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Archive for the ‘Driving’ Category

Too hip for CDs? Give me a break.

Friday, September 21st, 2007

A breathless Gizmodo post announces that CDs are dead, thanks to a Blaupunkt car receiver that has a Secure Digital memory card slot, but doesn’t play CDs. The “sweet little player” sells for $180.
Apparently I’m supposed to be impressed by this, but my reaction is “Big deal.” My car has had a receiver with an SD slot for the better part of a year. It’s a VR3 unit (from Virtual Reality Sound Labs) that I bought at Wal-Mart for $80, and it has a USB port and a CD player in addition to the memory card slot. (Gizmodo’s claim that the Blaupunkt receiver “accepts USB devices” appears to be just plain wrong; there’s no USB port in the picture, and the Technical Details on the Blaupunkt site do not even mention USB. It’s SD or nothing, unless you want to plug an external player into the AUX jack on the front panel.)
I don’t see what’s so “sweet” about a car receiver that costs more than twice what I paid for mine, but has fewer features. Perhaps the “hipness” of this unit is worth an extra $100 to some people, but I didn’t buy my car receiver to impress people. I bought it so I could listen to audio recordings in my car. As for Gizmodo’s suggestion that I take a shovel and bury my CD collection: sure thing, guys. Just as soon as you provide, at your own expense, MP3 replacements for every CD track I own. My CDs are DRM-free, so of course I’ll only accept DRM-free digital files to replace them. Good luck finding those.
Source: Instapundit

No good deed goes unpunished

Friday, April 27th, 2007

On the evening of April 25, while driving home from work, I accidentally strayed a foot or so onto the right shoulder of Highway 1. As luck would have it, there is a deep pothole in that particular stretch of shoulder. BAM! Flat tire.
While I was struggling to get the lug nuts off, a pickup truck stopped on the shoulder behind my car. It was a company truck bearing the logo of the construction firm that’s handling the I-540 project, and the driver was a construction worker wearing a hardhat and an orange safety vest. He brought tools from his truck and took over the task of changing my tire. In a few minutes, he was done. After I shook his hand and thanked him, he got back in his truck and drove away.
I didn’t get his name, but I wrote down the name of the company and the number on the side of the truck. The next morning, I called the company’s Raleigh office and left a message saying that I would like to find out who my anonymous benefactor was, so I could write a letter to his supervisor expressing my gratitude for his help.
This morning, they called me back. The caller was a very nice woman who explained that, while they appreciated my call, it’s best if I don’t write that letter. It turns out that their employees are not allowed to stop and help people. In the past, some people who were aided have responded by suing the company. So the company now has a policy forbidding that sort of rescue. The worker who changed my tire was breaking the rules by doing so.
I was stunned. I told the nice lady that I didn’t blame them for their policy, but I was appalled that people would sue them under those circumstances. She agreed, and assured me that I didn’t get the worker in trouble by calling. Her husband is the man’s supervisor and has told him, off the record, that he did a good thing by helping me out. But officially, he shouldn’t do it again.
I thanked her and agreed to let the matter drop.
What kind of person would repay a spontaneous act of kindness by filing a lawsuit?

Regular or premium?

Monday, October 11th, 2004

In this week’s Straight Dope column, Cecil Adams addresses the question of how to choose between premium and regular gasoline. This topic is surely of great interest to everyone as the price of regular gas hovers around $2 per gallon. I thought I already knew the answer: use the lowest grade that doesn’t cause your engine to knock. But that rule is out of date, because today’s engines detect knocking and automatically adjust the timing to prevent it — at the expense of power and fuel economy. So how do you know which grade of gasoline to buy? Cecil offers a rule even simpler than mine: read the owner’s manual.

Gas prices

Wednesday, March 31st, 2004

The news media are doing a very good job of telling us something we already know: that gasoline prices are high and continuing to rise. (In fact, some news outlets are even saying that gas prices have reached record highs, which is not true if you correct for inflation.) But if you want to know why gas prices are so high, you probably won’t get a coherent explanation from traditional news sources. Fortunately, energy economist Lynne Kiesling has written one. The short answer is: (1) High global crude oil prices, (2) existing environmental regulations, and (3) new environmental regulations. Be sure to read the comments on Kiesling’s article — they point out that limited refining capacity is also a factor.

Busted

Friday, November 21st, 2003

I think I got a traffic ticket yesterday while driving home from work. Hang on a minute, you’re probably saying to yourself. How can you not be sure? Did a cop pull you over and give you a ticket, or not? Well, no. At the moment, I have no ticket in my possession. And no police officer stopped me yesterday. But I probably was cited for a moving violation anyway — automatically, by a machine.
I was driving south on Six Forks Road. It was almost completely dark. I realized that there was a long line of cars in the right lane, which I needed to get into. Slowing down, I looked for a place to merge into that lane, but didn’t see any way to do it. As my gaze reverted to the road in front of me, I saw that the traffic light directly ahead was yellow . . . and I was moving too slowly to get through the intersection in time. Before I could react, three things happened: The light turned red. My car entered the intersection. And a bright flash illuminated the dark street.
I had just been photographed running a red light.
I should have known better. Earlier this year, the city of Raleigh began implementing a program called Safelight, installing photo enforcement systems at key intersections. The intersection of Six Forks Road and Rowan Street was the second location in the city to get one of these. It was no secret — the cameras are housed in big pole-mounted gray boxes that are easy to spot, and a sign reading RED LIGHT PHOTO ENFORCED tells you exactly what they are for. I’ve been driving past this setup for the last six months. I knew it was there. But I forgot.
So I expect that I’ll be receiving a ticket in the mail, telling me I have to pay a $50 fine. I called the Safelight office to find out how long this takes, and spoke with a very nice woman who said they verify the photos, print citations, and mail them within a day or two. I should have my ticket in a week or so.
I am aware that some people object to photo enforcement systems of this sort, but most of the arguments I’ve heard are either “Big Brother” hysteria or claims that the cameras are an invasion of privacy. I’m sorry, but I don’t find those arguments at all convincing. Anyone who has actually read 1984 knows that Big Brother’s cameras were everywhere, in bedrooms and offices and bathrooms. Cameras on a public street corner are hardly the same thing. And there never was any privacy in such places, so how can it be invaded? I’ve seen reports that photo enforcement systems are inaccurate, sending tickets to innocent people. If that’s the case, it’s certainly a problem, but the solution is to fix the system so it works properly, not to dismantle it.
No, I’m not going to object to this. I’ll pay the fine and try to learn from the experience. I’d better, because another Safelight system has been installed at the corner of Rock Quarry Road and Cross Link, which I have to pass to get to Ruth and Ben’s high school. I’ll just have to be more careful at traffic lights. If I don’t, I’ll have no one to blame but myself.

Now why didn’t I think of this?

Monday, August 11th, 2003

James Lileks has come up with an idea that should have occurred to me in 1989. In a column about his daughter’s third birthday, he writes:

I got her a car. A real one. No, she can’t drive it; she’s only 3. I’m just thinking ahead 13 years when she hints that a car would make a great birthday present.
I already got you one, I’ll say. You never used it.

Alas, it’s too late to use this trick on Ruth. Anyway, we already told her that she has dibs on the ’95 Neon when she gets her license. Oh, well. (But maybe Ruth can use the idea on her children.)

More crash tales

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2003

On second thought, I believe some of my other car crash stories may be worth telling. They’re not dramatic, but some of them are amusing, or at least instructive. I was still trying to decide about this when, while driving to work this morning, I received an omen: as I watched, a car in front of me ran a red light and sideswiped another vehicle. (Nothing serious; no one appeared to be injured.) All right, I’m not completely dense. If the gods want me to write more about this, I’ll oblige them.
As a teenager, I was not a particularly good driver. (In fact, it took me three tries to pass the road test for my license. This was not entirely due to my mediocre driving skills; on at least one of those occasions, the examiner had such a thick Southern drawl that I couldn’t understand most of what he said — and I was born and raised in the South.) The first collision I was ever involved in was an example of my ineptness behind the wheel. I was attempting to park my parents’ 1964 Rambler station wagon, and clipped one of the adjoining cars because I misjudged the length of the Rambler’s hood.
My second crash involved Bob’s paper route. In his essay on the subject, Bob mentions that he often wheedled our parents into helping him fold the newspapers or even taking him on his route by car, but he apparently doesn’t remember that I got dragged into those activities as well. On one occasion, I was driving him around the route in my dad’s 1967 Fiat 500 when I managed to hit another car. Now, in terms of the traffic laws, there is no question that this was my fault, inasmuch as I was driving like a complete idiot when it happened. The route required Bob to deliver newspapers to customers on both sides of the street, so the sensible thing was for me to drive up one side and down the other. But that would have been far too time-consuming. Instead, I was weaving back and forth in order to cover both sides in a single pass. (How did Bob deliver papers to the left side of the street when he was sitting on the right side of the car? He threw them over the roof or across the hood.)
In my defense, I have to point out that we were on a quiet residential street with virtually no traffic, so my driving wasn’t quite as insane as it sounds. But it was pretty stupid. However, I think the other driver wasn’t terribly smart either. If you see a car that’s swerving all over the road as if driven by a drunken imbecile, your first thought is to keep your distance, right? You don’t wait until it’s on the wrong side of the street and then try to pass it on the right. But that’s what the other driver did, and as I swung the Fiat back to the right side of the road, it struck the left side of the passing car. Nobody was hurt, but the other driver was pretty annoyed. And Dad wasn’t very happy about the Fiat, which now had a dented right front fender.
Oh, well. I blame the whole thing on Bob, because none of it would have happened if he had delivered the stupid papers on his bike like he was supposed to.
My third crash was probably also my fault, but I’ll never know for sure. I was driving through a busy intersection (Cherry Road and Charlotte Avenue in Rock Hill) when another car turned left in front of me and I ran into it. The police concluded that I had run a red light. I certainly hadn’t done so deliberately, but I thought it was possible that I had mistaken a green left-turn arrow for a green light. This time the poor Fiat got a dented left front fender. (I’m embarrassed to say that the exact same thing happened to me again in 1995, although this time it was at the most dangerous intersection in Cary, where Walnut Street, Buck Jones Road, and Highway 1 all meet. Again, I had no way to be sure exactly what happened — but I think it was probably my fault both times. And when a very similar wreck happened right in front of me this morning, I knew the traffic gods were trying to get my attention.)
I do have some stories about collisions that weren’t my fault. Here’s my favorite: I was in a Ford Pinto that got rear-ended, and I lived to tell about it. Yes, a Ford Pinto — the car made famous by a design flaw that frequently caused it to explode when rear-ended. My parents bought one in 1976, so it was one of the cars I got to drive after I got my license in ’77. A year or two later, the Pinto was stopped at a red light in Charlotte with me behind the wheel when another car ran into it from behind. It wasn’t moving very fast, so the other driver apparently intended to stop behind me and just didn’t do so quite soon enough. Whatever the reason, the driver panicked — the car backed up, swerved around the Pinto, ran the red light, and zoomed away at high speed. I turned off the Pinto’s engine, got out, and walked back to look at the damage. There wasn’t any. I couldn’t find even a scratch on the Pinto’s rear end. However, the road behind it was littered with pieces of plastic front grille. The Pinto’s notoriously weak rear bumper had not only withstood the impact, it had destroyed the front of the other car! Since the intersection was deserted and there were no witnesses, I just got back in the Pinto and drove away.
There’s another story about a rear-end collision that predates all of the ones above, because it happened before I started driving. Once, when we were both in high school, Virgil was giving me a ride in his pickup truck. A friend of ours was following us in his car. Apparently he was following a little more closely than he should have, because at one point Virgil stopped the truck and our friend’s car bumped it from behind. As the truck jolted forward, my head bounced off the rear wall of the cab, just under the rear window. (I was only 5’6″ tall in those days.) Once we regained our wits, Virgil determined that there was no visible damage to my head — but there was a noticeable dent in the metal of the truck where my head had struck it.
My most bizarre story is about the 1990 collision between my 1982 Toyota Tercel and another car, neither of which was running or occupied at the time. The Tercel was parked at the curb in front of our house in Cary when a teenager who lived in the cul-de-sac across the street tried, with the help of a friend, to start his stalled car by rolling it down the hill and popping the clutch. While the two of them were still pushing the car, it got away from them, rolled down the hill by itself, and crashed into my Tercel. (It’s a good thing the Tercel was there; otherwise the teenager’s car might have jumped the curb, continued down the hill, and ended up in our living room.) Reporting this crash to the auto insurance people was lots of fun. “What do you mean, no drivers were involved?” Fortunately, the hapless teenager and I had the same insurance company, which simplified the claim paperwork considerably. The company was so pleased that they waived the deductible and paid the entire cost of repairing the Tercel’s crumpled fender.

Wheels up

Thursday, June 26th, 2003

Bob is disappointed that his car crash stories didn’t prompt the rest of us to post similar tales of our own. Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but the reason I didn’t follow suit is that I only have one dramatic story about a car crash, and I already told it. The other collisions I’ve been involved in were all uninteresting fender benders, with one exception. And that one wasn’t dramatic or life-changing; in fact, it’s really kind of comical. But it does have some relevance to Bob’s stories, so if it will make him happy, I’ll describe it.
I usually begin this story by mentioning that I have never received a speeding ticket in my entire life, and then conceding that the truth of this statement depends on exactly how you define “speeding ticket.” To most people, the phrase means that you were driving faster than the posted limit, a cop saw you or detected you on radar, and you were pulled over and issued a citation. This has never happened to me, for the simple reason that I don’t speed. Okay, I do occasionally exceed the posted limit for a moment while passing, or to get out of the way of someone who’s trying to merge into my lane — in other words, when I think it would be more dangerous to rigidly adhere to the speed limit. But I don’t cruise along, mile after mile, at an illegally high speed.
However, I did receive a ticket in the summer of 1982 for “driving too fast for conditions.” The officer who issued the ticket did not actually observe me driving, or pick me up on his radar. In fact, he wasn’t even there when I allegedly did it; his inference was based entirely on his analysis of evidence at the scene. His most significant clue was probably the fact that the Domino’s Pizza delivery car I had been driving was upside down in a ditch.
What happened was this: I was returning from a delivery run on the outskirts of Rock Hill, headed back to the Domino’s store a few miles away. India Hook Road was a bit wet from a thunderstorm earlier in the day, but the storm had passed and the sun was shining. I was traveling at the posted speed of 35 miles per hour, which is actually quite conservative on what, at that time, was a lightly traveled two-lane road at the edge of town. That particular stretch of road is straight and level, so it wasn’t immediately obvious when I lost control of the car. When you’re driving in a straight line, hydroplaning doesn’t actually change things very much; it just means that if you decide you want to stop traveling in a straight line, you can’t.
Gradually, I became aware of two things: turning the steering wheel had no effect, and the car was slowly drifting off the road to the right. This was preferable to drifting left into the oncoming-traffic lane, but not much better — to the right of the road was an embankment that sloped up steeply. What would happen when the car’s front bumper hit the face of that embankment? I watched in a kind of surreal fascination as it loomed closer.
The result was probably the dullest and most anticlimactic car wreck in the history of transportation. The car slowly performed a counterclockwise half-roll and then slid to a stop on its roof. I found myself hanging upside down from my seat belt. After releasing it, I crawled out the driver’s side window. (If I had been thinking more clearly, I would have gone out the other side; the driver’s window was now on the right side, pressed up against the embankment, but I wriggled out anyhow.)
The first thing I saw, mere seconds after emerging from the overturned car, was a tow truck. It was pulling a boat — the owner of the towing service and his son were inside the truck, and they had been returning from a trip to the lake when they just happened to pass by the spot where I had flipped the car about thirty seconds earlier. (Either tow truck drivers have a sixth sense that draws them to where accidents are about to happen, or the gods of probability have a sense of humor.) He gave me a ride to the nearest phone (so I could report the accident to the police and my Domino’s store) and then found a place to park the boat so they could use the truck to tow the delivery car to a repair shop. Meanwhile, a cop arrived on the scene, took one look at the inverted vehicle, and wrote me a “driving too fast for conditions” ticket. I didn’t agree with this assessment, but saw no point in arguing.
As you might imagine, people who drive tow trucks for a living have a lot of experience with cars that are upside down in a ditch, and putting such a vehicle back on its wheels is no trouble at all for them. Since the car had not actually collided violently with anything, the damage was amazingly light. In fact, the repair shop determined that there was no damage to the frame at all, and only minor dents to the right front fender, which had actually run into the embankment. Even the roof was unharmed. All the oil had leaked out (through the fill opening and/or dipstick tube, I suppose) while the car was upside down, but after a quick refill, the car was perfectly drivable. It required no repairs at all. The Domino’s manager decided not to bother having the minor dents fixed, and we continued to use that car until I left to go back to college at the end of the summer.
I did warn you that this wasn’t a dramatic story. I’ll follow Bob’s example and close with a list of points worth noting.

  • Water is evil, yes.
  • The laws of probability are definitely distorted in Rock Hill. Like Bob, I found that every single person I knew had driven by while I was standing on the side of the road in my Domino’s uniform next to an upside-down Domino’s delivery car. And they all said “That was you?” when I told them about it. Actually, maybe people in Rock Hill just say that whenever you tell them anything. Someone should look into this.
  • Does the music keep playing? Actually, the pizza car didn’t have a radio, so I have no idea.
  • When the court date for my ticket arrived, I went before the judge and pleaded nolo contendere rather than admit guilt. Well, okay, I said “no contest.” Using the Latin phrase in traffic court would have caused the judge to roll his eyes and throw the book at me.
  • The car came to rest just a few yards from a Rock Hill city limit sign, creating a bit of a jurisdictional dilemma. The Rock Hill police officer who was first on the scene had to call the sherriff’s department, because the incident was outside the city. What would have happened, I wonder, if the car had slid a bit farther and stopped right on top of the city limit? (I probably would have ended up pleading nolo contendere at the World Court in the Hague.)
  • I want to point out that although I flipped the Domino’s car, I did deliver the pizza on time.

Anniversary

Thursday, October 10th, 2002

Twenty-two years ago today, I came as close to death as I ever have. A car was reduced to scrap metal while I was inside, and I was lucky to remain in one piece.
October 10, 1980 was a Friday, and I was looking forward to a break from the daily grind of classes and studying at the University of South Carolina. My roommate Ernest and I were going on a double date with my girlfriend Marie and her roommate Elza. We planned to go out to dinner and then see a movie (Somewhere in Time, with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour). Ernest was driving his Volkswagen Rabbit. I was riding shotgun, and Marie and Elza were in the back seat.
I don’t recall which restaurant we had picked for dinner, but it must have been somewhere in the St. Andrews area of Columbia, because we headed out I-126 toward Irmo. I-126 is a local expressway that connects downtown Columbia with I-26, which bypasses the city on the west. Where I-126 meets I-26, the two highways simply join and the railing between them ends. Merging is not necessary; you don’t have to change lanes or yield to other traffic. In theory, traffic should continue to flow smoothly through the interchange. But on this particular evening, it did not.
Exactly what happened is a matter of conjecture, because we never did manage to talk to the driver of the car ahead of ours. It’s possible that she became confused or disoriented. Perhaps she thought she had driven the wrong way on an exit ramp and was now headed the wrong way on the interstate, and panicked. All we know for sure is that at the point where the railing between I-126 and I-26 goes away, she slammed on her brakes and skidded to a halt while traffic around and behind her was moving at 45 miles per hour.
Ernest had two or three seconds to react — not enough time to stop our car, but enough to try to avoid the obstacle. He attempted to swerve into the lane to our left, and nearly succeeded. By the time we reached the stopped car, only the right half of the Rabbit was still in the blocked lane. As a result, the actual collision took place directly in front of me. I don’t have any coherent memory of the crash, just a vague impression of deafening noise and violent motion.
When the world stopped spinning, all four of us were still in our seats. Marie and Elza had only had lap belts, so they had been rattled around in the back seat quite a bit and would shortly develop an impressive collection of bruises. They also had minor cuts from flying window glass. Ernest had escaped injury entirely, although he managed to cut his thumb on broken glass while climbing out of the wreck. But when I tried to get out, I discovered that my right leg did not work. The femur was broken.
We later learned that a total of seven vehicles were involved in the collision. Acquaintances of ours who passed through the area afterward said they had seen the wreckage and wondered how many people had been killed in the wreck. Amazingly, the answer was “none.” In 1980, most cars did not yet have air bags, but all four occupants of the Rabbit were wearing seat belts, and they did a superb job of protecting us. No one in the other vehicles was badly hurt, either. Mine, it turned out, was the most serious injury.
As luck would have it, two off-duty paramedics were in a vehicle not far behind us, and they arrived at the scene within a minute or two. At first, they were mainly concerned with assessing our condition. Marie and Ernest had gotten out on their own, but Elza, although conscious, was confused and didn’t seem to know where she was. And I wasn’t going anywhere without a stretcher. I remember noticing gritty stuff in my mouth and asking one of the paramedics to see if my teeth were damaged, but it turned out to be fine particles of glass. My face was covered with blood, but this all came from a few superficial nicks to my face and scalp, also from glass fragments. (Scalp lacerations bleed like crazy, even very minor ones.) Even my bone fracture was a simple one — no jagged bones protruding through the skin, or anything like that.
Eventually the emergency crews arrived and began the process of removing Elza and me from the wreck. The paramedics decided that Elza was suffering from whiplash and ended up strapping her to a backboard and taking her out through the rear window. Getting me out was a little more complicated, because I was sitting in the most severely mangled part of the car, with the dashboard more or less in my lap. In the end, they had to use the Jaws of Life to pry the door off and pull me out. This involved some movement of my broken leg, which was quite painful, but they got me onto a stretcher and immobilized it as soon as possible. One ambulance ride later, I was in the emergency department of Richland Memorial Hospital, where, after a quick assessment, I had to wait for several hours to be treated. (I’m not complaining. This is standard emergency-medicine triage. My condition was stable and I was in no danger, and I’m sure they had other patients who might die if they weren’t treated immediately. The RMH staff was entirely justified in letting me wait while they helped those people.)
In the meantime, Ernest, Marie, and Elza were treated and released. Elza had recovered from the initial shock and her whiplash was found to be minor; she had to wear a neck brace for a while but was otherwise fine. But I was admitted to the hospital. X-rays showed that I required traction to move the pieces of my femur into position for proper healing. A hole was drilled laterally through my right tibia and a metal pin about four inches long was screwed into the hole. I was then moved to a hospital bed equipped with an overhead rail for hanging traction gear. My leg was elevated in a padded sling supported by ropes that ran through pulleys (attached to the overhead rail) to a set of counterweights. Other ropes and pulleys were attached to the tibia pin and to a sling around my thigh, and weights were hung from these to apply traction in the proper directions. The resulting rig looked like I had blundered into a large spiderweb. Of course, as Bob pointed out at the time, it could have been worse.
The crash had apparently broken my leg by slamming the dashboard of the car straight back into my right knee. Such an impact could certainly exert sufficient pressure to snap my femur, but no one could figure out why the knee itself wasn’t injured. As any football player can tell you, the knee is a temperamental joint that’s easy to damage, sometimes permanently. Not only was there no damage to the joint, the skin of my knee was completely unmarked — not the faintest sign of a bruise or abrasion. This wasn’t the only bizarre aspect of the accident. At the time of the wreck, Marie was wearing my high school ring, a pendant on a neck chain, a pair of clip-on earrings, and a bracelet wristwatch. All of this jewelry vanished in the crash; afterward, it wasn’t on her body anymore and none of it was ever found in or near the wreckage. Her glasses and mine were also knocked off, but both pairs were found lying intact on the roadway. Mine had several nicks where the plastic lenses had stopped glass fragments and presumably saved my eyes. (This was the only time I have ever been thankful that my glasses had such thick lenses.)
Apart from the broken bone, my injuries were minor. None of the lacerations required stitches, just Band-Aids. The last joint of the little finger on my right hand was also damaged; it was sore and I couldn’t move it. X-rays showed a tiny bone fracture and a muscle that was displaced from where it should have been. The joint would have to be repaired surgically, but this would have to wait until after traction was complete, because I was stuck in my hospital bed for the duration, and you can’t wheel a bed into an operating theater.
At first, the doctors weren’t sure how long I would be in the hospital. There was some discussion of a surgical procedure to use metal pins to put the bone back together, but the doctors didn’t want to resort to such an invasive procedure if it wasn’t necessary. In the end, they decided that it was best to continue the traction until the bone fragments were in the right positions, then put a cast on the leg, fix my finger, and send me home. But there was no way to predict how long the traction would take to set the bone. We would simply have to wait and see.
It took six weeks. During that time, I was unable to leave my bed. Obviously, this put an end to the fall semester as far as I was concerned — I had to withdraw from all my classes. I was also stuck in a hospital 70 miles from my family. They visited as often as they could, as did my friends from the campus. But it was Marie who kept me sane. She had only known me for six weeks prior to the accident, but she visited me every day, riding buses or borrowing a car to get to the hospital. She took charge of my life, bringing me things I needed, helping me straighten things out with the university, and making sure that visitors didn’t tire me out. I don’t know how I would have gotten through that experience if it hadn’t been for her.
Eventually, the bones were in position. The traction rig was dismantled, the tibia pin was removed, and a cast was applied to the leg. My right hand was then surgically repaired, which resulted in another cast that went halfway to the elbow. After I recovered from that procedure, I spent several days in physical therapy learning to walk with crutches (the right one equipped with a cradle for my forearm and a handle that my partially-immobilized hand could grip). I was finally discharged and allowed to go home the day before Thanksgiving. I had to wear the cast for nine weeks, and after it was removed, to walk with crutches for another four weeks. It was February before I was able to walk normally again.
Some effects of the crash lasted longer than the treatment. The fracture healed, but my femur now has a sizable knot in it, which can be painful if pressure is exerted on my thigh (for example, when a child sits on my lap). The surgery on my finger was not a success; instead of healing properly, the joint simply fused, and I have never regained the use of it. (Fortunately, I am not a concert pianist, so I have very little need for full mobility in my little finger.) The lacerations on my scalp and face healed, but you can still see the scars if you know where to look. (Marie also has a scar on the back of her left shoulder, where a piece of window glass left its mark.) And I have permanent scars where the pin was inserted in my tibia and later removed.
But there are compensations. Marie and I were already in love on October 10, but the custodial relationship forced on us by my hospitalization moved matters along considerably. And being apart during November and December underscored how important the relationship was for both of us. In January of 1981, I asked her to marry me, although we didn’t announce our engagement until the following year. Over two decades later, we’re still together. Would this have happened without the crash? I like to think so, but it’s impossible to know.

Friday Five: Behind the wheel

Friday, August 9th, 2002

Now that I’m blogging again, the arrival of Friday means it’s time to answer the Friday Five. This week’s questions are about driving.
1. Do you have a car? If so, what kind of car is it? We have two vehicles, both of which are Chrysler products: a Plymouth Grand Voyager and a Dodge Neon four-door sedan.
2. Do you drive very often? Are you kidding? Of course I do. If you live in the Triangle and you have a job, you commute every day. Now that I’m unemployed, you would think I’d be spending less time on the road, but that just means that I have more time time to run errands and drive the kids around.
3. What’s your dream car? As hard as this is to believe, I don’t have one. I can think of lots of cars that I wouldn’t turn down if someone gave me one, but I see a car as a means of getting places, not as a manifestation of my personality. So, even though I’m a middle-aged male, I really have no interest in acquiring an expensive sports car, or even a mountain-climbing SUV. My dream car is any car that fits my practical requirements (four-door sedan, automatic transmission, cruise control, power locks and windows, CD player) and doesn’t cost me a lot of money (affordable purchase price, great gas mileage, inexpensive to maintain).
I will admit that I really like the Pontiac Aztek because I think it looks cool, but I have no idea how good a vehicle it is to drive or maintain.
4. Have you ever received a ticket? Only once. I have never received a speeding ticket in the ordinary sense — that is, I have never been pulled over and given a ticket because I was observed driving faster than the posted speed limit. However, in 1982 I did receive a citation for “driving too fast for conditions” because the Domino’s Pizza delivery car that I had been driving was upside down in the ditch. The officer who wrote the ticket did not actually know what my speed had been, but he concluded that it must have been too fast. I didn’t agree with this assessment, but thought it was best not to argue. (The accident did not prevent me from delivering the pizza on time; it happened on my way back from the customer’s house.)
5. Have you ever been in an accident? Quite a few, actually. As a teenager, I was a mediocre driver and was involved in several fender-benders as a result. My most serious accident was the seven-car pileup in 1980 that fractured my right femur and caused me to spend six weeks in traction. (I was only a passenger that time; my college roommate was driving.) My most recent accident was a two-car collision in 1995, in which I was driving through an intersection and hit an oncoming vehicle that turned left in front of me. The police officer concluded that I ran a red light, and he may have been right — it’s possible that I mistook a green turn arrow for a green light.
The strangest accident I’ve been involved in took place in 1990. It was a collision that involved two cars, but no drivers. In fact, neither car was running at the time. It happened when a teenager living in the cul-de-sac across the street from our house was pushing his car with the aid of a buddy. Somehow, they lost control of it at a moment when neither of them was behind the wheel. The driverless vehicle rolled down the hill and struck my car, which was parked at the curb. Naturally, I was not happy about this, but it later occurred to me that if my car had not stopped it, the other vehicle would have jumped the curb, continued down the hill, crashed through the front wall of our house, and come to rest in our living room. As it turned out, the damage to my car was superficial (the right front fender was mangled, but the vehicle was still drivable), and my insurance covered the cost of the repair.
I am happy to say that I have never been involved in a fatal accident. This is partly good luck, but it’s also partly because I always wear a seat belt, and insist that all passengers do the same while I’m driving.