I’m alive. My car is not on fire. My airbag did not deploy. The seat belt is tight. Someone rear-ended the car just seconds before as I was driving in the middle lane. I somehow managed to not hit or be hit by anyone as my car went spinning off the road.
This was my commute home from Lowell last night on 495 South, just before the Route 117 exit in Bolton. I was driving in the middle lane, behind a car that was going the speed limit. I’ve been driving this route five nights a week since starting my job at the Lowell Sun in April, buffeted by 18-wheelers, delayed by road construction, blinded by the occasional flashing police cruiser lights. I’ve been cosseted by four years of work-from-home editing and I hate highway driving, but I’ve gotten used to it.
“Did you see the car that hit you?” the State Police dispatcher asks after I’ve managed to find my purse on the floor, iPhone inside. I dialed 911 with shaky fingers. I don’t know exactly where I am but I know 911 gets me State Police.
The female dispatcher is calm. She asks me to keep my headlights on and turn off the car. There are other cars pulled over across the highway, I can see from the reflection of the headlights. She reassures me there’s a state trooper on the way and she’ll stay on the line until he gets there. She asks if I saw what hit me.
I have no idea, I say. I was kind of busy trying to get control of the car.
I drive on highways with the reporter’s whistling-past-the-graveyard conviction that a current or former co-worker will be writing my obituary. I notice each and every roadside cross, marking the scene of a fatal accident. There are unmarked places on 495 and 290 that I tick off in my head as crash scenes. There’s the place where the guy committed suicide by speeding up and slamming into the back of a parked 18-wheeler on the side of 290, the accident where I got blood on my pretty new shoes and had to toss them. The curve onto 495 where trucks tip — once a beer truck and a chip truck, just days apart, and the state troopers joked they’d like some dip and salsa the next day.
If I crash within the MetroWest Daily News’ circulation area, I imagine my friend Julia Spitz will write a teary column. It will be heartfelt and moving, because that’s how July writes. People will tell her how sad it was that I lost my CentralMassNews.com websites but I was so happy in my new job, Someone will say I died doing what I loved best.
Bullshit. I hate commuting on the highway. It’s the one time where the destination, not the journey, is my happy place.
The state trooper’s name is Hall, I see on the name tag. He comes to me with a flashlight and marvels that I landed upright, without rolling the car or hitting a tree, facing in the opposite direction from traffic, My unknown friends across the highway are leaving, satisfied that they aren’t going to be pulling me out of a burning car. Trooper Hall asks me if the car is drivable and helps me pull into the incredibly narrow breakdown lane on the left-hand side of the highway.
I’m panicked that this is going to turn into a story where a state trooper is hit by a passing driver. We look at my car. The muffler was torn off in the underbrush. The front tire is blown. The rear is bashed in and streaked with white. There is a hole in the middle of the GraftonTimes.com bumper sticker that goes straight through the bumper.
The driver is nowhere in sight. I’m a hit-and-run.
I’ve been in three car accidents in my life. They were all in the same car, my 2004 Honda Civic. The first was just weeks after we bought it, when a teenager with a new driver’s license took a wide turn and hit the corner of my car at a Grafton Common stop sign. He never apologized. Neither did his mom. The second was in December 2007, when an unexpected snowstorm prompted Grafton to call off school early. I was driving home from my job in Milford at a steady speed of 5 miles per hour when my brakes failed to work on the snow and I slid under the truck in front of me. The front of the car was crumpled, but fixable.
We bought the car knowing that we could easily drive a Honda into the ground without any major issues. We figured it would go to our son in 2014, just in time for his senior year of high school.
I don’t see that happening now. I should have expected it. As anyone in a newsroom will tell you, bad things always happen in threes.
The tow truck driver comes just as Trooper Hall hears they’ve found the car abandoned in a parking lot in Bolton. Some Good Samaritans tailed the car and called in the license plate and car description. He can’t get me in the tow truck fast enough, because he wants this guy. He hates hit-and-run drivers. We’re betting the guy was drunk.
My tow truck driver chats with the dispatcher, who is listening to a police scanner. We know exactly when they catch the guy. He drops me off at a Cumberland Farms in Hudson, close to the highway and easy to find for my husband. He hands me the bags out of the front seat, laughs when he gets to the Nashoba Winery bottle.
“I think you’re going to need to open this when he gets home,” he says.
Right before my husband arrives, Trooper Hall calls. They got him, he says. The guy wasn’t drunk, like we speculated. He wasn’t a young kid. He’s an engineer who lives in New Hampshire, who apparently doesn’t have car insurance. He claims I was going too slow.
But that’s not why he crashed into me. He was eating a salad, got distracted, and slammed into my car.
He was eating a salad. A SALAD. Who the hell eats a salad while speeding down the middle of 495? There are so many questions. Leafy greens? Homegrown tomatoes? Did the dripping dressing distract him from the business of keeping his eyes on the road while driving a moving object?
I have no car and owe it all to a salad. Is that the most Jenn-like car accident ever?