My housemate J. and I got very lucky late last night and avoided what could have been a really nasty wreck. As it was, we had a minor accident that left us and her car relatively unscathed.
midnighter called us about 11 p.m.; his car was at the mechanic's, and he was bored and wanted to go out to get something to eat. So J. and I piled into her little old Volkswagen Rabbit and headed out. I'd driven Ron's wife Bev to work a little after 6, and although it was raining and slick, the roads at first seemed less icy than they'd been earlier in the day.
We went up I-71 to the I-270 turnoff. We went up the ramp, and as the road curved out from under the overpass, we saw the flashing lights of emergency vehicles. A second later, I saw the four smashed-up cars, one overturned, resting against the guardrails. And a second after that, we both saw the huge sheet of ice on the road that had caused the wrecks.
J. braked the moment she saw the emergency lights, but when we hit the ice, there was no stopping.
I'd never been in a full out-of-control spinout like that before. It would have been exhilarating if it hadn't been completely fucking terrifying. For a couple of seconds, I was sure I was about to die.
We were in danger of T-boning one of the other cars, or worse, hitting one of the emergency workers farther down the ramp. J. managed to steer the car toward the guardrail. She said the sight of the people walking around down there was what made her think to turn toward the rail.
I've heard you're not supposed to tense up if you know you're going to hit something in your car. You're supposed to relax, go with the flow. That's why drunks often emerge from wrecks less injured than their sober companions.
Relaxing was the last thing on my mind as we careened toward the guardrail. I was clinging to the Jesus bar in a tight ball muttering shitshitshit as I imagined us going through the rail down into the icy ravine beyond.
We hit with a solid whack that threw us both forward in our seatbelts. I bruised my knees on her dashboard and pulled a muscle in my back, but that's it.
J. started crying right after the car hit; she'd been in a horrible wreck that killed her boyfriend when she was a teenager, and any collision brings that awful night right back to her. All I remember saying is "We're okay, it's okay" over and over. A young woman -- whose car had evidently also slid but hadn't hit anything -- came over to my window to see if anyone was hurt.
We were okay, but maybe not for long. J. tried to back the car up, but the front wheels were stuck in the ice and snow piled against the guardrail. Our little car was sitting right in the path of any car that would come up the ramp and lose control.
I told J. I'd get out and push. I had just stepped outside when this great big delivery truck came up the ramp at a pretty good clip. If he lost it, he'd crush our car like a pop can, with J. still inside.
Everyone nearby started yelling "Slow down! Please god, slow down, slow down!" and waving their arms at the truck. I can't adequately describe how intense that moment was.
But miracle of miracles, the truck didn't slide and trundled on past.
A man from one of the wrecked cars came running up to us. He was wearing a zip-up dark canvas Ford jacket. I don't know why I remember that detail, but it's the only thing I clearly remember about his appearance.
"You girls gotta get out of here, or you're gonna get hit," he said. "Get behind the guardrail. The cop who was standing behind my car almost got hit just a few minutes ago."
We got out and stood in the snow behind the guardrail. I was really glad I'd put on my Docs before I left the house; I almost wore my sneakers, expecting I'd be walking on nothing but wet pavement.
A few minutes later, a policeman drove up the ramp and blocked off part of it with his car, and an emergency truck drove up and blocked off the rest. Another policeman came over to see if we were okay.
I told him that we were fine and the car was driveable; we just needed to get out of the ice. The cop recruited the help of a couple of firemen and they gave a couple of heaves while J. drove and they got us out and on our way.
Once we got back to our apartment, we took a look at her bumper. One of the fog light lenses on the left side was smashed, and her license plate was bent, but that was it. My car's bumper would have been totalled. Those little Volkswagens are absolute tanks.
I'm also glad we didn't have to fill out a police report; the accident I was in two short weeks ago got me a total of 11 calls from ambulance chasers and a swak of junk mail from chiropractors and lawyers because of the report.
J. neatly summed up the night when we were home: "You know, as much as I complain about cops, thank God for 'em, you know?"