Facing Out of the Wind

by wjw on March 9, 2009

My Saturday was memorable in any number of ways.

There was a signing in Albuquerque with half the writers in New Mexico (and one from Colorado), so I thought I’d drop by and say hi. After which I was scheduled to spend the evening at the American Kenpo Karate Academy award banquet.

I never did make it to the signing. I was tooling north up I-25, just driving the speed limit, when I noticed some debris ahead of me on the highway. I managed to avoid the debris, and then promptly ran into someone else’s car. Which had already run into a third person’s car.

Much wreckage ensued.

The incident began when someone— a really stupid, careless someone— dropped a whole barbecue grill onto the Interstate, presumably from the back of their truck. A lady in a white Toyota hit the barbecue grill, which eventually stopped her dead. She was then hit from behind by a man in a gold 1970s Lincoln.

I was coming up behind and saw the debris from the accident scattered over the road. I couldn’t change lanes because there were other vehicles to my left and right, so I had to drive delicately around the debris, which I did.

At this point I looked up to see the rear deck of a gold Lincoln racing toward me. The two cars ahead of me had stopped dead right in the middle of the road.

You know how they say that, in moments of crisis, time slows down to a crawl? They lie. What happened next happened with astounding speed.

I slammed on the brakes. Nissan’s antilock brakes worked perfectly— there was no screeching, no smoking tires, and the Altima swerved neither left nor right. I had enough time to hope that the car ahead of me was going to speed up, and to brace my arms on the steering wheel.

The crash was freaking enormous. I rocketed into the Lincoln with a preposterous amount of force, the Lincoln plowed ahead into the Toyota, and everything in my car flew forward at maybe fifty miles per hour till it hit something and bounced. Then we all sailed along for a while before slowing down.

That barbecue grille was toast.

When the car stopped I was certain someone was going to hit me from behind and start the whole chain reaction all over again, but no one did. I adjusted the rear-view mirror to give me warning if anyone was bearing down on me, but no one was.

I was in a fair amount of pain, having been punched in the chest by the air bag. The first thing I knew that the air bag had deployed was when I saw the cloud of talc (or whatever) that had been packed with the air bag floating in the air in front of me.

I tried to open the door to see if the guy in the Lincoln was okay, but the door wouldn’t open. I tried the passenger-side door, and that was jammed, too.

I was trapped in my car. Through the shattered windscreen I could see the Altima’s hood bent in half in front of me.

I did the sensible thing and called 911 to report the crash. It was the first they’d heard of it. I then called Kathy, but Kathy was at a symphony concert and had turned off her phone. I then called Mr. Davis at the karate school to say that I was probably going to miss the banquet. Then I called my insurance company and filed my claim.

By and by the police turned up, and parked behind me with flashers on. I told the cop I was okay and he should check the driver ahead of me. (The driver ahead of me was lying down in his car, which I didn’t think was a good sign.) I couldn’t see the driver of the Toyota behind her crumpled-up trunk lid.

When the cop stopped by again, I asked if he could get my door open, which he did with a certain amount of effort. I didn’t particularly want to walk around at this point, but I did want the option of abandoning my car in case it decided to, I dunno, explode or something.

I kept trying to call Kathy. Kathy’s phone remained turned off. I remembered that a lot of my friends were at the signing, so I started calling them. I got ahold of Daniel Abraham, who told Pat Rogers, who called me and offered me a ride home. I told her to hang on until I was told to leave.

Eventually more police and ambulances turned up. I gave my ID and a statement, and declined a ride to the hospital. (I really didn’t want to stay in the emergency room for hours and hours on a Saturday night, waiting for a chest x-ray, when I knew perfectly well that nothing was broken.)

My injuries, by the by, consist of the sore sternum, a bruise on the right knee, a odd little bruise on my left lower abdomen (presumably from the seat belt), and two weird little cuts on my forehead, I imagine from flying debris.

The guy in the Lincoln was carried away on a board.

When I got restless and got out of the car, I found out that it was really cold and windy out. I saw that the front of my car was completely wrecked, with the radiator shoved back against the motor. I don’t know what shape the motor was in, it was completely covered with debris. The engine compartment had been designed as a crumple zone, and it had crumpled like it was spoze to.

Compare the Lincoln, a huge steel monstrosity from the glory days of Detroit. It lost a chrome strip, and seemed otherwise unharmed, and a cop was able to drive it away from the scene.

By this time it had been maybe 90 minutes since the accident, and I was in dire need of a pee. I went to one of the parameds and asked him if there was a proper procedure for urinating in the middle of an accident zone.

“Face out of the wind,” he told me.

They eventually got a hospital-type urinal, and I retired to my car to make use of it. My bladder was so full that I was afraid of causing it to overflow, but the quantity fell a little short of the rim.

For some reason the parameds didn’t want my urine sample, so I quietly emptied the device onto the pavement under my car. I stayed upwind.

Eventually a tow truck arrived, and the Toyota and my car were both carried away.

I suspect the insurance company will total my car, but that will wait till the inspection on Monday.

A cop drove me to the parking lot of a nearby bakery, where Pat was able to pick me up. It turned out she had nothing to do that evening, so I offered her a seat at the karate school banquet. Later Kathy got in touch and joined us.

And there my luck turned, and good things began to happen.

tcastleb March 9, 2009 at 5:18 am

Holy crap. I'm glad you're okay!!! And, congrats! That pic is so you. :>p

mindseas March 9, 2009 at 9:18 am

Yes, glad you’re all right! And congrats on the award!


gjacoby March 9, 2009 at 11:19 am

Very glad to hear you’re ok. Crumple zones are beautiful things.

Rebecca S. March 9, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Sounds pretty awful–very glad you’re okay, and that the day went uphill from there.

Foxessa March 9, 2009 at 3:54 pm


I’m glad you’re at least OK and then good things happened.

Love, C.

Carrie March 9, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Very sorry to miss you at the signing, Walter, but very happy that you’re okay!

Ty March 9, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Seconding Carrie.

Glad you weren’t seriously harmed, but sad to hear your shiny Altima got kilt.

From the descriptions people had at the signing, it sounded like a minor fender bender. I had no idea it was this serious.

Ian March 9, 2009 at 9:09 pm

I’m very, very glad to hear you’re okay. I’ve been following the saga third- or fourth-hand all weekend and quite worried for your sake. My first reaction was, “Oh, crap, poor Walter!” (My second reaction was, “Oh, crap, Walter really loved that car.”)

Dave Bishop March 9, 2009 at 10:06 pm

I’m glad that you’re OK, Walter. It sounds like a very frightening and distressing experience.

Debbie Roggie March 9, 2009 at 11:02 pm

I’m so glad you’re okay, Walter. What a nightmare!

saladinahmed March 10, 2009 at 1:10 am

Wow. I’m glad you’re still in one piece, sir!

dubjay March 10, 2009 at 3:52 am

I am also glad to be in one piece, albeit tenuously.

Painkillers are my friend.

Thank you for your good wishes.

David March 10, 2009 at 10:15 pm

I just heard about this last night and Kathy forwarded me to the blog entry. Glad to hear you’re okay and congrats on the award!

Dan March 10, 2009 at 11:06 pm

wow. Sorry about the car, but damned glad *you* are (largely) intact! Speedy recovery and insurance payout to you.

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