You may have noticed the recent bad weather up this way. I did. Enough rain to float your septic system, enough cold to freeze your pipes, and the ones to or in your house, enough wind and snow to… yeah, yeah, a lot for Northwesterners. As with everything wonderful or traumatic in my life, I write about it.
But first, a couple of illustrations I just got around to scanning.
A Perfect Intersection and Black Ice
Every accident occurs at the perfect intersection of time and place. A second sooner or later, a distance closer or farther; no accident.
Black ice isn’t, of course, black. It is the roadway that is black. Roads. Asphalt trails, land rivers, naked to the elements. Centerlines and fog lines and the ditch. Whatever is beyond the ditch. The bank, the dropoff, perhaps a tree scarred by collisions, previous spinouts. Black ice.
One moment I am heading south on Highway 20, going up Eaglemount; complaining to myself that the guy in the truck in front of me is going slower… and slower. He’s down to thirty. Thirty.
We crest the hill, and it seems like he might be speeding it up a bit. Sure. The road was free of snow. Two hours earlier the temperature was nearly forty degrees. To, theoretically, save a few ounces of gasoline, I had it in two-wheel drive.
The truck does a slight slip, corrects.
I barely have time for this to register. No, I don’t have time.
I am slipping, sliding, sideways, trying to correct but out of control. I’m in the uphill lane, then back in mine. Half a twist and my rig is over the ditch and half slamming into, half climbing the bank, and the tree.
My vehicle, right headlight blown out, right tire smashed against the frame, radiator pushed into the fan; bounces back onto the roadway. The Pathfinder and I are now facing uphill and blocking most of the downhill lane, creating a new target for the next car or empty chip truck. I am trying to process what happened in the course of, guessing, four or five (or less) seconds from slip to slide to overcorrecting (probably), to impact. To full stop.
Assessment. I am, of course, all right. Move the car. No, the car will not move. Hit the flashers. The one on the ditch side works, the one on the side most easily slid into? Gone.
The driver’s side door works. I open it. There is a woman there, telling me she has called 911. “Oh,” and, “Are you all right?”
All right? “Yeah,” I say, “I’m… fine.”
Fine? No. I might be imagining this, but, if time slowed down at all as I was sliding toward the inevitable collision, it was just enough to allow me to be angry, embarrassed, and sorry, and all at once. At what now felt like ninety-miles-per-hour, I was confirming what Trish had said about me crashing the vehicle I had not taken to the beach even once.
Yes, I did crash, I am all right, and I am so, so determined not to add more to the incident by getting hit by the next victim of unseen ice. I had two cellphones on the seat, and two flashlights nearby. Had had. They’re nowhere to be found. My thermos and some extra clothes are on the floorboards.
Shut the engine off. The battery? It’ll wear down the battery. Yeah. No. The car’s wrecked, fool. Where’s the inside light?
The passenger side door works. I find my cellphones and one of the flashlights (the big one) in the doorway. Now there are cars above and below me. I am less of a target. The uphill traffic is getting through. Various people ask me if I’m all right. “Yeah. Of course.” I call 911. Jefferson Dispatch. My call is transferred to the Washington State Patrol. “No, one car. Just me. Fine. Fine. Blocking? Yes. Blocking.” I am put on some sort of hold. The screen on my cracked (previously) smart phone goes some previously unseen color. “Hello. Hello?”
Somewhere in here I call Trish on the non-smart phone (way better speakers, doesn’t have 171 contacts). Very calm. I am lying. She doesn’t say, “I knew it,” but she does ask if I am all right. She does say there is no way she can come get me; she does ask what I was going to do. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
I see headlights and a flashing lightbar approaching from uphill. It’s a tow truck. It has been less than five minutes since I hit the ice.
But now, a tow truck is parking in the empty space. importantly, it is a tow truck without a vehicle on the hook; and even more importantly, it is driven by Kirky Lakeness, from Quilcene (originally, though he now lives in Chimacum or Hadlock); and, additionally (as in adding to the miraculous nature of him being here) Kirky is headed for Quilcene to hang out with his cousin, Louie.
Louie went to school with our older son, James. We have some history. For that matter, Kirk and I have some history. Kirky looks to me, on this horror movie night, every breath showing in headlights and flashing emergency vehicle lights, like a right-tackle-for-the-Seattle-Seahawks-sized Angel.
We will, Kirky tells me, have to wait for the State Patrol to get here before he can move the Pathfinder. While he is discussing this and directing some of the traffic, three rigs from the Discovery Bay Volunteer Fire Department show up. A woman jumps out of the ambulance, toting a big bag. Already passing me, headed uphill, she asks, “You okay?” “Fine,” I say; “Kirky’s fine… also.”
A minute or so later, the EMT returns. “You were the only one in the vehicle?” “Yes.” “You said ‘Kirky’s fine.’” “I did. He is.” “You sure you’re all right?”
A State Patrol vehicle shows up. The Patrolman looks to be about 19. “Oh,” I say, “You may have given me my last ticket. Couple of years ago.” “No. I’ve only been on duty six months.” Different very young Patrolman.
I give the Patrolman my license, registration, proof of insurance. He hands me a form to fill out. “No, you’re not a suspect.” “Witness?” “Yeah, use that line.”
While I am looking for light adequate to fill out the form; considering what words might make me appear less… stupid, the Patrolman chats with the responders about the recent snow and wind that combined to close Highway 101 from where it intersects with 104 to south of Hoodsport. “They had me on the side of the road. The trees are all just shaking. No, I was getting out of there while I could.”
The Patrolman gets another call. He has to get over to the road to Marrowstone Island. Vehicle in the ditch. “Ice,” several people say. Someone adds, “Why didn’t the State sand this road?” That was Kirky. “I don’t know.” That was me. “It gets icy quick.” That was one of the Disco Bay people, probably glad they didn’t have to use the jaws of life.
That’s a guess.
“No, no ticket,” the Patrolman says. “It was an accident.”
A few minutes later, I’m in the front of the cab with the Angel, Kirky; the Nissan on the hook, headed home via Eaglemount and Center Roads. Kirky drops off the rig at Mountain Mechanic, downtown. I offer to buy him some gas at the Quilcene Village Store. I jump out of the tow truck to pay (cash saves ten cents per gallon). I fall flat on my face on the asphalt.
Black ice. Perfect timing.
Yeah, I’m all right. If you want to see where I hit, check out the second tree before the guardrails start. It has several signs on it and two new scars a few feet up from the bank. If you want to make an offer on a Nissan Pathfinder, slightly damaged, you can check it out; downtown Quilcene.
STEPHEN R. DAVIS UPDATE: The last I heard Steve was back at the University of Washington Hospital. He had (has) a bad reaction to some drugs he had been prescribed. He developed a rash pretty much all over his body, including his throat and eyes. Not comfortable. I am hoping for the best. I will update.