This past Friday, I was driving Braunbeck to the bus station in downtown Columbus when I was involved in a car accident on I-71.
It was the kind of cold, grey wet day that messes with your depth perception, and it was rush hour to boot. Traffic would slow down abruptly, and suddenly you'd have to brake from 70 mph to 15 in a matter of seconds. I'd had a couple of close calls already that had set my heart pounding.
Traffic suddenly came to a halt near Crew Stadium. I stopped, the guy behind me stopped. Then I heard the screech of brakes and tires behind me, and I looked in my rearview mirror in time to see a maroon sedan smash into the car behind me, which was flung forward into my car.
It wasn't a hard hit by any stretch, but I'd been hit. I looked at Braunbeck.
"What should I do?" I asked, hoping I could just drive on. I was supposed to be at Donnerick's in an hour to meet with fellow recently-laid-off employees for happy hour commiseration. And Braunbeck had a bus to catch.
"Pull off to the side," he said. By this time, traffic had picked up again, and our three cars were causing a snarl behind us.
"I can't just drive away?"
"No, you're a witness if nothing else; it'd be leaving the scene of an accident, and you could get cited," he said.
So I managed to get over and pulled off onto the shoulder to wait. We wistfully watched the now-free-flowing traffic. Fifteen minutes later, a wrecker came, and the wrecker driver, decked out in neon green-and-orange overalls, stopped traffic so the other two cars could get over. The middle car looked okay, but the car that had done the striking was seriously messed up: the hood was crumpled, the engine steaming. Radiator fluid was spilling onto the pavement. Both drivers were fine; the businessman in the crumpled sedan hadn't even been burned by his airbag going off.
I got out and checked out my bumper. The middle car's license plate had scratched my paint, but that looked to be the extent of the damage. We were lucky; it could have been much worse.
A young, politely cynical cop came out to take our statements. He had me and the guy in the middle car sit in the back of his cruiser while he interviewed us. I'd never been in a police car before; the seats are cleaner and comfier than I imagined they'd be.
"Columbus averages 77 car accidents a day," the cop told us. "Just wait; while I'm out here, we're gonna have another one right near here because of the rubbernecking if not the traffic."
The cop did his best to get us out of there in a timely fashion. Forty minutes after my car was hit, I was back on my way. I made it downtown, got Braunbeck dropped off in time for his bus, and made it back up to Donnerick's in time to see the folks I wanted to chat with.
The damage was so minimal that I decided not to bother calling the other guy's insurance company. Getting my bumper repainted is not worth being without my car for a few days. So I put the accident out of mind and got on with life and my weekend.
But today, the vultures converged. So far, I've had six phone calls from chiropractors and sundry ambulance-chasing doctors to offer their services to treat the horrible trauma of the accident I was in. When I got the first call, I was so astonished and amused I burst out laughing, and the secretary (or whoever she was) hung up on me. I've expected the other calls, and as soon as I figure out what they're about, I tell them "no thanks" and that's that.
Clearly, these folks are mining the accident reports to drum up business, but apparently they're not reading them very carefully, or they'd know that my presence in the accident report was barely a footnote.
But it does leave me pining for the days of the old-school physicians like my father who believed it was unseemly and unprofessional to even take out an ad in the Yellow Pages. He believed your work as a doctor spoke for itself, and if you were worth your salt, your patients would find you through word-of-mouth. He'd have quit if he felt he had to hire a telemarketer to find him patients out of police reports.