Sunday, February 26, 2012

Accidental neighbor

There's nothing that erodes the confidence of your driving skills more than having an accident. Even a little one.

The other day my wife and I, along with her brother and his wife, were planning to change out a bedroom suit with another, plus bring a second one to our house from another location.

To do this,  I asked a friend if I could borrow her van. It's not just any van, but a Chevy Express. This is an oversized vehicle, larger than a Suburban, but it fit our needs perfectly.

So we began moving. After we moved to our present location nearly nine years ago, I resolved that I'd never lift another piece of furniture again in my life, but clearly, I couldn't make that resolution to myself last 10 years.

The job took five hours. But at the end of the day, it was mission accomplished. All I had to do was put some gas in the van and return it to my friend.

I hardly got out of my driveway. I looked both ways to make sure nothing was coming down our residential street, then slowly backed out into the road. I'd just about stopped when the vehicle suddenly halted itself. There was a muffled, metallic, sickening noise.

Oh no.

I'd backed into a little Chevy Cobalt parked across the street at my neighbor's house. I'd never seen it. I'd made several trips in the van during the day without incident, but now, tired and eager to enjoy myself at the end of an exhausting afternoon, this.

I pulled back into my driveway, got out, told my wife — who was getting ready to follow me in our car — that I thought I just backed into that car across the street.

I went over to the Cobalt and checked for damage. There was a little paint scraped off the fender above the wheel, but that was about it. Wow. I might get lucky here with minimal damage. Even better, there was no damage that I could see to the van.

Just then my neighbor and his friend — who's car I hit — came outside. They stopped at the sidewalk side of the car and stared. What? I came over.

Oh no.

Unbelievably, the accident took the tire completely off the wheel.
Apparently, the Express, with even just a minimum of momen-tum, pushed the Cobalt up against the curb, taking the tire completely off the wheel. An Express going up against a Cobalt. It might as well have been an Abrams tank going up against a bicycle.

You've got to be kidding me.

So I said we should call the police. At this point, there are four of us hovering around the car. Within minutes, the police arrive. In two police cars. One with the blue lights on. Another neighbor comes out of her house. "What happened?" she asked. This will be the first of at least 100 times in the next 24 hours that I tell the story of "What happened."

Soon, neighborhood kids are popping up like curious crocuses because police cars are here with their blue lights on. I think I see another neighbor or two standing on their front porch gazing at the scene. Great. I'm 5-foot-7 and feel like I'm 3-foot-8 — and shrinking. I'd like to shrink to invisibility, but I never quite learned what would now be a totally useful skill.

I give my statement, sign what I have to sign, exchange phone numbers. I apologize profusely, probably to the point of ad nauseum. I know I was feeling a little ill. But everybody is pleasantly civil and they tell me not to worry about it. It was an accident: That's why they're called "accidents." Nobody goes out and has a "purpose." Well, not usually, I guess.

A few days later we learn there was an estimate of less than $1000 for the damage. It could have been a lot worse.

But my feelings, and my pride, are still hurt. I wonder about my driving skills now. I'm 61, and those skills aren't going to get any sharper. This is my third lifetime accident committed by me, all of them while backing up.

I guess it's my reverse curse.

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