by K.M. Zahrt
Recently, when I was on my way home from my commute, I watched a woman (she was a veteran adult, let’s just say that) drive her Chevy Cruze, at no greater than 15 miles per hour, right into the back of a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited that was parked, third in line, at a red light. The woman knew the light was red. I watched her slow down for it, but before she came to a full stop, she already had her cellphone out. Luckily, the front of her car was small enough to run up underneath the Wrangler and get its entire front end mangled without leaving so much as a scratch on the Jeep’s bumper.
“You’re lucky,” I imagine the responding officer probably said to the owner of the Jeep. “If the woman’s car was any bigger, you could’ve incurred some real damage.”
The incident reminded me of my first car. It was a beauty. It had all the bells: bright red, sporty. And all the whistles: CD player, sunroof. What more could a 16-year-old possibly want? No, it wasn’t a Porsche. Only Chinese international students could afford those. But my Geo Storm was close. Or, so I thought. Had I had anything more than a first-time driver’s knowledge of cars, I would’ve known better.
My Storm, known affectionately (or mockingly) among friends as “Stormy,” certainly wasn’t safe, not any more than my big brother’s rust bucket, two-door Chevy Blazer. His model pre-dated the late-90s Chevy Blazers that somewhat resemble ancestors to today’s popular SUVs and can be spotted occasionally on the road. No, his was more like the old Ford Bronco II, the smaller sibling to O.J.’s famous white Bronco before, of course, O.J. murdered them all (the Broncos, I mean).
I experienced my first accident in Stormy. I was driving back into town after what was my first band practice, one of many to follow, with our newly recruited drummer. Our small group came together quickly as we were hoping to enter the school’s talent show competition. We did, and we managed to perform two songs: “Sober” by Tool, and “Change” by Deftones. Our group would stay together over the next two years until our steady stream of frontmen dried up.
I’d listened to both songs countless times way too loud in Stormy, but neither were on the stereo that day. I wasn’t distracted. Drummer and I weren’t horsing around or behaving dangerously. We were sober, but the road changed too quickly. The old two-lane farm road took a sharp, 90-degree left turn. I was aware of the turn. I’d driven the route several times before, but I misremembered how sharp it was and underestimated how much I needed to slow down.
At a pace no greater than 15 miles per hours, Stormy’s little tires got up on top of some loose gravel like Goofy roller skating on a patch of marbles and — woot-woot woot-woot woot-woot — we slid in slow motion (literally, slow, motion) off the road, into the brush, down the seven-foot bank, and into the ditch. Stormy came to rest at a 45-degree angle, nose at the bottom of a corn field, tail aimed to the heavens.
Nobody was hurt, thank God. Except my young male ego. I barely knew Drummer at the time, and as we climbed out, I knew any impression of being cool I’d managed to cultivate had been crushed.
It wasn’t much of a predicament, really. Had the car been any bigger than a goddamn Geo Storm, we would’ve been able to drive right out of there without a scratch on the bumper or missing a beat. That would’ve been badass. But I had no such luck. A $75 check to a tow truck got to do the trick instead.
Later, however, I also experienced my first crash, and the small stature of the Geo Storm would save my life. The crash would, again, come for me on a curve, and again, when I was headed into town on a two-lane road. This time I was headed to school on my normal route, at my normal time, at my normal speed. Again, I promise you, I wasn’t distracted. I didn’t have a cellphone. (I would refuse to own one until I was a senior in college. I don’t know why.) And by that time, the stereo on my stallion had given out. (I’d driven in silence for months refusing, too, to get that fixed. Again, I don’t know why.)
But here he comes, the driver on the other side of the road. He was, I promise you, distracted. As he approached the curve, he spilled his coffee in his lap. The hot hot kind of coffee from that popular American establishment famous for getting sued for the excessive temperature of their coffee. That coffee. As the driver jerked and writhed in response to the unexpected jolt to his system, the curve approached at an estimated 35 miles per hour. The driver didn’t recover in time.
Instead of following the road to the right, he plowed straight ahead. Into my driver-side door. At 35 miles per hour. Never saw me. Never braked.
In a state of blurry shock, I climbed out the passenger-side door and called my parents from a nearby house’s landline. I don’t remember who called the police, but they were there by the time I returned to the scene.
Sometime thereafter, one of the police officers delivered the obligatory one-liner that would be the anchor of every re-telling of the story since: “If the other driver’s car was any bigger, you could’ve been killed.”
The other driver’s car? Why, it was a canary yellow Geo Storm. I promise you. What are the chances?
The officer again: “You’re lucky. The nose of his car wedged underneath you instead of impacting the side of your car directly.”
Some luck. I would have to climb in and out of the car from the passenger-side door for the next six months as I waited for my car to get fixed, not to mention how driving around town with a crumpled side may as well have been a giant flag, like the tall orange ones on dune buggies, perhaps even more noticeable than those, that read: HERE DRIVES A DANGER TO SOCIETY.
I still made it to school on time that day. Why? Because I had a big story to brag about and I had to soak up the must’ve-been-scary comments and the glad-you’re-okay sentiments.
This was before texting. Before godforsaken Pokemon Go.
The other day, I read a story of someone playing Pokemon Go while driving, and he veered off the road and — surprise! surprise! — ran into a tree. As if the curves and coffee drinkers and cellphone users weren’t enough, now there’s morons driving and Pokemon Go-ing out there, too?
This isn’t virtual reality; there aren’t “lives” to tap into in the event your avatar falls prey to a zombie. (I could not have less knowledge of Pokemon, and I refuse to learn more. I don’t know why.) I, for one, welcome the day teleporting comes along and saves us all.
To borrow language from the election year that’s swirling around us, I won’t endorse a solution or claim not to be an equal part of the problem, but I would like to put forward the following suggestion: pass a law requiring all cellphone owners (and, I’ll propose a small amendment to include coffee drinkers) put flags on top of their cars that read: HERE DRIVES A DANGER TO SOCIETY.