Monday, February 10, 2014

The car accident

So I live in this area in Seattle that when it snows, it’s like a death trap. Not so much the neighborhood or anything, but this little hill where my parking garage is located. It’s like a little fucking hill, but man, when it snows, a little hill is all it takes.

I’m coming home from Bremerton around 3:30 in the morning and the snow has just settled. I get all cocky with my all-wheel drive Subaru thinking I can climb the hill. I get up about half way then absolutely lose control. I start sliding backwards and it feels like I’m sailing without direction in a sea of snow. The wheel has no response. The brakes do nothing. I’m only praying and cursing under my breath as I slide down. Somehow, I miraculously slide pass 4 cars (2 on each side) without touching any one of them. I pause for a moment to think about it, then somehow come up with the genius idea, “I wonder what it will be like if I did it from the other side?”

I drive pass some streets that have been driven down so the snow is all dissolved and the traction is better. I make it up to the top and pause at the top. I look down and think that maybe I shouldn’t do this, I mean the road is pretty fucked, but then there’s this small voice in my head that says, “But the garage is so close. I could probably shimmy my way down and just make a sharp turn into the garage. It would be really great not to have to park and walk up this hill in the cold.” I really think I can do this. I think my all-wheel drive is God-sent, even though that notion was disproven a few moments ago.

I ease my car down the slope and I lose control even faster, but this time I’m going face forward, down a hill, without control. If any of you ever want to know what it feels like to ride in a bobsled for the first time, well, I can give you my idea of it. I always wondered how many times you can say the word “fuck” in the course of 5 seconds, and for me, you can say it 12 times.

I smash into this Honda Accord, head on. My hood pushes open, but the airbags don’t go off so at least I have that. I sit there, in shock, thinking how fucking stupid I was a few minutes ago, how this is the third accident I’ve been in and how I could have let this happen, again. Then I think about how this whole thing happened because I was impatient and selfish. I realize that it’s those small moments that we need to pay close attention to, those voices that tempt our weaker selves. I thought it was harmless, I didn’t want to hurt anyone, and had no intention to be selfish or inconsiderate, but if even a little of that sentiment is residing at the core, it can cause a whole world of disaster. Luckily, nobody was physically hurt (myself included) but for the owner of this car, I just caused him a huge pain in the ass.

I’m sitting there and someone steps outside onto his porch in the house across the street. He’s just standing there, looking at me. I roll down the window and ask if this is his car. 

“Yeah man,” he says with a bit of a shy tone. “Are you okay?” 

“Yeah I’m good," I reply. "Dude, I’m really, really sorry.”

“Man, you’re like the 3rd person that hit me. I’m kinda used to it,” he jests. “Plus, look at the streets. It happens.” He’s a young kid, maybe in his early twenties, and the way that he talks tells me he has a laid-back personality when it comes to these kind of things. Part of that is maybe troublesome, but he’s also learned something that many of us never will.

We sit out there and assess the damage. He jokes that he feels worse for me because he wish he had my car. I leave the car where it is, pretty much kissing the bumper of his. I really have no other option. We exchange information and he says he’ll be in contact. He hands me a business card before we leave. Austin is his name.

I wake up to a text message the next morning that reads, “Hey man, think you might try moving your car soon? I’m going to try getting out in just a bit.” I go outside and the snow has melted a bit here and there, but still not really sure if it’s drivable. I back the car up, enough for him to pull out into the alley next to his house. The problem is that his car is front-wheel drive, making that maneuver even more impossible. We spend a good half-hour scraping the snow away with my windshield scraper and some piece of plastic he got from somewhere. He’s burning his transmission trying to pull out. I stop him every few seconds to scrap snow from under his tires and he moves an inch more before I have to go back and do it again. There are some close calls of him almost slamming into another car, but we’re making progress. Slow progress, but we’re making it. 

At one point there’s a Jeep that roars up the street and the driver punches his engine full of testosterone as if saying, ‘My car has a bigger dick than yours.’ He climbs up half the hill, then asks us to hurry up and move with a sort of cocky-entitlement hand wave. Austin and I go back to work, this time with a sense of urgency to let this guy pass, but the rushed tempo is causing us to make mistakes and Austin’s car starts sliding more than it was before.

“I don’t know what that guy’s doing,” I say to Austin as I drop my windshield scraper to the street. “I don’t see why he can’t just choose another road.” 

“Yeah man, I’m not gonna accommodate for him,” Austin finally says, dropping his piece of plastic in solidarity. He says it in a way like he’s gone a lot of his life making room for other people's needs at the expense of his own and is learning to recognize that point between being kind and being taken advantage of. I shrug my shoulders at the Jeep, kinda reminding him that we’re on a street, covered in snow. The driver has a pissed-off look on his face and speeds off. Austin and I sort of laugh and I eventually get him into the alley.

We shake hands when we finish. There’s this sense of accomplishment between us. Austin keeps thanking me, apologizing for the time it took me to help get his car out. I just look at him and say, “Dude, I’m the one that hit your car.” 

“Yeah, I just didn’t want to keep it in that spot. It’s the spot that cars keep sliding into,” he says. 

I’m sure some of you are familiar with the death spot of a snowed in hill. It’s the spot that's deceivingly passable, where there are enough patches of asphalt for people to think they can make it, but still enough packed snow to where they can’t, and by the time they realize it, they slid back without control. Austin’s car was the space where they always end up, and once he moves into the alley, I park into the “death spot” since I really have no other options. After seeing Austin’s car struggle, it’s still too snowy to move anywhere else.

I go back to my apartment and after a few hours I step out to go meet some people in the city. I’m gathering some things from my car and I see another Honda Accord struggling to get up the hill. She’s dangerously close to my car, sliding back and forth, its bumper flirting to kiss mine. I spend some time scraping the ice from beneath her wheels, pretty do the same thing I did for Austin. I ask her where she’s trying to go.

“Just out of here," she says. "It’s fucking dangerous here.”

I get behind and push her car to get it into an alley nearby. Someone comes up beside me and yells, “Let’s go!” and starts pushing with me. He’s a Domino’s delivery guy and is driving, yet again, a Honda Accord. We manage to push her into the alley and I tell her that the street is drivable. She gives us her thanks and goes on her way. Then the delivery guy gets into his car and he tries to go up the hill, and I’m thinking, “Dude, what the fuck?” He ends up with the same result, almost hitting my car, then thinks better to park at the bottom and walk up his delivery. Austin is on his porch watching the entire time. He comes up to me afterwards and says, “I think you might want to move your car down somewhere. At this rate, it’ll get hit.” After seeing the two Accords, I concur. 

I get into my car and start moving. The car loses control again and I’m starting to slide, this time near an Audi that’s parked in front of me. My brakes aren’t responding again and a pain surges through my chest at the prospect of hitting yet another car. Out of nowhere Austin leaps in between our cars and physically pushes my car away from the Audi. He hurts his knee in the process. I’m looking at Austin, in shock, yelling through the windshield, “You don’t have to do this!”, but he does anyway, for someone who front ended the shit out of his car. 

I manage to stop the car and get out to see if Austin is okay. He shakes it off and we go back assess the situation. I’m about as close as a car can physically be to another one without hitting it. If I turn my wheels, my front right tire can touch that of the Audi. Austin turns to me with a look of apology and says, “Maybe I didn’t give you the best advice.” It’s here that I realize that he’s still a kid, kinda doesn’t know any more than I do in these situations, but he was right at the same time. I probably would have been hit had I left my car. 

My only option is to go forward while making a left turn. If I slip again, my right fender, the one part of the front end that isn’t damaged, will smash into the front of the Audi. We spend another five minutes on the street working with our respective plastic scrapers and Austin says to me, “Ok man, I think you can try it. But I can’t get between the cars. There’s not enough room.” 

I’m appalled that he’s even thinking of it. This kid, he’s something else. I say a quick prayer before I put the car into gear. I’m fucking nervous, scared shitless almost. What happens next is going to determine my time here in Seattle. Insurance, money, the decisions of spending my time making money or spending time with friends and family. All of this will change if I hit this car.

But you know those do-or-die moments, those times where you really can’t afford to fuck up? Yeah, I see this is one of them, and we either show up or we don’t. I have to find my strength. I have to do this. Suddenly all thoughts of failure vanish, and a confidence fills into me. I punch the gas and pull the wheel sharply to the left, avoiding the car and getting onto wet, but visible pavement. I made it, clear, without accident. I’m elated, like I just won a fight, and as strange as it sounds, that fucked up situation had to happen for this emotion to be possible. 

I get out and Austin has his hands in the air. I put up mine in return and go up to give him a big hug. Here’s a guy, that has every reason to hate me, every reason to say ‘fuck this guy for inconveniencing my life’, yet he spent his time (and in this case his body), to help me. I’ve been talking a lot of shit about Seattle, about people not being connected to others, but in moments of crisis, people really come through.

I sort of touch on this with Austin and we both laugh about how much this whole thing is going to cost. 

“What an expensive fucking lesson,” I finally say.

“Yeah, but sometimes it just happens like that,” Austin says. “One time, I got my car towed, and I didn’t really care about it so I just left it. My dad came to visit one time and asked ‘Where’s your car?’ I told him it was towed and he asked, ‘For how long?!’ Two weeks, I told him.” 

He stops and sort of grins. 

“Yeah, so that lesson cost me $1600.” 

I laugh and smile at his story, more out of appreciation that this guy is sharing something to help make me feel better. I try my best to say something to comfort a wound that I know he’s already healed from.

“I was coming from this thing in Bremerton last night,” I tell him. “One thing I learned was that we need to make mistakes in life, to learn.” 

“Yeah man,” Austin smiles, “sometimes we just need to fuck up.”