When you live in a major metropolitan area and you drive — anywhere — but especially if you commute daily, the odds are you have near-accidents frequently. Like every day. Mostly, you don’t notice them. You get used to being cut off, jamming your breaks on to avoid a swerving driver who’s probably on the phone or texting. I’ve seen people with newspapers propped up on their steering wheel driving and reading. Driving while eating, changing CDs, engaged in absorbing conversations with passengers — while paying no attention to the road.
It’s all in a day’s commute. It would have to be a near miss of a spectacular sort to make it memorable, wouldn’t you say?
In 1977, I worked at Doubleday in Garden City. It was one town away from mine. A great job, an easy commute. A 15 minute hop on the parkway and zip zap, I was there. Plenty of room in the company parking lot, too. The easiest commute I would ever have. I had just gotten a new car. My first new car, a Volkswagen Rabbit, the original pocket rocket. Five speeds on the floor and bright almost turquoise blue. Front-wheel drive, front power breaks, rear standard and of course, it was the first new-style Volkswagen with the engine up front.
The Rabbit, our “Blue Bunny” would happily accelerate from zero to 60 in a couple of seconds and I did dearly love that feeling as the Gs pinned me to the seat. I was young and easily entertained.
When the work day was over, I headed home in my pretty new car. Meadowbrook Parkway was crowded, but traffic was moving briskly. I was in the center lane and thought to pass the slow car I was following. I looked in my mirror and it appeared clear, so I pulled slightly into the left lane, only to see a car moving up much too fast behind me. So I turned the wheel to go back to the middle lane.
Was there an oil slick on the road? Or was it the imbalance of the car’s design? The Rabbit, with all it’s weight in the front — front engine, front wheel drive, front brakes, front everything — and not a very heavy car in any case — went into a spin. I lost control of the car. The wheel was unresponsive. The brakes useless. The engine became a pivot as the rabbit did two and a half 360 degree spins, finally stopping with me facing the wrong way on the parkway, clutching the steering wheel and no doubt white as a sheet.
No one hit anyone. It was rush hour and the drivers were all experienced road warriors. People drove over center barriers, up on shoulders, dodged and weaved around each other. Not even a fender bender. More than a minor miracle. It could have been so much worse. If I were a few inches left or right, it would have been a catastrophe.
When I finally caught my breath, a couple of drivers (literally) saluted me … and very slowly, I drove home.
After that, we always carried a couple of hundred pounds of sand in the trunk. It helped balance the car and keep it from spinning, which it turned out it was prone to do under a variety of circumstances. And the sand was useful in snow and ice.
I lived to have thousands more near-collisions in the course of my life, as well as a few actual ones … but this was the near miss of near misses. Inches in any direction would have equalled disaster.
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