I was about to approach an area of the road where the snow had been reduced to a grayish version of sandy slush. I slowed as I approached the gray mess. I'm glad I did because what happened next is one of those life events that takes your breath away. It was one of those moments where time seems to slow, and get very sureal.

Suddenly, the green sedan veered left into my lane.

How to recount this is difficult since it is not what I would characterize as logical or sequential. It is rather my disjointed sensory experience than anything else.

The green car was suddenly diagonally placed into my lane directly in front of my mini-van. He had moved over without using his turn signal. His car was in such close proximity to mine that it reminded me of two cars intimately parallel parked on the side of a road, except we weren't parked. We were in full motion at about 35 miles per hour. I heard myself scream in a "aaahhhhh ahhhhhhh ahhhhhh" way.

On instinct, my right foot slammed on the brake. My arms were tensed up on the steering wheel. I lifted my right hand off the steering wheel, and pounded on the horn so that it was one long continuous blast. I felt my van's wheels sliding on the snow under the tires. The van's sensors were flashing at me in a ferocious yellow blinking way as if to say, "Slow down stupid. You are sliding. What the heck do you think you are doing?"

The antilock braking system suddenly engaged in an attempt to stop the van. The stop/start thuding under my right foot was getting rapidly faster in an almost machine gun firing sequence. The green car kept coming and coming and coming. My work bag, which was on the passenger seat, suddenly flew forward into the floor of the van.

At this point, I knew I was going to T-bone the green car. I just knew it. I could feel it in my bones. I knew it was a fact. My thoughts kept repeating themselves, "I'm going to hit this idiot. I'm going to hit him. I'm going to hit him. Oh my God, I'm going to hit him. Aaaaahhhhhh! Aaaaaahhhhhhhh!"

Then, my brakes finally engaged. The brakes instantly stopped the wheels from spinning, and brought my van to a sudden stop. It felt like the body of the van lurched forward on the chassis. My hand slipped off the horn. My head and neck were flung forward toward the steering wheel, but my seat belt was locked in place to keep me where I should have been. I didn't hit the green car, but we were "this close." If I had to guess, I'd guess we were 1/2 inch away from each other. Too close for comfort.

I instantly wondered if my wheels had suddenly found a dry spot on the pavement, and I also thanked God for the inventor of anti-lock brakes, traction control, and electronic stability control. I never give these things a second thought usually, but there I was trying to picture some incredible MENSA-smart engineer. Who was this person?

Then my thoughts returned to the green car. It had darted over into a turning bay in the median, and kept on going. It finally sped into the parking lot of a Health Care center.

Outloud, I said, "You'd better have an emergency, buddy!"

I noticed in my rear view mirror that traffic was approaching my mini-van from behind, so I lifted my foot off the brake and got out of their way. As I drove down the left-lane past the health care center, I was glaring at the green car. I just had to know what the heck happened. I had to know why he had nearly caused a serious collision.

Guess what?

He was on his cell phone. There was no emergency.

Ugh.

I will never understand.

Tears welled up in my eyes. I felt my body begin to shudder from the adrenaline released. Expletives erupted from my mouth. He had nearly injured or killed me, and all because his phone call was "too important" to pay attention to driving. Ugh.

Something intervened that morning. I don't know if it was fate or my guardian angel or luck or simply the miracle of mini-van engineering. I'm here to write this recounting, and I thank God for my life.

The green car keeps popping up in my dreams, in my day dreams, and especially in random moments. Perhaps it is a bit post-traumatic? Perhaps it is that I'm still mad at what nearly happened. I don't know for sure. I just know that I'm thanking God for Gabriel Voisin, the inventor of anti-lock brakes for aircraft. His invention led to the invention of ABS for automobiles.

Technology helped to keep me safe that day, but I'm not ruling out any guardian angels or higher power. He certainly works in mysterious ways.

My muscles still ache from the experience, but overall, I'm fine.

1 comment:

Childlife said...

Wow, that was scary! I'm so glad you are OK! All over a cell phone call. Ugh.