Friday, January 22, 2010

Crawling From the Wreckage

Text and images © Robert Barry Francos
Song lyrics © Graham Parker

Don't think I was acting so hysterically
But I didn't see a thing until it came…
Coz when I’m disconnected from the diving wheel
I’m only half the man I should be
Metal hitting metal is all I feel…
Crawling from the wreckage…
– Graham Parker

January 19, 2010, at around 3:30 PM, was similar to many other days: I received a call from my partner asking me to pick her up at work. Got to the designated spot, and waited. When she came out of the building, I pulled into the road that would take me to the main intersection home.

[My car a couple of years ago during a road trip to central Pennsylvania]
At that corner, one can either go straight, where there is a light, or make a right turn into a separate merging lane heading west that ends in a sign to yield to oncoming traffic. We were having a light conversation about the day, when I signaled right and slowed down into the turning lane, coming nearly to a standstill. Then I heard my partner say, “Oh, my God!” Out of the corner of my eye, like in those commercials, I saw the front of a Windstar van two inches from my face.


His van hit my car in what is known as a “T-Bone,” where his nose plows into the side of my car. In fact, to do this, he had to go over a raised pavement island divider between the lane going straight and the one I was in going right. The guy hit my poor 2001 Nissan Altima Limited Edition so hard, that he moved our car out of the lane and against a construction chain link fence about 10 feet away.

On impact, my head bounced off the window and my side jammed into the arm rest, as my head was whipped to the side. My partner banged her left side into the console. All of this happened, of course, in a matter of a split second.

We were dazed and probably in shock, though we did not lose consciousness. I turned to my partner and asked if she was okay, and she said an emotional “No,” but in the way she said it I knew it was not physical distress. I made sure our legs weren’t pinned or bones broken.

The man in the van jumped out and asked if we were okay. He could talk to me even though the window was closed, because he had dented the door so much, there was a gap on top, as much as it was crumbled on the bottom. In fact, he flat-on hit the brace between the back door and the front door, which probably saved our lives, but it was pushed in to where I could put my body against the door without having to lean to the left. The dashboard was broken in places, and the piece under the steering wheel was beneath my feet. I turned off the motor.

When he asked if I was okay, I was not going to say yes, because I was aware enough to know that what I said may matter later on, and if I said I was okay, he could claim I said that, and honestly, I didn’t know if I was just yet, so all I answered was, “I banged my head. Call the police.”

With some effort and with the aid of some passersby, I was able to open the door, though it would not close again. I could see the frame was buckled under the door in the shape of his fender. I also noticed that his van looked okay, other than a big dent on the side of his bumper.

He started gushing about how he was cut off my some woman and he was only going 50 kph (about 30 mph), which I just knew was bullshit, because there is no way he could have come that far, over that median, and pushed me that far with that much damage going only that speed. He seemed sober, but I was still trying to clear my head from its fog of the shock of it all.

A few people passing came over to check up on us, and asked if we were okay. My partner was not able to open her door because it was against the chain link fence, so she sat there quietly, gathering her wits. I responded honestly that I did not know, but repeated that I did bonk my head pretty hard, and would someone please call the police. A woman said she had called. We soon found out that she was the person who supposedly cut the guy off. Meanwhile, he kept going on and on about it, both apologizing and defending his actions to anyone who would listen, as he felt woozy from the accident, himself. He was definitely hyper, as though he had a lot of coffee, but did not appear to have been drinking alcohol.

Slowly we pieced together what had happened: The man in the van was heading west, in the center lane. He signaled to the right and moved into the right lane (were we were about to enter), and the signal stayed on. The woman was going east, and was turning into the street from we were coming out. Since his signal was still on, she figured he was going to turn into the side road, too. When she realized he wasn’t because he was going too fast to turn, she stopped. Out of the corner of the eye, he saw her, determined that she was going to hit him (which she wasn’t as she wasn’t moving by then), and he jerked the wheel to the right, sending him over the divider and into us.

We realized how luck this guy actually was, because usually this corner is packed with students from the local college, waiting for either a bus or to cross the street, and at the time of the accident, there was no one there. Providence, I guess.

After a few minutes, the police arrived and starting asking everyone questions. It was obvious that we were mere collateral damage, and we actually had nothing to do with the cause of the accident, just being in the wrong place. They continued to talk to the other two drivers while the ambulance arrived. The paramedics checked us over and determined we were okay, and so we declined going to the hospital.

I was a bit nervous about all that, since I had hit my head, so I asked if I should stay awake for a while rather than go to sleep; though I didn’t say it aloud, I knew that Dead Boys singer Stiv Bators had a similar thing happen to him in Paris, where he was hit by a car, went home without seeing a doctor, and then died of a brain hemorrhage. My dad died of a brain injury after he fell. The ambulance people were understanding, and they reassured me that I was not going to go into a coma since I did not have a concussion.

We both got out of the ambulance after wishes of good luck by the ‘medics, and we walked over to the police officer who was obviously in charge. He said he was willing to call us a cab, since our car was not able to be driven, and a tow truck had been called. As an alternative, he said that an officer could drive us home if we wanted to wait until the scene had been cleared by the tow truck. We decided on the latter, because we wanted to be there when they towed it off. Also, it’s not every day one gets to go home in the back of a police cruiser!

A flash of thought went through my mind, and I opened up the trunk and took out the recyclable carry bag we use to haul groceries (the grocery stores charge a nickel per plastic bag here, so most people use the reusable ones). Holding it open, I put the 30 or so CDs I had in the truck into the bag. The plastic case they were in was broken in numerous spots (after being hit at 30 miles an hour?). Then I went to the front, and pulled out whatever ones were there. Turning on the motor, with no problem (and it still sounded sweet), I rejected the CD still in the console (Monty Love’s Girls Are the New Boys), put it in its case, and then with the others in the bag. These were the most valuable thing (other than us) I had in the car, which was off to the police pound for eventual evaluation by SGI, the insurance company (Saskatchewan Government Insurance). Most of the CDs were indie and not easily replaceable, so I certainly did not want to take the chance of them disappearing (hey, I am from New York, after all). It would be days before my car would be able to be accessible to me again, and I knew it.

The guy with the Windstar, the officer stated, would most likely be charged as being at fault, because his story was the least credible between him and the other driver. Also, the ground was not slippery. That means not only would his insurance skyrocket, but since he was driving a company van, he would probably have to pay for the repairs on the van, whether the employer kept him on or not. When he started up the Windstar, the motor did not sound good. Perhaps it wasn’t too bad cosmetically, but there was definitely something wrong with it (I could see the radiator was crooked through the grill).

With the car towed off (charged to Mr. Windstar’s insurance), we were ushered into the back of the cruiser. Certainly, I can’t remember being in the back of one before. It was interesting to note that the seats were solid plastic and hard (and very uncomfortable), the windows were all covered with metal grill, and there were no door or window handles, so the back doors had to be opened from the outside. There were also a lot of scuff marks on the back of the seat in front of us, where someone (or many) kicked around in a violent fit. If you knew all this already, odds are you’ve been there. Anyway, we were home in less than 10 minutes.

After greeting the kitties and counting our blessings, we got down to business. This is what we knew: SGI may repair our car, or write it off as salvage. If they do repair it, they will only pay for two-thirds of what the car is “worth.” We went online to check out the actual value of our car, because odds are it will be written off considering the frame is dented. Though we couldn’t find any real information on Kelly’s Blue Book or anything like that (mostly you get ads when you search in Google for car info), but we did locate a car a year older than ours with a lot more mileage that had just been sold recently in the province, so we have an idea.

The next day came the call from the insurance company. KK (you may have noticed I have not been using names, because who knows what the legality of this is, and if it will go to court) asked me a bunch of detailed questions, including if I had checked and if I any idea what the car was worth; I informed her with what I found. She seemed nice, but a bit business-like. At some point, I asked about her last name, because I know of a musician here with the same last name. She said she was unrelated, but her husband probably is…”Does he play jazz?” she asked. I replied to the affirmative, and the conversation was a lot more relaxed on both sides after that. She said we could rent a car on the insurance of the guy who hit us for up to 7 days, if the car was fixable; otherwise we’d have to return the rental when we found out if our car was toast. She then gave us a couple of extra days if that happened to help give us time to find another car. As she was out on Friday and the adjuster wasn’t going to be looking at our car until late Thursday, we wouldn’t know until Monday, so we could have the rental car until at least then. After the adjuster looks at it, f the car is going to be repaired, they’ll take it right over to the shop. If it is not, they’ll take it over to the junkyard and we’ll get a permission slip to go and get the rest of our stuff out of it before they do whatever it is they’re going to do to it.

Thursday, we did a number of things to follow up. Taking my partner’s car, we drove to her doctor and she had a free exam to both check to see if she was really okay, and to officially document her injuries. The doctor said she would be sore, and would give her a complementary physiotherapy exam, but meanwhile take ibuprofen. Oh, and the doctor’s visit was free due to Marie’s health card. Then we went to a clinic, since I don’t have my health card yet, and paid $40 to see a doctor, who essentially told me I was in decent shape, but if I got worse, then I could get some physio; oh, and take ibuprofen, too, for a few days. A full exam for $40. It reminded me that I had gone for a flu shot in New York a couple of years ago when I was unemployed, and I was told at a clinic it was $80, but the bill came to $300 after the nurse gave me an pre-interview, the doctor examined me, and another nurse gave me the shot – all of which was charged separately (nurse / doctor / nurse / shot). My friend Joe Viglione recently also had a similar horror story: I don’t know why people keep saying Canadian health care doesn’t work, because it works a hell of a lot better than the one in the U.S. Go Obama.

After the doctor’s appointments, we went and rented a car. It’s a Ford Fiesta, and it is nowhere near as good as my car was/is, but I’m happy to have it for now; at least for a week anyway. I will find out the status of my car on Monday, and will update this blog, so if you’re interested, check it again later into the last week of January. If it is trashed, I’ll take some photos when we empty it out, and add it to this blog.

Pray for my Nissan.

Updated January 30, 2010

We received word the other day that my car is officially beyond repair. There was some haggling, but we got a decent (not great) price from the insurance for the car. Thing is, it had four new tires, a new battery, we had just added on day-running lights and a block heater for the motor, 70,000 miles, and always had it kept in good repair (including regular oil and greasing). The car ran like new. But three weeks after officially getting it into the country at very high cost, it’s gone.
A few days after a hard snow, I was given permission to go down to the salvage yard to clear out my personal stuff. After finding the place, eventually, I was told I could only take my personal belongings and the license plate, but nothing that was part of the car (they resell the parts, which is how the insurance company gets their money back). I said I understood, and they told me where to find my baby (designated at F1).

Because the doors wouldn’t close, there was a pile of snow inside the car, especially on the drivers seat. Also, since it was so cold, the battery was dead, so I was glad I got out the CD from the player before they towed it away.
First I cleaned out the trunk. There were some tools, a blanket, some cushions, tire irons (they pronounce it EYE-run here, rather than I-ern), and stuff like that to fill up two letter-size file boxes. I also packed up a large, black garbage bag to throw out. Then I took the maps off the back seat (two atlases and a book-style map of Saskatchewan my partner had bought me to help me figure out where the hell I was going. Then I cleared out under the seat (more garbage including a half-empty 1 liter ginger ale bottle that had been there a couple of years).

Next up was the consol between the front seats. The CDs were taken by me already, but there was an E-Z Pass (gotta return that someday, I guess) and a magnifying glass for the maps. Then I remembered the cigarette butt tray, where I kept toll money, and there were USD $6 in singles. What the hell, I also grabbed some loose tiny papers, such as toll receipts that are more than a year old. The last thing I took were the floor mats, as they were from our previous car (a Nissan Sentra) that had died near Rochester on the way to a Media Ecology Association conference, which is why we had bought this particular car.

Last thing I did before I left it was to talk to it, to say thank you for all the great times I had in it, taking photo excursions, driving to visit relatives, helping me take care of my dad by going shopping every week with him in it, and taking us across the continent to our new home.

I was, needless to say, feeling sad. I really loved that car, which my dad helped us pay for. It was in great shape and now it was salvage. And looking at it as I cleared stuff out, it was pretty obvious it could not be fixed, there was just too much damage. What kills me is that the two people that were actually the cause of all this get to drive their own cars home, and me, well…

Tomorrow, Sunday, I have to return the rental car. Then it’s the bus ($2.50 a ride) or hoofing it. Maybe we’ll get me a car in the Spring, but we’ll have to see.

Goodbye car, and thanks, again.

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