My Harrowing 4th of July
I had just finished playing a great private party with my band. There’s were tons of people, food and a fireworks show as big as any you would ever see, all at someone’s house. It was now time for my 2 hour drive back home to Austin. Before I had even got out of town, I was stopped at a stop light with no one in front of me. A pickup truck was driving through the intersection in front of when suddenly it was t-boned by another car. The truck went up on its side and came hurtling directly at my car. Now, I tend to be very calm and in control in crisis situations, so I wanted to throw it in reverse but I didn’t have time to assess what was behind me and didn’t want to end up plowing into someone, so I watch as this hurtling pickup skidded to a stop on its side…inches from my front bumper. I then reversed a little (I’m not sure why at this point, other than to get a little distance from the carnage). Everyone poured out of their cars behind me, as did I to call 911, and assess if anyone needed immediate help. When I could see there was nothing more I could do, I figured it was best to just get out of the way and got back in my car. While I was waiting for the police to clear everyone and for the people behind me to get back in their cars and re-route so that we could all leave the scene, I took this photo from my car.
Eventually we were cleared and I drove on, stopping briefly to get a drink. A guy in the store wondered what was going on with all the police, fire and EMS folks, so I told him my first hand account. He was not expecting such a vividly detailed answer. I then hit the road back to Austin, delayed by about 20 minutes or so by the accident. About an hour later, I was on Highway 21 in the middle of nowhere. There was hardly any traffic as it was 1:30 A.M. I noticed a car coming toward me from the distance. Then I noticed that it was swerving. Back and forth. A lot. I went into high alert and could not tell is this was someone out of control or just being an idiot goofing around. Faster than I expected, the car was upon me and swerved directly toward me, smashing into the left rear of my car. The side airbags deployed, and my back end swung wildly around pointing me across the oncoming lanes (which were, thankfully, empty). It was one of those moments they talk about when everything went into slow motion. I remember as I got hit, thinking (and possibly saying out loud) “FUCK! GODDAMMIT! SERIOUSLY?” I remained calm and tried to get control of the vehicle as best as I could. I had stopped spinning and was now headed directly across the oncoming lane toward a ditch. I though ” Oh, shit, I hope this ditch isn’t too bad and that this doesn’t hurt too much.” Next thing I knew I was over the ditch and through a barbed-wire fence, pleasantly surprised at the lack of impact or pain. It was then that I realized that my car was still in drive and actively propelling forward in this, thankfully, large and empty field. I came to a stop and gathered myself. I seemed to be fine. I got out and immediately called 911. Where was I, they asked? I told them to hold on, put them on speakerphone and pulled up Google maps (thankful for both the phone signal and internet connection). I couldn’t read the tiny county road number, but luckily I had long ago enabled the accessibility feature where I could tap with 3 fingers to zoom in. I did so and told them I was on Highway 21, just north of county road 402. They said they would send someone right away. When asked about the other car, I told them I had briefly seen them stopped way down the road, but that they seemed to be gone now.
I called Elly who was fast asleep at home. I told her the details and that I was fine. Since I was about an hour from home still, she got in car that she had very luckily borrowed from a friend who let’s her use it whenever we need a second car for some reason. Not knowing exactly what would play out, she just started driving toward me, knowing she’d have to pick me up somewhere. I assessed the damage. It looked like they had hit me right around my left rear tire. It was at a slightly funny angle but nothing too terribly alarming. I had no rear bumper and the left rear tail light was broken.The left rear door wouldn’t open. I checked my music equipment in the back and it was fine which made me breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Then I waited. In a dark field in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, which, needless to say, was surreal. There was a bright moon which was nice and I could leave the car running to keep my phone charging and keep the headlights on for better visibility. I meditated. Got bitten by a lot of mosquitoes or something. About 30 minutes later or so, the highway patrol showed up. He asked how I managed this on a completely deserted highway. I laughed and said “right?” and gave him the details. He asked what I planned to do with the car and I said I had no idea what my options were. He told me to call my insurance which I did and reported everything. They said they could transfer me to someone to arrange a tow or I could just have the officer call a local tow, which is what I did. I told the officer about my other close call and he said something like “You better watch it. You’re luck is gonna run out!” (in a totally good-natured way).
By the time I was done with insurance, the officer, etc. and the tow truck showed up it must have been at least another 30 minutes. The tow truck driver was a very amiable guy who pondered how the hell to get my car out of this field when there was a ditch and a (busted) fence in the way. I told him had no idea if it was driveable but that I could certainly try to back it up to the road.
“I mean, what am I gonna do? Mess it up worse?” I said, which made him laugh heartily. I backed it up. Got stuck a few times where I had to work it forward and back but eventually got it back to road and parked on the shoulder where getting in on the truck was nice and simple. Elly arrived right at this time and we got all the stuff we could from the car and packed into the teeny tiny BMW Z3 as best we could. Now this thing is tiny. We barely fit my yoga mats and a few small things in the trunk. We stashed a small fan back by the rear window. My roller case went at my feet and my guitar was basically on top of me in the passenger seat. It was uncomfortable, but the only way to get all my stuff home.
We were both a bit on edge watching for any other late night 4th of July jackasses but we made it home and to bed by about 5 A.M. We had planned not to go anywhere on Sunday but a last minute offer from Craigslist to trade a really cool guitar for one I was trying to sell ended up with us driving halfway to San Antonio to make the exchange, and once again, I found myself on a 45 minute, very uncomfortable car ride wedged under a guitar.
Monday and Tuesday I did all the dealing with insurance, getting a rental lined up, faxing them paper work to show that I had just had $4000 worth of work done earlier this year including a brand new $3000 hybrid batter with a 4 year warranty, which is basically the biggest repair you can make on a hybrid vehicle short of replacing the engine. I am hoping this factors in to whatever decisions they make about repairing the car or totaling it.
Not surprisingly, this whole experience has had an affect on me. Especially when paired with the wreck I was in at the beginning of this year when my car was in the shop and I was driving our same friend’s (previous) Z3 to College Station and back to pick up my newly custom painted guitar as well as carrying an acoustic that was over 100 years old back to a shop in Austin as a favor to a friend. While stopped at a light I noticed someone skid to a halt and veer to the right to avoid hitting a car a few behind me. Then as I was stopped at the next light, this same person (I’m not 100% positive, but I think it was the same person) plowed into the back of my stopped (and borrowed) car, spinning me 180 degrees and giving me a mild concussion for the next month. It took a few minutes for me to get my senses back and I didn’t really remember the actual accident, or the texts that I had sent after getting hit, or calling Elly and talking somewhat incoherently to her. Both guitars, despite being in soft cases and on the front passenger against the dash and laying up the seat, were completely unharmed. As was I, in the end (though I had some soreness and killer headaches for about a month, but several doctor visits confirmed that I was fine).
So after almost 30 years of driving mostly uneventfully (a few minor fender benders like getting rear-ended twice), I’ve now had 2 (and almost 3) pretty scary crashes. None of them my fault, which is actually the scariest thing. You can be the best, most defensive driver in the world with great control, reactions and cool in a crisis but there is so much not in your control. So many idiots that can still make you a target. I’ve definitely felt the insidious anxiety deep within me. I haven’t slept well since that night, which I’m actually not sure is at all related, but I’m also not sure that it’s not. I’m a little more jumpy in the car for the moment. A little apprehensive about the gigs I have coming up and all the driving I have to routinely do for my careers as an actor and musician. My mind sometimes goes to horrific scenarios. I’m trying my best though not to let the fear win. Living in fear is never good, nor necessary. While it’s easy to think things like “Oh man, what if there had been oncoming traffic? What if they had hit me head on? What if that ditch had been deeper or worse? Or the fence was sturdier? Or there was a tree? Or instead of a field it was a lake? Or an overpass? Or I’d been killed? Or maimed and couldn’t play guitar? Or…or…or…”
But then I realize that you can also take everything I just said and turn it into something positive. Like “Wow! I really am so very, very fortunate. So lucky. Someone is watching out for me and no matter what everything will be fine and I’m going to live my life under that assumption and not in fear.” And I will. But I’m also human, and sometimes it will be a fight.
I once had my tarot cards read, which I kind of went on as a lark just for fun, but by the end of it, I was it had really had a profound effect on me. It was a really cool experience and just many of the things she said were eerie, in the best possible way. During this session, among many other things, she mentioned (paraphrasing) “You have two…well they don’t really want me to say because they know you won’t really like this word, but for lack of a better term, guardian angels. And they know you aren’t really religious and all that thus why you probably would balk a little at the term ‘angel’ but they just want you to know they’re there, and you can talk to them if you want.”
Well, great job, you two. Keep up the great work. Seems you’ve been working overtime.