March 9, 2012

Holy cow! My casual carpool accident report, part 1

Posted in uncategorized tagged at 9:55 am by Marise Phillips

I’m a casual carpooler. A regular rider and occasional driver. I find it fascinating, a real home-grown approach to problem solving. The Oakland Bay Bridge can take over an hour to cross, and the toll costs $6 during rush hour. But if you have three or more people in your car, you can zip through the carpool lane and only pay $2.50. It used to be free, but a new carpool toll went into effect in July 2010.


Interestingly, there is still lively debate over whether riders should contribute to the toll. Some drivers post a sign or ask for a dollar from each rider. Sometimes riders are considerate enough to offer without being asked. Personally, after offering a bunch of times and being turned down repeatedly, I now only pay when asked and never expect payment when I drive. To me, it’s a win-win already — no need to muddy the waters by being chintzy. But that’s just the way I see it. The message boards are full of dissenting opinions.


So this morning, when a shiny new black Nissan Altima pulls up, I’m second in line. This means I’m stuck with the front passenger seat, sitting next to our driver, a ginger-haired, mustachioed man in his early 50s. He looks a lot like the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Probably not the best sign.


Regardless, male or female, mustachioed or clean-shaven, I shy away from drivers, so the front seat’s never my first choice; I prefer the relative comfort and solitude of the back. I’m guessing the majority of riders share my opinion on this. I have certainly long forsaken the practice of yelling “shotgun!” which was big back in high school. Ah, the days before I added misanthropy to my general life approach.


Anyway! Back to this morning in the black Altima. The three of us exchange good mornings, remark on the sunny but chilly weather, and get on to the real business of ignoring each other for the rest of the ride. A few minutes later, about a mile into the commute, we’re on the freeway and my attention is completely focused on my cell phone. I’m either writing an email or reading my feeds.  I may even have two phones out in order to do both simultaneously.


All of a sudden, the driver shouts, “OH SHITTTTT!!” at the top of his lungs, slams on the brakes, and rams into the car in front of us — at a rather alarming speed. I’d guess 25? 30 MPH? The freeway was crowded but the traffic was moving along at a good pace. Not the best time to be changing lanes while following too closely.


I scream as my head hits the ceiling and I am jerked back into place by my seat belt. I feel like crying, I am so startled and upset. The airbags do not deploy. I am still gripping my phone(s). The hood of the car is seriously crumpled and an odd chemical smell escapes from the right side. I realize that I am going to be very late for work, because the car is in bad shape, and the driver will clearly have some ‘splainin’ to do.


Once I realize that no one appears to be hurt, I snap into giddy mode, thinking, “Oh boy, I can’t wait to tell EVERYONE about this!” Blame it on the endorphins or shock or something. I start writing messages to my workmates entitled “You’re never going to believe where *I* am!”


All the while, Mr. Cray-Cray at the wheel is shouting and swearing and pummeling his dashboard, ostensibly incensed at the driver of the car he just hit. (Or perhaps at himself, on some level. He’s no youngster, so he must know by now that if you rear end a car, there’s a 99% chance that you were following too closely. Just a thought.)


Plus, (though I may be reading into things too much here), I’m thinking maybe he should have claimed the 5th, instead of screaming at the top of his lungs, “Not AGAIN! I can’t believe this is happening again! FUCK!”


Yes, my friends, THESE were the first coherent, more or less non-profanity-laden sentences to fly out of his mouth, post-impact. Just a teense implicating. As to his accident-prone-ness-icity.


So let me get this straight, Mr. Ginger Principal Mustache Man. Either this is not your first accident in your brand new car, or perhaps it’s just not your first idiotic move with casual carpool riders who are trusting you with their lives. Would’ve been nice to know this before I got in.


At any rate, it takes him a full couple of minutes after all of this went down, to remember there are other people in his car and perhaps it might be good to inquire as to their health.