Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Cool Brush With Catastrophe



I rarely post to this blog anymore. But something happened last night that I can't NOT post about.

I was driving home in lane #2 of the westbound lanes of I-80 from my bowling league after midnight and had just passed a big rig to my right when suddenly, in the fast lane next to me on my left, I saw the oncoming headlights of a pickup truck headed the wrong way eastbound, and the vehicle flew past me before I had time to do anything but register the almost surreal incident with numb incredulity.

I had my cellphone with me and thought about calling the police, but, since my cellphone won't connect with the car speaker my wife uses with her cellphone, I would have needed to extract my phone from the secure case attached to my belt, turn it on, locate, press, and hold the tiny "emergency call" icon at the bottom of the screen, and then call 911 while keeping at least one hand on the steering wheel and my eyes and concentration still mostly on the road, and I figured someone behind me would also see the pickup soon enough and call it in via a safer arrangement, and, hopefully, all would be well.

When I got home a few minutes later, I hastily posted the following to Facebook:

Tonight as I drove home from the bowling center after midnight in the westbound lanes of I-80, a pickup truck flew past me in the next lane going in the wrong direction. A monumental oops for whoever was driving, and lucky for me that I wasn't in that lane. Yikes!

I didn't give the matter much thought after that and, being as late as it was and as tired as I was, I bedded down and went right to sleep. But when my wife and I got up at 6 this morning, I told her about the incident and then turned on the local news. Soon after that, I saw mention of a fatal accident caused by a pickup driving the wrong way in the fast lane just east of where and moments after I had my encounter. 


A Ford-150 pickup collided head on with a Lexus sedan in the fast lane. The pickup immediately burst into flames and burned its driver beyond recognition of even his or her gender. The two male occupants of the horribly crumpled Lexus died at the scene, and the freeway was shut down for hours in that vicinity.

A normal person might well respond to this experience by solemnly banging out some platitudinous observance such as: "Times like these make me realize how precarious life is and how important it is to make every moment count and to kiss your loved one(s) before leaving and tell them you love them so that if these happen to be the last things you do and say to your loved one(s), they're the RIGHT things."

But since there's nothing normal about me, I'm not going to say this (even though I kinda just did). But I *am* going to reflect here on how I responded to what happened and try to draw some lessons from it.

This morning some of the local news channels posted the story of the accident to their Facebook pages, and I jumped in and commented on my experience last night. Someone responded immediately by leveling accusatory words at me to the effect that I hadn't even called the police to warn them about the wrong-way driver. 


Well, I never said this in my comment, but the commenter somehow drew that conclusion from what I wrote, and she was right. I hadn't called the police. I lied to her and said I didn't call because my cellphone was "inaccessible," and I went on to explain that the CHP had already been notified and that two CHP officers enroute to intercept the pickup saw the collision from the opposite side of the freeway just moments after the pickup passed me.

The fact is, even though my notifying the CHP would have made no difference in this instance, I didn't know this at the time and should have called in anyway on the off chance that it might have prevented a catastrophe. I *did* think about calling it in, but I reasoned that someone had probably done it already or would sooner and more safely than I could at the time, and that the pickup driver himself or herself would probably realize soon enough what was happening and take evasive action before anyone was hurt on the sparsely trafficked freeway on which I'd seen no one in the fast lane thus far.

But after that, I hardly gave it a second thought. I drove right on home without exiting the freeway at the next opportunity and stopping from where I could have safely called 911. And I didn't feel particular concern for any right-way drivers who might encounter the wrong-way driver behind me.

I'd like to pass this off not as a psychopathic lack of concern for my fellow "man" but as yet another instance of my typically poor judgement along with a psychologically protective kind of insulation from the needless distress of helpless concern. In other words, I cared about the drivers behind me but figured I couldn't do anything about it soon enough to make a difference and didn't want to stress myself with unproductive concern about it and reassured myself that everything would be okay.

But is this *really* why I didn't call in what I saw or give it much of an additional thought short of publishing my rather cursory post to Facebook before lying down and quickly departing the land of wakefulness?

I guess I don't know the definitive answer to this. Neither do I know why I don't feel the sense of profound relief that I was spared the fate of the two men in the Lexus. Should I feel it? Is there something wrong with me that I don't? Would most people feel it?

I won't launch into a pity party of saying (although, once again, I kinda just did) that I think my wife might be better off in the long run if that pickup had collided with me instead of with the Lexus and that the fact that it didn't is something I needn't celebrate with feelings and expressions of deep gratitude.

I'll just say instead that I take the following key lessons from all of this. First, be sure to do whatever I must to call in any road hazards--from wrong-way, persistently swerving, or alarmingly speeding or aggressive drivers to potentially dangerous road debris as soon as I can relatively safely manage it. 
And second, realize how precious and precarious life is and make damn sure that I kiss my wife and tell or show her I love her before I leave for bowling or other road travels, because one just never knows.

(You can access a multimedia account of the accident here.)

1 comment:

Thomas Armstrong said...

I don't think that you are required to have any post-"brush with possible death" existential thoughts nor regrets having to do with not having called the police.

I don't think that you failed, in any way, in your role as a citizen. I know a lot of chatter came up regarding how it was that the pick-up was going the wrong way on the freeway. My supposition is that the driver was suicidal. I don't think that the police could have done anything in what time there was.

You're fortunate not to have been in a collision, likely. But that is as much as I make of it.

I haven't driven in a while, as you know, but I have perhaps never driven with a phone on me. Nowadays, when I leave where I'm staying, I seldom carry my phone. It is, perhaps, a proper precaution to always have a phone on and at the ready in case of anything. But I don't think you (or I) are required to be society's trusty watchdog.

Bottom line: relax Memory of it all may haunt your dreams for a while, but that will fade.