Jul 02

More crash tales

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.