The Drive. Part Three: How Could it Get Any Worse Than This?

The trip has been good for us. It is a peaceful respite from the noise, heat and pressure of big city living. On vacation there is no rent due, there are no arguments about why I am working until eleven at night. It doesn’t matter if dinner doesn’t get cooked or the place is a mess. All that ugliness slithers away and for two days we just are. We hike Sleeping Bear Dunes, we stroll small art fairs, and we dream of  living forever in this hazy, slow, blue world.

The night before we leave for Detroit we hunker down in the local bar. It is filled with swollen wood booths that are sticky with beer and lake air. We choose one by the window, under a stuffed fish. The dark wood walls sponge up our words as we bend our heads together, devising a plan to live in Leelanau forever, selling pizza.  In the winter we would deliver it by snowmobile, in the summer by bicycle. We are food marketing geniuses!  At midnight we slosh our way along the narrow road through town, following the porch light to our B&B, and hit the pillows, sinking into a deep, wooded slumber.

The next morning is a Michigan classic: deep blue skies and a polite wind mingling with the birches.  Everything alive lets out its belt to breathe.  Steve got up at 6am and went for a walk on the beach.  He came back a few hours later exuberant, high on the pinky-orange sunrise rolling over water and woods. We finally share something other than the same address.

We zip down the peninsula and into the flat part of the state.  M-115 is a two lane nightmare that slices diagonally through the heart of Michigan.  Normally I avoid two lane highways for safety reasons, but this day was going to be a long one, so we go with it and head for Cadillac.

In a car designed for slender, fine-boned Italians, not sturdy, wide Americans, I slip the tight seat belt off and tilt back, letting Steve drive while I contemplate why my brother had to get married in Detroit when he and his beloved both live in Seattle.

Zip zip went the flat farm land out the window and we switch to the small highway. Ten seconds later someone in my head yells at me to put on my seatbelt. It was an insistent no-nonsense voice that was neither male, nor female. Never having heard this voice before, I buckled up and briefly wondered who was giving the orders upstairs.

Up ahead someone had the gall to make a left turn on a two lane highway on a Friday afternoon. A whole line of cars came to a screeching halt.  Steve slammed on the brakes just in time to avoid  the outboard motor of the fishing boat being towed in front of us.  Composing myself I glanced in the rear-view mirror. An older couple in a huge Buick  loomed in the reflection.  “Hold on” I said in a calm tone meant to alert, but not scare poor Steve whose chest was still heaving from the shock of near decapitation by outboard propeller.  “This guy behind us is not stopping.”

Never having been in a big accident I didn’t know what to do.  I had one second to prepare. I sat back, made sure my head was against the leather headrest and grabbed the doorhandle as if leaping out was an option.  One quick sharp crunch later the gear shift flew out of Steve’s hand and wobbled helplessly between us.  The Buick pushed its way through the trunk, rearranged the back seats, and stopped just short of the front seats, forcing us to do the crash-test dummy hurl.

The little brown car whimpered like a lame greyhound.  I thought the worst was over, but a sick feeling roiled in my gut when I realized we were still moving into on-coming traffic. What a crappy way to die I think as we careen into the gaping mouth of a huge old green truck, the kind that eats little sports cars for lunch.  There was nothing else we could do but pray to the laws of Newtonian physics (as they apply to spinning brown Italian sportscars).

As we got closer and closer to the truck I could see the driver, a young woman, mouth those tell-tale words, like what parents do when they want to swear out loud but can’t.  She tries to swerve but we all end up like Disney teacups in the middle of the highway. Dad’s poor little car, the car of his middle-aged dreams is flying apart in front of my eyes.

Car-wreck triage is immediately in action and people came running toward us.  Within a minute a young man stops and directs traffic in the middle of the highway with the skill of an unflappable Chicago cop.  Someone else scurries off for the fire department and we are led by kind strangers to sit in shock at the side of the highway, waiting for the police.

These people knew what to do. They had to clear this road and they had to do it now.  After all, it was a beautiful Friday afternoon and they have to get to their cabins, boats and pontoons.  VFW halls across the state are heating up vats of oil for Friday fish fries.  Frog legs are being severed, dipped and battered as we wait around for tow trucks. Coolers of beer are chilling.  Ski-Doos are weighing down trailers heading in both directions. Looking over the mayhem I  swear I heard a collective sigh of disappointment as cars a mile down the road slowed, put it in park, and waited for us to move off the road.

This accident, so overwhelming to Steve and me appeared to be small potatoes to these tough, northern folk.  Strangers moved the accident debris (i.e. Dad’s car) to the side of the road and within twenty minutes, traffic moves around the remains in steady, determined fashion.  Life for these Michiganders resumes as normal. Friday is saved.

Steve and I sit in the tall grass and wild blue cornflowers and watch it all.  Outside of a gash on Steve’s leg, we are basically uninjured, but in shock and can barely move.

“Your Dad is going to freak out,” says Steve.  I nod, wondering who I could get to tell him the car is gone.  I know we’ll be late to the rehearsal dinner, but I just sit there in the sun, not moving, not thinking, but feeling very alive.

The policeman radios for the tow truck and cancels the third fire truck. I remark to him on everyone’s efficiency.  He turns and looks at me. “You folks aren’t from around here are you? This happens almost every Friday at this same spot.  You were lucky today.”

But now comes the tricky part of getting to the wedding…

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4 Responses to The Drive. Part Three: How Could it Get Any Worse Than This?

  1. Kris says:

    I’m really enjoying the story!

  2. claywatkins says:

    a few years ago we were in northern Michigan and we crashed our car, or rather some imbecile crashed INTO our car. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the car was eventually replaced. The car crash was just one of several misadventures on that trip – getting stuck in the snow on the way up, water pipes freezing, power going out when it was 20 below, and the crash…but nonetheless the trip showed the kindness of others who reached out to help us and we got safely home. Since then, we’ve weathered other storms and gathered more memories of how important it is to give back and pay it forward.

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