Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The 405 incident...

... In which your loyal writer nearly gets rammed from every side at 65 mph.

I'm known for my excellent driving skills and reflexes, even at my age. Driving came natural to me on the wide open prairies of Manitoba and Saskatchewan where a drive to see a movie could be 100 miles away. And coming home the same night.

But I got my wings in Detroit way back in 1970's where you learn pretty quick that you can get wiped out on the John Lodge Freeway. And then there's the streetsmarts that you learn. Like when you're driving down Woodward at night and a car pulls up, it's best for you to be in the outside lane so that anyone assaulting you has to go around the car. 

I travel all over the western states and Canada and have put hundreds of thousands of miles on my handful of cars. My current car, an Explorer has 230,000 miles and is in such good condition that my mechanic said he'd buy it whenever I decide to sell it. It helped that my dad was a mechanic.

And after I come home from any of my travels I thank the road god for keeping me safe one more time.

I've never really had many accidents, one was my fault when I crossed a street in my trusty 68 Mustang and got hit by a truck. Then there was the time in Detroit when I was driving my friend's Mazda to Vancouver. I got hit from behind in a blinding rainstorm even though I had stopped 20 feet away from the stalled car on the Interstate ahead of me.

It turned out to be an 8 car crash and the guy who hit me pushed me into the first lane (the first lane is the shoulder lane, lanes go 1, 2, 3 from the right shoulder). The seat broke backwards and I fell back, waiting for someone in that lane would hit me. But nobody did. I got out, saw 8 cars in my previous lane and realized I was okay but the Mazda's truck looked like an accordion.

Turns out the guy who hit me was drinking and because I didn't hit anyone I was free to go. But I had to get a state trooper, a woman, to help me bend out a rear fender. I also realized that my friend's wife had put her china in the truck as she was afraid the movers would break them. When they managed to open the trunk, the china wasn't damaged.

I had a number of near-accidents in snow and ice but always somehow made it out clean. 

Then there was South Dakota.

I was traveling at twilight on a 2-lane highway heading south to the Black Hills which ran along the Wyoming state line. Twilight is never a good time on the flat plains because animals come out and hang around the road and sometimes for the warmth created by sunlight.

I saw 2 deer grazing on the side, then a few miles up, more deer. The sun was gone and there were dark shadows and I was traveling the speed limit, 65mph. I saw more deer and was amazed at the numbers, there must have been 20 or more.

Then I saw two more deer ahead of me,  one in each lane and both looking towards me.

I had less than 30 seconds to figure out what to do. The ditches were steep and if I hit the brakes I would roll, If I tried to go around them, I could roll too. And if I hit one of the deer, I could die.

Then something came to me, a corny expression, you've heard it I'm sure...

Like a deer in your headlights.

I had my headlights on for safety on 2-lane highways and I thought, if the two deer didn't move an inch, I could fly right between them, there was enough room.

I never even saw them react as I shot between the two. I made it. After a minute or two I realized how close I came to buying the farm, as they say. I stopped, got out, walked around and just shouted.

Which brings me to the 405 freeway heading from the valley to Santa Monica. It was 7.30am and I had my bike on my Explorer and was watching traffic around me as usual. Then I noticed a car had stopped at the off-ramp to Wilshire I think, or Santa Monica. It seemed the driver had taken the exit by mistake and wanted back on the freeway.

I was in lane 2 and there was a car in lane 1 just to my right and ahead by two car lengths.

Suddenly the stopped car backed up! Right into lane 1 and the guy on my right side. It all happened in seconds.

Lane 1 car hit the breaks to avoid hitting the car backing up, and as he did he turned his wheel to avoid the car and thus coming into my lane. We're talking 1 or 2 car lengths away. His car screamed as brakes smoked and he was turning around at about 170 degrees, almost facing me.

I  glanced at a mirror for a second and saw cars behind, but I turned my wheel left and saw a hole between the revolving and smoking car and other cars to my left. Just like the deers. I aimed for that hole and prayed nobody was in it in my blind spot.

Nobody was. I shot thru and looked back at what seemed like a dozen cars stopped. By the time I figured all this out I was a mile away.

One more for Jim