Sunday, November 20, 2011

When Idiots Attack

They're out there, all right. And even when you're expecting it and have your guard up, they can wage a successful attack. I have reason to know.

It was the first real snowfall of the season for the metro on Saturday. I had to drive down for my Aunt's funeral - kind of a big double-funeral-duty weekend. In the cities it started as freezing rain, then got covered over by wet slick snow. When I'd left home there were a few flakes, but it hit for real by the time I got to Hugo/Centerville.

My speed dropped to 65, then 60, and by the time I hit my first exit for a bank deposit at County Rd. E, 45mph was pushing it on the freeway. It got worse as I hit Stillwater and headed south, and today's weather summary showed a small band of heavy snowfall right in my idiot's target - or should I say targeting? - area. I was southbound on Stagecoach, less than a mile from my destination, and maintaining 30 as a safe top speed. It was slick. Just as I came up to 19th street, I saw a green SUV coming down the hill to the stop sign, showing no indication of stopping whatsoever.

Now I've learned that in these conditions when one is driving downhill on icy roads, one starts slowing and gently testing one's brakes at the top of the hill. If you still can't stop at the sign at the bottom of the hill after that, well, there's not much hope for anybody and you should have reconsidered your errand before starting.

I was watching out for everybody around me, which at that time was nobody. Good thing. When she popped into view, I was fairly close to the road she was coming down on and knew there was almost no chance of making a safe stop. If she couldn't stop before entering my roadway, we were going to get really well acquainted. Still, I braked gently, as safely as possible without throwing my own car into a spin and possibly heading down the hill on the other side of the road or hitting her with a rotating car. I steered gently out into the oncoming lane, thankfully empty.

There comes a time when you know there's nothing left to do but just get ready for impact. It's the kind of moment that inhabits my real nightmares. Brakes don't work. Inertia triumphs over traction. You watch the two vehicles getting closer, feel the bump, hear the crash. Eventually you stop.

My front passenger side hit her driver side just behind her door. She moved her car onto the shoulder, but not far enough forward that there was room for me to get off the traffic lane as well. I had to ask her to move forward more, but that was after she'd gotten out to come back to me and explain how it was the road's fault and not hers. Funny, but in the 40 minutes we sat there afterwards, several other cars came down that hill and not one had trouble stopping.

Not one.

One kindly lady stopped and asked if I needed a witness. She clearly saw the other woman not stop and plowing right into me from her vantage point in the oncoming lane, well enough back so as to avoid the accident. The other driver shooed her off, stating that that was what she intended to tell the police and we didn't need a witness. I got a slip of paper with a name and phone number from the witness anyway.

I do admit to losing my temper with the other driver - can we just call her "idiot" from now on for brevity? - and yelling at her as she first approached my car, "Can't you tell you need to slow down in these conditions?" Then she was busy hand-wringing and asking everybody -that's me and the witness - what she needed to do now? I just whipped out my cell and dialed 911. It was much more productive than a few other ideas that flitted across my mind. She did apologize to me after a bit, several times, but it didn't do much to soften my attitude.

In a lucky bit of timing, my brother happened to pass us on his way to the same funeral and stopped to see what was going on. He keeps his cell off except when he needs to use it, so I was wondering how I was going to let anybody know I might be missing the funeral. I gave him a quick summary and asked him to relay word to the others when he got there. As it turned out, I had planned on giving myself a lot of time due to the snow, and wound up missing only 22 minutes of the service. Since it was all Bible readings and nothing much about Nina except how she agreed with everything that was being read, I consider it the only good thing to result from the impact.

The Idiot's car had a tiny ding behind the front driver's door. It was Honda CRV vs. Hyundai Accent, after all. My car - visual inspection only so far - has a banged up front passenger quarter panel (rubs the tire on bumps and left turns), crunched front bumper, and headlight cover glass cracked but intact in several places. The light still worked, though I found out later that the right headlight points way down on the ground. I might need a front end alignment as well.

I left a voicemail message with my insurance company, and will likely hear from them early tomorrow. Meanwhile I'm wondering how much this idiot will cost me, starting with the deductible and adding days of lost work while repairs are done. That's what has really put a damper on the weekend. Both funerals are over, duties discharged, Steve moved in and working on settling and unpacking. I should be relaxing right now. Instead I'm coping with the dread of what tomorrow brings.

As a final note on idiocy, as I pulled away after everything was done, I made sure to clear the rapidly accumulating snow off my windows, lights and mirrors. I noticed as I passed her that she had about a 2" clear spot in her side mirror, and she was bending and trying to peer into it to see any oncoming traffic as she pulled out behind. She never bothered to roll down her window to clear it off.

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