Stuff Happens

Friday, 21 January 2011. Coming home from Dallas last night, I was headed south on Dallas Parkway approaching LBJ to go west. All of a sudden the road split in a Y before me, and I had to choose whether to veer left or right. No streetlight stood to illuminate my choices. Reflective lane markers receded in both directions, but between the two marked paths was a car-width space of darkness.

The road to the right seemed to deviate from my southwardly intent. So I veered left, but not left enough as it turned out. With no chance to change direction, my headlights suddenly revealed that I was headed straight into the six-inch tall curb of a traffic triangle. My low-riding two-seater was likely as surprised as I was, but it valiantly jumped the curb on all fours. The car came to rest on a pad of dirt covered with winter-beaten grass. Fortunately, it was a rather large traffic triangle and no larger obstructions had risen to block my surprising path. But I knew it would be a miracle if I hadn’t blown at least one tire.

Turning on the emergency signals, I got out of the car into 20-degree darkness. Still glowing, the left front turn signal light dangled by its connecting wire. As I walked around the car, I was surprised to see that the tires still looked to be inflated. When I tested each one with my hand, they all seemed to be fully expanded. But I couldn’t be certain about the left front tire because of the brushy grass it nestled in.

Now, the question was, How do I get off of this mesa without causing more damage? I started to drive forward hoping to see some break in the curb. But I stopped, sensing that it was probably fruitless and could do more harm to the car. I could picture me maneuvering back and forth all over the triangle to test each boundary, like a mouse in a maze. Realizing that I was going to have to get off the curbed surface the same way I ended up there, the question became, Is it best to try for a 90-degree angle so the car’s clearance height stays level as the tires disembark in pairs? Or go at an angle, one tire at a time?

I decided that the perpendicular approach would, at the least, horribly drag the front underside of the car, or worse—dredge the pavement in a nosedive, leaving me firmly half on and half off. Yep, that’s about when my car would stop being a good sport about this whole mess. The only option was one tire at a time. But which front tire should lead? The left tire didn’t seem like the best choice, if it was indeed flat. Unsure of the answer, but already committed to proceed to the left, I angled the left front wheel toward the edge to ease it over. As the left bumper and side undercarriage dragged across the curb, the sound was hardly pleasing. Now rolling with all four tires on the pavement, it didn’t feel right. Surprise! The steering wheel was cocked to the left even when driving straight.

I was further chagrined to find that my original choice of direction at the Y only took me for a U-turn to head back north. My choice was wrong and stupid! Damn that non-existent streetlight that would have “made all the difference” in the first place. Slowly I coaxed the car into the first parking lot I came to and parked. When I got out to inspect the tires this time, the left front was flattened on its rim and I noticed the wheel well lining was dislodged at the bottom. Thank God for AAA. My membership is one expense I will not forego even when unemployed. And thank God I had my rental-business/emergency-only cell phone with me.

AAA dispatched roadside assistance to my location, ETA 45 minutes. I would pick the coldest night of the year to be sitting outside in my car. But not knowing how long I’d actually have to wait, I didn’t want to run the engine, use the $3.00/gallon gas, just to have heat. Besides, I deserved to suffer for my bad choice! The driver arrived with 17 minutes to spare. He retrieved the small spare from the car’s trunk, inflated it, changed the tire, and I was on my way. My only option was to continue north on the access road to make another U-turn toward the south. This, of course, led right back to the scene of the accident and again, I had to make a choice. Guess which direction I chose this time.

You could say that as far as choosing the correct road home, I got a second chance. As to how much damage my first choice inflicted on my car, I’ll let you know. It’s most likely my car that suffered the most.

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