Wednesday, March 19, 2014

You Know Who You Are

Somewhere out there, you know who you are. Or at least I hope you do, that you weren't too drunk or high to remember. If you get up this morning scratching your head wondering what happened, you might still be smart enough to figure out I wasn't a deer.

I don't know what your problem was. Drunk? High? Texting? Ignorance and inexperience? Can't see well enough to drive at night and in the snow? On the phone? Fiddling with your radio? I may never know. I'm not sure it matters. I just hope you've figured out how dangerous you are. Next time you may not be so lucky. Nor I.

ABS brakes, being relatively new to me, still unnerve me when I hit slick spots. I suppose they are better than sliding all over the place, but they still freak me out when that pedal jumps around under my foot. When that happened last night as I was leaving the nursing home from my last stop, finally heading home, it was a warning to me to take it really slow for those 30 miles or so.

I tend to comply.

The roads had been fine up until just past the Minnesota border. They were wet but none of the snow had started to accumulate yet. I knew I was driving into it since it was visible in the air and the system that had already dumped 7" on Mora was much closer than it had been to me all day. And even with daylight savings, it was late enough to be getting dark. I had visibility until the drop in Luck, WI, but coming back out to the car it was full dark and half an inch now covered the road. Even at parking lot speed, the ABS system engaged at the exit to the street.

Once on Wisconsin Hwy. 35, I was keeping my speed mostly between 30 and 35, sometimes slower. It was worth a chuckle when I hit the speed zone in Milltown and saw I'd have to accelerate before needing to worry about it. I'd already picked up a tailgater a few miles back, but there was no easy and safe place to pull over until town. That one dropped off, to be replaced by another before I'd left town. There were several places where I could have been passed had the other driver been so inclined, but rather than following too close, there were no other indications of his/her possible impatience.

I tend to hang right when I drive. This particular highway has rumble strips cut into the shoulders and the center line. They were occasionally visible where the snow hadn't quite filled in the spaces, but mostly I heard them as I literally ran across them. It's good they were there since the shoulder only extended a couple of feet past it, with a sharp drop into a (mostly) shallow ditch. I'm guessing the long-gone driver ahead of me had something of the same problem, as I was following the double line of their tracks as well as I could. There wasn't a lot of southbound traffic but plenty of northbound, as the opposite lane of tracks was darker than the set I was following.

I can only guess that the oncoming car had crossed the center rumble strip and was confused/distracted/stupid enough not to realize which strip it was and which set of tires had hit it. It was definitely over into my lane, making no effort to return to its own side. I'm being generous here, because as already noted, the proper tracks northbound were much more visible than southbound.

I'm not feeling very generous, however.

I first noticed that the oncoming headlights were a bit obnoxious. I waited for the driver to turn them down, but they weren't high beams. I tried flicking my vision away from looking directly at them, trying to maintain what I could of my night vision. I realized the issue was the other car was too close, knew there was no more shoulder to move onto. Honking is never my first reaction, and on slick roads can startle the other driver into doing something even more stupid than what was already in the works. All this was in the part second I had to fully react before impact.

It sounded like a big rock had hit the car and it was past. That fast. That lucky. Bless breakaway side mirrors. That's all it hit. With my speed at about 30, even if the other vehicle was doing the same it made the impact happen at about 60mph. Yep, damn lucky! I didn't feel a thing. No bump. No push. No slowing.  Had I been deaf, I might not know anything had happened. Well, until I tried to use that mirror.

Should I stop? I had eased off the gas, but knew not to reactively hit the brakes given road conditions and my tailgater. Who, by the way, was still in place behind me, so presumably not also hit. A check in the rearview showed no sign of the other car, and if it hadn't stopped, and given the dangerous road, I saw no real need to stop either. I rethought that several times on the way home, but what was the alternative? Pull over and become a road hazard? And what exactly was there to report? A smashed mirror? An idiot driver whose tracks would have long disappeared by the time an official vehicle could show up? The most prudent course seemed to be continuing slowly and get home safely before the roads got any worse.

What was left of the mirror was folded parallel to the car door. After getting home, I checked it and it still moves as it should. Of course it's a bit shredded, the bit that's left, and the cover and mirror are both gone. It does give an interesting view of the internal workings, what moves, where wires go. I think I'm going to leave it folded as the jagged pieces might catch the passer-by in a parking lot if it's sticking out.

I saw no damage to the mount, at least not by the house lights last night. Nor was there any visible body damage, reinforcing my feeling no actual impact. A new unpainted mirror assembly can be gotten on-line for about $200, so higher in person with tax, plus labor and paint. Well under my deductible, meaning all out of my pocket.

I'll have some phone calls to make this morning, which is fine with me, since it gives the roads a chance to clear a bit before I get out on them. I imagine there's another driver somewhere in Wisconsin who's also researching a mirror replacement. I can't imagine what else might have impacted right there and only there.

I have a slim hope that the other driver has learned something to improve his/her own driving.  Yes, you know who you are. I also hope that maybe my tiny bit of damage was enough to keep my tailgater safe, or perhaps even the idiot who caused it, by correcting his/her driving habits and spurring a course correction.

And I hope my own lesson learned wasn't to just stay off the roads and quit driving. It's tempting. I could instead take that "good" luck and check my lottery ticket.

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