Saturday, November 26, 2005

What We Did on Our Thanksgiving Break

In the spirit of informed consent, some people [Argotnaut!] might not want to read this entry as there will be a graphic description of the car accident we were in last night. (No no, we're okay, just variously bruised and stiff, and a bit traumatized.)

I/We spent Thanksgiving happily cooking from morning until evening, though I was surprised to realize that there is only one oven rack in TheLimey's oven. This meant we had to work the scheduling around very carefully, and I ended up not making perhaps the last third of the items on my cooking list. However, the important things were done, and when TheLimey's relatives came around for dessert in the evening they had a (second) Thanksgiving dinner as well as pies, cakes, and cookies.

So anyway. Friday we lounged around like slugs for once (as planned) until evening when we were supposed to go visit a friend of mine in Ypsilanti for the evening. We set off at about 7 for the half-hour trip, and a light snow was beginning. I had just gotten my car back from the service station around the corner, where we had had it "winterized" (including new tires), so I was feeling very satisfied with its reliability. So much so that I completely forgot to even look at the gas gauge until we had already passed the edge of town.

There we were, in the snowy dark, crawling down a winding two-lane country road as the snowflakes began to fall through the headlights ever faster...with my gas gauge on "E". I know some cars can go another 20 miles at that point, but by the time mine hits "E" it really is empty. We discussed whether the next crossroad had a gas station, and thought that it did. Unfortunately both of us remembered falsely, as it turned out to be one of those "former gas stations" that only holds a convenience store. (We could have bought all the beer we wanted!)

Thus, in a spirit of aggravation, we turned around to try to get as close to town as we could before the gas gave out, though it was several miles away and I knew we wouldn't make it. Sure enough, a few yards later the car began coughing and dragging. It managed to get about half a mile, where I pulled off onto the shoulder (not far enough off, but there was an embankment preventing my getting any farther off) at someone's driveway. We tried knocking on their door to see if we could get a ride into town to get gas, but no one was home. So we started walking really really fast, carrying my gas can.

Every set of headlights that came around the bend (and there were a lot of them) we got as far off the road into the snow as we could, mindful of how slippery it was and how cars were sliding about on the road that night. (And how drivers of cars tend to stupidly hit people on the shoulder anyway, even in good weather in broad daylight.)

It wasn't too long after that, perhaps a half mile, that a van pulled over and the occupants offered us a ride into town, which we accepted. As their back door didn't work, we had to crawl through the center console from the front (already a bad sign?) to reach the back seat. Eminem was blaring from the speakers (now I believe this was also a bad sign). I took a hit from my inhaler (which was subsequently lost in the accident, so luckily it was already low), and nearly dropped it as the driver slithered practically off into the ditch. As the driver and passenger introduced themselves to us, I saw that the windshield was so frosted over that it was hard to see anything other than the glare of other cars' headlights.

At this point, I turned and began digging out the seatbelt, which is always hard to find in an alien car, but I felt there was an accident waiting to happen. (Also, I always feel naked without a seatbelt.) I am very glad I did. I noticed that TheLimey didn't put his on, about which I should have said something, but I hate being a nag. (Next time I will do it anyway.) I figured, hoped, prayed we would be able to make it the mere two or three miles down the road to the gas station, with any luck.

The driver was not going terribly fast in absolute terms, but definitely too fast for conditions. (I had been going 35 as it was, and I think he was going 45 or 50). Especially when those conditions included a frosted-over windshield and apparently bald tires. He appeared to be navigating solely by avoiding each individual mailbox that popped up into the headlights in the dark at the right edge of the road, and the van careened in a slithery fashion to and fro over the road as we went. (Honestly, I don't know how they arrived to where they picked us up!) I tightened the seatbelt and stuffed my purse tightly into my lap.

As we neared town, more oncoming traffic appeared. There was yet another terrifying slither toward the ditch on the right that the driver tried to avoid by swerving left, finally with the inevitable outcome that the whole van went into a slow graceful brake-locked donut toward the left. Right into oncoming traffic. Did I mention that I was on the right side of the van? Well, I was, so those headlights were aimed directly at me. I had time to think about a lot of things, as time always slows down in those situations.

My thoughts as the impact neared were things like: "Welp, here we go, as I expected," "I hope I can keep track of my purse and its contents when everything explodes," and "I wish my husband was wearing his belt, but this is all going slowly enough that I don't think he'll be seriously injured, especially since he's on the lee side of the impact" and even "That girl's screaming isn't going to do anyone any good," although this was less a conscious thought than an impression. I wondered what the driver of the other car was feeling behind those headlights, and imagined it was probably what we were all feeling. Although I think I actually felt a sense of relief that the suspense of the scary drive was over, and here, finally, was the crashing conclusion.

I threw out my left arm, vainly trying to keep TheLimey in his seat, as the s l o w . m a s s i v e . c r u n c h . o v e r t o o k . e v e r y t h i n g . e l s e . i n . t h e . w o r l d.

I felt that I slid surreally slowly to my right and off the seat bench onto the floor, as the belt was one of those that just reaches forward over one's lap from a fastening at the right side behind the seat, rather than coming out of the bench itself. I had an impression of TheLimey being thrown up and away from my left hand. I was wedged down between the seat and the door of the van, and I felt annoyance as my glasses were squished off my face by the surfaces closing on me.

I quickly grabbed them and put them back on as everything stopped moving, or perhaps began moving at a normal speed again. I was also conscious that my purse was mostly still within my range and appeared intact. I felt my "it's-a-crisis-and-you-have-to-fix-it!" caretaking circuit switch on, and felt that my list of priorities was clear. It was a) make sure I can move; b) tend to my husband; c) tend to the people in the front.

I realized later that the reason my glasses were squished was that my head was being squashed by the inward deformation of the van door towards the seat. As I shoved my glasses back on, I tried to undo my seatbelt fastener, which was up there somewhere on the seat. I thought I saw my husband leaning over, holding his belly, and thought, God, he's been hurt, but it'll be okay. I'll call 9-1-1. He's alive.

However, he quickly leaped up and crouched over me, grabbing my face to try to see if I was okay and to get me to get out. There was a smell of burning plastic and smoke. I was conscious of feeling that I had very clear thought processes, as I requested clearly and firmly that he get off the seatbelt fastener so I could undo it. Several times, and then he seemed to hear me, and I undid the fastener. I saw him grab my purse off the floor and hand it to me, and I scanned the floor for items as I felt inside my purse: phone, wallet, there, ok. The glass in the door was completely gone, so I climbed out the window, noticing that the other driver had gone off into the field adjacent to the road, but had not flipped over.

The girl in the front was crying and hysterical, but they climbed out the driver's side and both were standing. The Limey and I mainly felt each other all over to make sure each other was okay, with a sense of surreal relief. I called 9-1-1 and had to ask several people what road we were on, but it seemed to go through okay; they said someone was on the way. I tried to help the young couple find their glasses and cell phone on the van floor, but everything seemed to have disappeared.

The driver of the other car, a white van, appeared with a bloody nose and the somewhat hysterical yet hearty demeanor some people get in a crisis. (Unlike me, she had likely not been anticipating the crash for several minutes beforehand, so it was a surprise as well as a shock.)

After that, it was all ambulances, fire trucks, police, freezing whipping cold, and the realization that my hat was gone. (I looked in the van but couldn't find it.) TheLimey's brother picked us up and ferried us back and forth to gas my car up. The whole event seemed to take about 20 minutes, but in actuality lasted about 2-1/2 hours--the time we had planned to leave my friend's house that evening to return home.

I drove home from the gas station extremely slowly. When we got home, we huddled on the couch with glasses of cream sherry, trying to get out of that feeling that it was all a weird dream, but very grateful that we were both okay.

This morning we discovered various bruises (my head, hip, knee; TheLimey's calf) and plenty of sore, stiff muscles (my neck, TheLimey's back), but otherwise we seem fine and unconcussed. I even managed to get my glasses bent more or less back into shape with pliers--or rather, didn't have time to find pliers so used an adjustable wrench.

However, things still feel a little weird and surreal.


argotnaut said...

God damn those consarned infernal contraptions! #$%!@@!! !&#^!!*!@!! Gaaaah, there just isn't anything I hate more!

I'm glad you're OK. (:(

liz said...

Me too.

(I told you you shouldn't read this entry!)

argotnaut said...

That's unpossible!

liz said...

True, that would be an unrealistic expectation.

But as I've been telling TheLimey, I already know I'm going to die of some lung ailment when I'm older, so I knew this wasn't it.

At least for me. I don't know how he's going to die, so I was more worried about him being injured than me.

Andrew said...

I was reading the other day about a move in some quarters to change the date of Thanksgiving. Late November is just too unpredicatable a time from a weather standpoint to do a lot of traveling in America. Perhaps, in the finest Portland tradition, I aughta start a petition!

I too am glad that you and Simon are okay. One Frinkenstein in the family is enough!

argotnaut said...

Oh yeah -- your phone called me around 9:15 last night.

liz said...

Huh! Well, it was all over then anyway. It would have been eerie had it called you during the accident.

Liddy said...

So glad you and TheLimey are ok! That surreal accident and post-accident feeling is the the strangest thing... cream sherry and couch time might just be the best possible solution to that.