Thursday, August 2, 2012

My first car accident

When I wrote a status update on Facebook recently saying "If you need to contact me, address any mail to the 210 freeway, because that's where I live now. A commuter's life for me," I didn't think that just over a week later I'd be standing on the side of that same freeway asking myself whether it was appropriate or not to write another status update about getting in an accident on the 210.

When I made a final check on the traffic before deciding whether to connect from the 57 freeway to the 60 or the 210, and chose the 210 because of its more reliable strings of slow rather than "stop-and-go" traffic, I didn't think that I'd be caught in the kind of crash that turns the mild traffic into something more terrible.

The truth is I didn't think of a lot of things when it came to driving. At 18 years old, I decided it was high time I get my license so I could start applying to internships and jobs that weren't within walking distance from my house.

I took the written exam after spending 24 hours reading the California Drivers Handbook. I passed the first time. I took the driving test after spending less time behind the wheel than might have actually benefitted me and made me worthy of a license. I passed the second time.

But in those preparatory experiences, not once does anyone (even the handbook) tell you how to react when you are forced to make a move under the pressure of a giant hunk of metal on four rubber wheels slamming into you.

Yeah, that might have come in handy.

When I pulled over to the freeway's shoulder (after the accident occurred in which a car swerved and hit me from my right  - denting my passenger fender and door into submission), my first thought was "I have no idea what to do right now." Having seen almost nothing of the collision as it was taking place, only reacting and considering the circumstances in retrospect, I was feeling vulnerable. I trusted no one. No one except the person I call for everything.

So I grabbed my phone from the cup holder next to my seat and dialed the number I knew would bring clarity to the situation.

Thank God my dad picked up.

For most people this kind of situation can conjure up one of two responses. One, the person freaks out and can't get ahold of their nerves in the heat of the moment. Two, the person is calm and knows how to deal with a collision on a freeway, managing to get all the nuts and bolts of the situation figured out without unnecessary frustration or anxiety.

Because I managed to get my dad on the phone, I was thankfully one of the latter group for the most part.

As I dealt with the person who had caused the accident, I took asides to call my dad and be sure that every step that I made was the right one. He ended up calling my tow truck, picking me up just off the freeway on a bench outside a Chili's and he was one of a few people (including my grandma, who was of help to me later in the day as I tried to get my mind off the shock of the whole situation) who put the idea of getting into an auto accident into perspective.

Everything was fine as long as I was okay. That's what my dad told me when we got home and I ran over to him and hugged him, expressing my thanks for his aid during my (as I put it) "infantile" handling of the first accident I'd ever been involved in on the road.

Up until I'd heard his comforting words, though, it had been hard to accept what I had mistakingly believed was far from inevitable.

The Doctor is a sad boy right now. But he'll feel better soon.
I don't think anyone anticipates their first car crash. For the past two months I've driven on the freeway for around four hours a day (take a moment to process that - nearly four full hours in a car for five days a week) and not once have I felt as though I nearly escaped an accident. Sure, there have been close calls. That's bound to happen with fluctuating speeds during rush hour. But I've never once thought that I would be the one standing at the side of the road with a tow truck coming to pick up The Doctor (that's the name of my car).

In fact, I've often looked at the people standing at the side of the freeway with disdain and ill regard. How dare they screw up my commute by clogging up the emergency lane on the freeway? Why do I have to get home 30 minutes later because some idiot doesn't know how to drive?

I had no idea, did I? Or at least no empathy. And all this disapproval for the wrong people too.

If I was complaining of the rubberneckers who use a car accident on a freeway as an excuse for roadside entertainment, then that is some excuse. But I have often harbored privately negative thoughts about the people in the crashes themselves.

I think I always thought I was better than them.

It wasn't the teenage infallibility misconception as much as a belief that somehow I was exempt from the mishaps of freeways simply by being a good driver. In just a few months I've learned to control my car better than many people I've had the pleasure of playing passenger to. It's given me a false sense of confidence and a false sense of pride too.

Now when I look to those people on the side of the road - that is, assuming I spend many more hours on the freeway, which will be a difficult task considering how spooked I feel about driving now - I feel that my lacking empathy will be replaced by a sympathetic outlook - a reinspiration of that feeling of love and compassion that was extended to me by my dad and my grandma (and my family and friends as well) when they reminded me that all that matters is that I got home and that I'm safe.

Once you've been in an accident, you know that the blame game isn't worth the time or energy.
What really matters is that we take care of each other, respect each other and remind ourselves that there's someone waiting at home for each and every one of us. By being angry at someone for making my traffic more problematic, I'm purposely disregarding the humane part of me that wants to extend my heart out to the people who went through what I did today.

As bad as "living" on a freeway is, being stuck on one because your car has been smushed is no consolation. It's no just desserts. It's no reason to be looked down upon or rubbernecked at.

So the lessons have been learned. And hopefully this is the only kick in the head that I'll have for as long as I'm behind the wheel. For now I'll just wait for The Doctor to go through surgery. And hopefully gain the courage to get back on the road again.

1 comment:

  1. I must commend you for staying calm and focused when that incident happened. You were right to have called someone you trust. Aside from this, keep in mind to stay just where the accident happened. Never move your vehicle, not until the police says so. Let proper officials handle the situation.

    -Vesta @ Zalkin