Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Today might have been the scariest day of my life...

...and I didn't even have time to notice it.

I'm presently stuck in A&W somewhere in Kingston, Ontario. That's mostly why I am writing this blog. I'm gonna go ahead and assume blogging is something people still do.

While driving back from Ottawa this afternoon in a snowstorm, I lost control of my vehicle.

As soon as I could feel the back wheels slip out from under me, the car started aiming towards the guard rail on the shoulder side of highway 401. I spun the wheel like a madman in hopes of pulling out of the fishtail, but this bit of over-correction (along with slamming on the brakes) led to a complete 180, with the nose of the of the car aiming for the concrete divider.

I never lost consciousness at any point, but I remember two things distinctly while my car hurtled towards the concrete wall:

I couldn't believe this was how I was going to die. Prior to losing control, I had a car following me closely and a car up ahead. I was certain the car behind me was going to plow headlong into the driver's side of my car.

Somehow it didn't.

The second thing I remember distinctly was that it was happening too fast to be afraid. I didn't have the time to fear how painful the impact would be. Or that existence as I had known was about to end. The only thing I had time to think was "Oh fuck."

My whole life didn't flash before my eyes. Time didn't slow down. I didn't say anything. I just thought "Oh fuck."

I truly believe I used as at least 2 of my 9 lives today. That number might sound low, but as a person who rarely leaves the confines of his home, and abstains from anything remotely risky (or possibly even 'fun') for that matter, I may as well have been skydiving without a parachute.

Let's talk about parachutes for a moment, or rather, the automobile's parachute, ie seatbelt. It's a lifesaver. Without it, I'd have gone flying through the passenger side window and they'd have been scraping my carcass off the highway with one of them big novelty size spatulas.

The car is totaled. I'm pretty devastated by this. My parents invested a ton of money into the car (they bought it for $500 bucks, but paid about $1200 for upgrades) and nearly doubled that total investment when the engine blew this past summer. It was a 1998 Volvo S70 GLT. Those things can take a beating. About a year ago I was rear-ended and aside from a scratch or two on the paint, you'd have never known the car had taken on $1700 in structural damage to the frame.

Even now as the car sits in the A&W parking lot leaking fluid onto the freshly laid snow, you'd think fender-bender sooner than 100km/h collision.

The car wouldn't turn on immediately after the incident, but did manage to turn over about 15 minutes later when the tow-truck driver came around. I'm not sure it's got another go in her. I'd doubt it. The reversing lights are permanently on now (had to rip out the back panels in order to get at the bulbs and disconnect them to stop the battery from completely draining). The doors won't lock anymore. The car's toast.

But my dad never seems to be able to give up on his Volvos. So I told the tow-truck driver to drop me off at an empty parking lot and that I'd figure out the rest on my own. (Tow-truck drivers are vultures who love nothing more than to do you the 'favour' of impounding, sorry, "storing", your totaled car and bilking insurance companies for those extra services, before they chop up the car for parts, all the while cutting you out).

So that's why it's 1:30AM and I'm stuck in an A&W. CAA (or at least their subcontractor) says he's not sending out any trucks for long routes during this snowstorm. I get it. Nobody should be driving in this weather, and the company stands to profit a lot more from staying local and tending to all the accidents on the highway. Still doesn't quite solve how I'm going to get out of here.

I keep compulsively checking the weather for updates for when there might be breaks in the snow. It doesn't look good. I might be stuck here a long time. He told me he's got two other cars that need to get delivered to Toronto, so I guess you can toss me in that pile. Worst of all, the snow hasn't shown any signs of slowing.

I briefly considered renting a room at the Motel 6 around the corner, but the employee of the A&W told me if I wasn't on the premises, my car was liable to be towed and impounded ("2 hour parking only!"). I gave the guy my phone number and all my info, but I don't trust him not to make an about face and decide the car needs to be out of their lot.

As a result, I'm catching a cold. I've slept about 4 hours in the last 24 (and spent 10 of those waking hours at the seat of the wheel). I'm gassed. Fortunately this A&W is open 24 hours, so I've at least got a warmish place to stay up and access to a washroom.

I'm hoping to call CAA around 5:30AM and get a favourable result. But with the snow continuing, I could be marooned here awhile.

In any case, I'm pulling an all-nighter. It's -15C out so I can't sleep in my car (oh, and the car smells like a quart of engine oil).

Even if I had felt 100% confident I could have left the car in the parking lot, I'd have had a hard time sleeping tonight. I'm wired. I'm also not really all that jazzed by the idea of paying $90 to stare the ceiling above a motel room memory foam mattress (lord knows the kinds of memories those mattresses are privy to).

I'm really eager to get back into a car and onto a highway to overcome my anxieties...and at the same time, I never want to step foot in a car again.

The results certainly could have been worse. Prior to my own accident, I was stuck in traffic on the 401 behind a 30 car pile out that included a couple tractor trailers leaking hazardous materials. The driver of one of the trucks died of his injuries.

I was listening to the reports on the major accident while I was stuck in traffic and was thinking "Hey, if I'd gotten out of Ottawa 20 minutes earlier, I'd have been in the middle of that mess."

But it didn't stop me from continuing on my trip. My accident occurred about 10 minutes after getting back on the 401 from the detour. For the entirety of those 10 minutes, my only thought was "People driving in these conditions must have a death wish."

Kinda pathetic how I'm too smart to pay attention to my own warnings and concerns. In retrospect, I'm shocked I didn't get into an accident at 5AM this morning on the way to Ottawa. Visibility was nil during the whiteout, and the highways were coated in ice and snow. I'm talking three lanes wide of nothing but white with no pavement visible. Without a way of knowing where one lane ended and the next began, it was a veritable 'Choose Your Own Adventure'. I have no idea how I made it there in one piece. Guess my luck eventually ran out on the way back.

The cops tried to cheer me up by telling me I wouldn't have gotten anywhere anyway since a truck was jackknifed in the middle of the 401, 500 meters ahead. Low and behold, I passed that tractor trailer maybe 10 minutes later while in the passenger seat of a tow truck.

Note to future self: If you can't see any of the lines on the highway demarcating the lanes, it's time to get off the road.

So I guess I'm supposed to count my blessings. I miraculously escaped pretty well unharmed. A little bit of whiplash, and my right wrist, along with my glasses, took the brunt of the impact from the airbag.

I feel stupid though. I got the benefit of tremendous luck despite making an obviously idiotic decision. My mom told me before I left if the weather was too bad I should just get a hotel room in Ottawa and wait out the storm. Instead, I've got A&W and no car, uncertain of the next time I'll sleep and I'm putting down some pretty good odds that I'll get sick. I just broke away after that last sentence to apply deoderant to my socks since I reek. Good times.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Word to the wise.

You want to know what's really weird? I never usually pack much for day trips. And yet, this time, I brought blankets, a sleeping bag...my mom even packed me candles and matches in a tin box in case my car broke down and I needed a way to stay warm...

I brought 3 pair of underwear with me, an extra pair of socks, tons of food, and I brought virtually every charger I own.

I'm serious, I never travel with my laptop or charger, my cell phone charger, or my mp3 player charger, and yet I packed them all before leaving last night. Sadly, my cell phone losing battery life caused me to panic, and in my panic, I didn't check every pocket on my bag. So now I'm out $15 since I "had to" buy another charger. This one has a smiley face that lights up difference colours as it charges. A haunting reminder of the events that have unfolded thus far.

So thanks to a very uncharacteristic packing job, I'm doing my best impression of a hipster wrtier in a coffee shop. But instead it's Teen Burgers and truckers with puzzled looks on their faces.

2AM at the A&W off highway 401 in Kingston.

-J

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