Friday, December 21, 2007

Life, Death & Shattered Glass

Life did not flash before my eyes when a slab of ice and snow the size of a refrigerator hurled through the air with enough force and velocity to create the damage, pictured at left. (Check out all the possible calculations.) The New Jersey (NJ) Turnpike is a dangerous enough roadway without frozen flying debris.

Just minutes before, I was carefully and defensively navigating the vehicular lunatics weaving in and out of the south bound traffic lanes at 80 mph. Yes, I too was in a hurry to tend to my eighty-year old mother who was just released from the hospital but I managed to keep to the speed limit. (Driving the legal speed limit of 65 is considered an annoyance as well as a hazard to the self-prescribed professional race car drivers of the NJ Turnpike.) Relieved to have survived the "funnel" of the truck and car lanes that converged at Cranbury, I was happy to see the "speed racers" of the roadway fade into the distance.

Minutes later, when I was about to overtake a semi-tractor trailer a behemoth white block of what I had hoped was snow took flight from the truck's roof. All I remember thinking was, God, please just let that be snow because there is no way that I can avoid colliding with it and if it isn't snow I am really in trouble and I was really stupid for not signing for the extra insurance at the rental counter because I have never been involved in accident in all the years I've been driving and I have to get to my mother's apartment before she calls me again.

I envisioned fluffy snow dissolving and wisping around the car leaving the windshield covered in particles of glimmering snow. In less time that it that it took to have that thought I heard a loud thud and then felt a rush of cold air blow through my hair. The snow was not just snow and it was anything but fluffy. Combined with recent rain it turned into a block of ice which smashed through the windshield and into my face. Small pieces of glass and ice sprayed everywhere. Surprisingly, I kept control of the car, and kept hold of the steering wheel. Fortunately, there weren't any cars directly behind me, so I was able to slow the car long enough to assess the situation (3-5 seconds) and take the next right action.

I fumbled for the hazard signal on the car's dashboard while attempting to see the truck's license plate but I couldn't through the damaged window. I pulled the car over to the shoulder and attempted to call 911 but couldn't get a signal. 'Can you hear me now?' No, they couldn't because, the incredibly unreliable Palm Treo I own opted out of service just when I needed it most.

After catching my breath I began picking the small shards of glass out of my face and hands, tried the phone once again and got through to 911. The operator connected me to the New Jersey State Police and minutes later a slight and very young officer pulled up behind my car. Through my rear view mirror I saw him mouth the words, 'holy shit!' as he surveyed the damage. Not long after the patrolman completed an accident report and accepted my refusal for medical attention, a tow truck magically arrived and took me and the car to a storage facility in Bordentown, NJ. It was interesting to note that, there were no seat belts in the tow truck. Perhaps that explained the driver's lack of front teeth and sense of humor.

I informed Dollar-Rent-a-Car of the condition and situation of their vehicle and they were caring and understanding. Nevertheless, they wanted their car back and are continuing to charge me the daily rate until they do get it back. They didn't accept that the NJ State Police has a contract with Haines Towing and that no other towing company is allowed to provide service on the NJ Turnpike. The officer said it's due to safety but I believe it has more to do with money. Either way, Dollar couldn't tow the car to the nearest location at Newark Airport, so as of today, a week later, they're still charging me the daily rate for a car that I don't have and is not drivable.

After being offered a ride by a very nice Mr. Haines to a commuter rail station, an hour later I arrived in Trenton, NJ and waited for a train back to New York City. My mother phoned several times inquiring if I was alright and when would I be arriving at her apartment. Mothers will always be mothers no matter how old they and their children become. After allaying her fears that I wasn't injured she said, "Well, you're still coming down to take care of me, aren't you?" At that point I remembered the fate of film director,
Alan Pakula who was driving the Long Island Expressway when a car kicked-up a metal pipe that had rolled under its wheels and shot it like a bullet through poor Mr. Pakula's windshield, instantly decapitating him. I could have manipulated my mother with his plight but I opted to be the adult. My ever-concerned mother asked, "You signed for the extra insurance coverage I hope?!" (I'm glad that I didn't because the deductible is a thousand dollars and my American Express card will cover all costs and damages.)

As I rode the train back to New York I thought of what had happened and how incredibly lucky I was. Was it fate? Was it luck? Was it just a coincidence? Did a higher power have a hand or a finger in the outcome? Friends have said, 'God was with you.' If that's true, why did it happen at all? Was it a test of my driving skills or was God with the trucker
that morning who told him to get in his/her truck without properly inspecting it before hitting the road? I have my own thoughts about it but it doesn't really matter because I am plainly and simply, grateful to (1) be alive and (2) to know that in an emergency I didn't lose my head (no pun intended) or my self-control; just a drop or two of blood from the shattered glass. I call that one lucky day.
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