Sunday, August 24, 2014

I'll Be Fine! It's Just a Puddle.

You may recall from a post from early 2013 that I am a firm believer that panic is the enemy. I'm not picky about where people should not panic since I'm pretty sure it's bad news in just about any environment.
From Introduction to Myiasis by Melissa Runsten
If a deal is about to fall through at work, should the sales woman panic? No, she'll look disorganized and out of her depth. Also, she is more likely to make a bad deal for The Company than she would have been had she kept a level head.

When interstellar maggots attack the beef packaging plants of the Earth, panic is not going to stop them from entering the pupal stage then hatching into giant blow flies. In fact, panic will probably help the flies since humans would be too busy blaming each other and freaking out to actually deal with the situation.

For this post, I am going to step away from the speculative future so that we may visit my recent past. The anecdote I'm about to tell is true. (I will keep the hyperbole to a minimum.)

Early in August 2014, my family met for a destination reunion. We went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

I live in Massachusetts near Boston. Because I am, as my uncle likes to point out, "an independent woman" I decided to drive down to the reunion on my own.

I left on Thursday, drove for several hours, and stopped over night at a friends' house in Maryland. The first leg of the trip took about three hours longer than expected because of an accident in Rye, NY that had traffic backed up into Connecticut. I was in no hurry and was grateful that I had not been involved in the fatal collision.

After spending the night, I ran a few errands with my pal and had breakfast at a Cracker Barrel. The restaurant chain is pretty scarce up here, so it felt like I was eating in a less corporate environment than I really was. I headed out for the rest of my journey around 12:30 or 1:00 PM.

For six hours I happily drove along listening to an audiobook, Bearing an Hourglass by Piers Anthony, and taking the occasional restroom break. In my normal day-to-day life I don't eat fast-food.  I was on vacation, so I happily at at chains that are not near my MA home. (Arby's mostly. I have been known to get excited, scream, "ARBY'S!" and then pull across a four lane highway to get to one of the roast beef sandwich establishments. I cannot explain this irrational behavior.)

At about 7:30 PM I spoke to the aforementioned uncle for the first time during the trip. He was concerned that I was driving alone. Actually, I believe the word I want is incredulous. He asked me no fewer than three times who was with me even though I had quite clearly annunciated my answer. We chatted for a few minutes (I was using a hands-free device) and after some cajoling I agreed to call him every hour on the half hour for the rest of my trip.

I was slated to make three calls.

Despite my irritation at needing to check-in every hour, I did. I made the calls partly because his concern was sweet. But mostly I made them because I didn't want to listen to any hoohaw about how I didn't make the calls.

I don't know what the name of the street I was on when I made the last call. I didn't care. I was easily within ten miles of the hotel and tired. I was beyond dog tired but had not yet hit dead tired. I had recently stopped to fuel up my vehicle, a Subaru Forester, and pee. I also grabbed some unhealthy puffed corn and cheese snack as well as an iced green tea with Ginseng.

As I cruised down the road - a four lane highway with a median that had a metal barrier - I drove passed the street I wanted. I pulled into a parking lot just passed it and sat for a moment. I was pissed at myself for having let my attention flag. I missed my turn and had added even more time to the trip because I couldn't just bang a you-y: I would have to drive Lord knows how far while my GPS re-calibrated.

But as I sat there berating myself, I noticed a cut-through from the parking lot I was in to the street I was supposed to have turned down. I did not have to add time to my trip! Could simply use the cut-through and go the way I had intended to go in the first place.

Pleased, I put the car into first and pulled forward. In the center of the path was a large puddle. I stared at it for a moment. In the dark with the muddy water, I couldn't tell how deep the puddle was or what hid below the surface. The last thing I wanted to was damage my undercarriage on a giant rock because I was in a hurry.

I decided to pull to the right, up a small hill, and go around the puddle.

I switched my left foot from the floor to the clutch and the right from the brake to the gas and headed up the hill. I was going slowly. I want to say I wasn't going more than five miles per hour. But I was tired and impatient so I was probably going faster than that.

At any rate I was going fast enough that I was halfway up the incline by the time I realized that the using cut-through was a colossal error. The puddle was not a puddle: it was a gully filled will still water.

I stomped on my brakes and sat there breathing heavily as the car started to inch down the hill and tilt to the left. I turned the wheel hard to the right and stepped on the gas. The car moved, but in the wrong direction. I slid further toward the gully. The car pitched more to the left.

I looked out my window and hardly had to look down to see the puddle. I put the car in reverse, adjusted my feet, and stalled the car.

I slid more.
Not me! (From ABC News)

The front passengers' side tire came up off the ground.

I leaned to my right. I didn't think shifting my body weight would actually help, but it certainly wouldn't hurt. I looked over my shoulder and out the window. I stared at the water. Its surface rippled.

My imagination, the bitch she is, conjured up an image of me hanging upside-down from my seat belt, eyes wide open and blood shot. My mouth was agape. My skin was bloated. My hair was covered in mud and plastered to the side of my face.

My fear started to spiral. I was deaf to all noise except for my heart beat. Panic started to set in.

I dragged my eyes away from the water. I looked at the time on the clock. It wasn't even quarter to eleven. I refused to look back at the dark ripples. I knew if I did, I would lose what little control I still had.

For a few seconds, I took several breaths, as deeply as I could manage, and fought the urge to scream every time my car shifted. I focused on the clock. I started at the digital numbers and forced myself to think more clearly. I probably repeated a mantra ("Everything is fine. Nothing is wrong.") over an over as I am want to do in near death situations.

I depressed the clutch and started the car. Very carefully, I turned the wheel. (Because I started to panic, I had neglected to adjust the wheel the first time I tried to reverse. Had I not stalled the vehicle, I would have driven backward directly into the gully.) I gave it some gas and backed out to safety.

I sat shaking and fighting tears for a few minutes. I took a lot of deep breaths, decided that I was getting a bottle of whisky as soon as I could*, and headed back onto the highway following the re-calculated GPS.

I got to the hotel and met up with my uncles about five minutes later.

I was keyed up from adrenaline and was hiding the aftermath of my adventure abysmally. When asked if I was okay, I said that the Ginseng in my drink makes me hyper.

(This is true: I sometimes react badly when I drink Ginseng or take the caplets. Unless I have to stay up and move for about 20 hours, I stay away from the stuff.)

The next day, in the light, I checked out the driver's side of my car. Both tires were covered in dried mud. The wheel wells were caked with the stuff. I took a few photos so that if I start to doubt my memory, I have proof that not panicking saved my life. I also have proof that I should just follow the stupid GPS if I miss a turn.

I am convinced that had I panicked, I would have flipped my car and drowned suspended from my seatbelt. (Also, I have never appreciated All Wheel Drive as much as I did when I felt the front right tire come up off of the ground.)

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*I got the whisky the next day and only had two drinks out of it the whole rest of the weekend.

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