Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Crash and the Feather Part 1

I dislike winter a great deal. It's not the early sunsets or the freezing temperatures or the loss of green grass and leaves. What I really dislike about the season is the snow and ice that accumulates on the roadways, making my life more difficult, and the other people that are too irresponsible to drive appropriately for the conditions. My discontent with these aspects of winter is not at all unfounded. It's on a daily basis that some moron decides to pull out in front of me and then gets stuck on the ice, forcing  me to evade his vehicle. It's quite often that someone weaves into my lane because she is totally focused on the ruts on the road and not other vehicles around her. And the number of people that ride my ass because I'm not driving the speed limit during a snowstorm is astounding! But near misses aren't necessarily enough to spark such a seething abhorrence to the season. Sometimes, things have to get a little worse.

I've been rear-ended five times in my life. The first such time was in winter and was the result of a woman in a Jeep Grand Cherokee figuring driving the speed limit on ice was a good idea, despite the fact there was a red light and a stopped vehicle (me) ahead of her. BOOM! We got out of the vehicles. What did I do? I asked if she was all right. What did she do? Checked the damage on HER vehicle! Yeah, I forced her to the police station to file a report. I didn't press charges as I couldn't prove she was driving unsafely for the conditions, but I really wish I had. However, that was not even close to the worst accident of my life.

In the summer of 2000, I was working as a pizza delivery person. It was a really fun job, but I really didn't make much money. I drove a 1982 Ford Mustang with a 5.0 under the hood. Most of my income went toward the gas. But that job was fun, so I didn't mind. One day, in the summer, I opened my door and got inside the car. As I turned the engine over, I noticed on the passenger seat greyish-blue feather. I had no idea how it got there, but thought it looked cool, so I placed it in my glove compartment and forgot about it. What's the relevance to winter driving and car accidents, you ask? Not much! But you'll see.

Fast forward to late November 2000. Southern Alberta was in the grip of winter, which was pretty typical for this province. I was working that night, driving my Mustang with its nearly bald winter tires. Yeah, I know. I should have upgraded. I just didn't have the money. Not a good reason, but the only excuse I can offer. Due to my self-proclaimed superior driving capabilities, I never ran into any hassles. Oh sure, I would, on the rare occasion, have my tires spin a bit before I could get moving, but nothing serious and nothing that was not happening to everyone else on the roads. But my avoidance of incident only worked to lull me into a sense of security...that nothing would happen.

One night, after a slow shift, Trevor (my boss) asked the drivers to meet him at Tim Horton’s in order to settle up with him (to give him his coordinator fee, as he took the delivery orders and passed them on to the drivers) and to return the CB equipment to him if we weren't scheduled to work for a few days. Trevor and I were both at Boston Pizza when he decided to shut the service down for the evening, and so he chose to follow me to Tim Horton’s. The weather was unpleasant but not unacceptable. There was a very light snow happening, which created a dusting of flakes on the road, but accumulation that day was minimal. Therefore, I decided to take the shortest route to get to Tim Horton’s...the #2 highway.

The #2 splits Airdrie in half, much like it does Calgary. Along the northbound lanes of the highway, Tim Horton’s, as well as other restaurants and a hotel, waited for weary travelers. Taking the highway up to Tim Horton’s took only a fraction of the time that it would take to drive around the east side of the city, so it just made sense.

I got on the highway and Trevor was still following me. I was taking my time (about 65 or 70 km/h in a 110 zone) as the road conditions were not ideal. Trevor had a significant following distance. We were good at what we did...we were smart drivers. But even the smartest driver can be unlucky. After a few moments on the highway, my tires hit a patch of black ice. Being a rear-wheel drive vehicle, my Mustang began to spaz out and fishtail on the road because the fresh snow was the perfect grease to keep my car from gaining traction. No problem, though. I could handle it! By carefully steering the car, I was hoping to recover and continue on my way.

Reader. I've provided the snow and ice into the equation. But how could I forget the other offending factor in winter driving...stupid people? You can relax because that stupid person enters the situation right now.

While I tried to regain control of my flopping vehicle, I checked all mirrors as well as windows. Understand that this all happened in what was only a ten second period or so, but it is true what they say; time does tend to slow in situations of panic. Anyway, while I was trying to get my Mustang facing forward, some complete IDIOT was coming up in the middle lane of the highway (I and Trevor being in the right lane and no one else in sight). This person was coming up fast...must faster than one should for the weather. To this day I'm unsure what the hell that driver was doing. My car wasn't swinging out to 90 degree angles from where it should have been, but it must have been obvious that I did not have control! However, the driver just kept coming...didn't move to the leftmost lane...didn't slow down. I'm sure the person would have evaded me somehow when they got closer, but I didn't want to risk hitting the person and hurting them. So I did the only thing that seemed reasonable at the time. I yanked the wheel to the right, causing my vehicle to spin sideways. I was going to ride the snow on the road into the ditch.
If only it were that easy.

As my car careened toward the ditch, I remember thinking "weeee" in my head. It was calming, okay? I turned to look out the driver's side window, as that was now the front of the vehicle. That's when I saw it. A huge green sign that said:

East Airdrie

The sign was burned into my memory because for an endless moment, I thought it was going to be the last thing I ever saw. My car was speeding sideways right toward it. I closed my eyes and braced myself. There was nothing else I could do. 

To be continued. 

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