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“Secret Sex, A Book Alive Online,” written and lived by John Scott G.
Chapter 31 – “Cheating Death in Cars, 2”
“Dad, can I borrow your car?” That was the start of my second Brush With Death By Automobile.
My own car was in the shop for routine maintenance, which should have been no problem except that I suddenly needed to see a client or attend a press conference or something that now seems completely insignificant. Someone would have to give me a ride or I needed to borrow someone’s car.
My mom was out of town and my dad was on deadline for writing one of his articles about computing. Since he couldn’t take time to drive me, I asked him for the loan of his wheels. I was looking forward to driving my dad’s car because it was a nifty little four-cylinder pocket rocket. Except for the rocket part. Because, you know, he was a practical guy and so he didn’t get the souped-up version.
But still, his ride was nimble and full of pep. Plus, it had just been in for its forty-thousand-mile tune-up, so it was supposedly in tip top shape. The operative word in that sentence is “supposedly.”
My dad said “Sure” to my request and handed over the keys. He viewed me as trustworthy despite all the trouble I had caused in school. And, in fact, I actually was pretty responsible when it came to family members and people for whom I had respect. To prove what a trustworthy guy I was, whenever I borrowed his car, I didn’t change any of the presets on his car’s stereo.
Zoomin’ Down the Road
The trouble started after I had completed my errand and was on the way back to return the car. Traveling along the freeway at the not unreasonable speed of 60 mph, I moved over to the far right-hand lane to take the appropriate exit. I removed my foot from the accelerator. The idea was to reduce speed down to about 55 mph at the start of the off-ramp, then down to 45 for the center part and then 20 for the turn at the bottom. None of these things happened.
A gentle touch on the brake pedal had no effect. I pressed harder. Nothing. I pumped it. Still nothing. I was zooming onto the exit ramp at full freeway speed. The car in front of me was slowing properly and I was racing up to collide with it. I practically stood on the brake pedal. Nada. So I reached down between the bucket seats, clamped one hand on the emergency/parking brake handle, and pulled.
Allow me to say that I firmly believe that emergency/parking brake cables should be attached to wheels on both sides of an automobile. In this case, however, the cable was only connected to one of the wheels. The braking pressure thus slowed down the right side of the car more than the left side, causing the vehicle to turn to the right. Wait, did I say “turn” to the right? Spin. Spin to the right. Twirl, even.
As with many parts of the Los Angeles freeway system, there was a nice little sloping curb all along the edges of the exit ramp, quite useful if you needed to pull over onto the shoulder to stop and change a tire. But in my case, that smooth little incline served as a launching pad. The car had already spun 360 degrees when it was propelled upward by the curb.
Wheeeee! It got suddenly smooth and quiet. No more friction of tires on the road meant no more noise of tires on the road. It also meant no more mundane concerns about being amidst the traffic on the road, and no more vibration from touching the road surface. For I was flying.
Looking back on these few seconds of flight, it seems to me that I would have thought something like: “Gosh, it sure is peaceful floating gently through the earth’s atmosphere! Which gets me to wondering why the world’s technology firms and automobile manufacturing companies aren’t providing us with those air-cushioned vehicles we used to see in ‘The Jetsons’ or in the Loony Tunes adventures where Bugs Bunny met up with Marvin the Martian.”
I did think that as a kid; I did think that at the time of the accident; and I do think that today. But that was not going through my mind at that precise moment. What was going through my mind was something closer to “HolyfuckingshitIamgoingtodiereallysoonfromrightnow!”
After the first adrenaline rush came a heart-moves-up-into-the-throat sort of feeling. If you’ve ever found yourself suddenly sailing over the embankment of a freeway you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. To this day, I still can recall the WHUMP-liftoff sensation of being catapulted into the air above the side of the Ventura Freeway.
Next, the sudden silence was broken by an interesting combination of sounds. There was a convincing thud followed instantly by a crackling and splintering and metallic shrieking as the car took some signs that were trying to tell me that Canoga Park, West Hills, and Chatsworth were a few miles to the North while Woodland Hills was less than a mile away to the South.
I don’t know if you’ve ever examined the signage that the Department of Transportation erects alongside the freeways. They are impressive in an efficiently utilitarian sort of way. I got to see a couple of them very close-up. First, they were several feet away. Then they were several inches away. Then they were right up against the driver-side door window, temporarily blocking my view of anything in that direction.
You know, those signs are larger than you might expect because they are meant to be easily readable from a distance of many yards by people moving past them at a high rate of speed. The posts and the placards themselves are very sturdy because they are meant to remain standing twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for years, in all seasons, in all weather conditions. But none of that mattered; the car sheared the signs from their posts in the way you might rip a paper towel off a roll.
The signs and the upper parts of the posts retaliated by attempting to wrap themselves around the car, completely exploding the door windows, the windshield, and the back windscreen. Fragments of safety glass caromed everywhere, bouncing off the dashboard, the seats, the steering console, the roof, the floor, and me.
Let me pause for a second to reflect on this quaint little scene. Please just hold on to the image of me in my dad’s formerly nice but now-horribly-battered car, floating above the embankment next to the freeway.
Many years before this little flying incident, someone had very thoughtfully planted quite a lot of vegetation near the bottom of the off-ramp. I’m certain that as they did so, they thought to themselves, “This delicate sapling will flourish here in the temperate Southern California climate and grow into a mighty tree which will act as a kind of safety net for John Scott as his car comes spinning and looping and gyrating down from the sky.”
Which is kind of what happened. Moving in a beautiful sweeping curve, the car hit the tree trunk with a convincing crunch, after which the car got caught up in the tree’s branches and my progress was fully stopped, about fifteen or twenty feet off the ground. We just hung there a moment, me and the creaking car. “Whoa,” I thought to myself. “This is weird up here. But kind of peaceful and calm.”
I could look down at the traffic in the nearby street. A few drivers glanced up at me but most were oblivious. After all, why would they expect to see anything unusual by the side of the freeway? I mean dangling in a tree by the side of the freeway. “How will I get down from here?” I wondered. At which point the branches broke and the both of us, me and the car, were deposited on the ground in a cloud of dust.
A gentle breeze wafted through the vehicle from one gaping opening to another. I realized that my hands were clenched, one on the brake handle, the other on the steering wheel. Slowly, I let go and tentatively moved my arms. There was a curious crackling and grinding sound. “Could that be me?” I thought. Pieces of glass were everywhere. With each movement, the shards of glass were rubbing and scraping against each other.
Very slowly, I got out of the car. Not through the driver’s side door because it was bolted shut with a piece of signpost that penetrated the car body and was acting kind of like a gigantic safety-pin. And not through the passenger side door because it was pushed in so far that it had nearly ripped the passenger seat in half. No, I crawled out what used to be a window.
Once again, I was walking away from an automobile accident. Wait, I thought. I went back to the remains of the car and removed the key from the ignition. Force of habit. Yeah, I know. Silly. No one was going to try stealing that car. Although this time, there was more scrap metal left over than in my first smash-up. While there is no proof of it, to this day I am absolutely certain someone was able to use the remains from that smoking hulk to make at least three or possibly four medium-sized mailboxes or perhaps even a small rack to hold bowling balls down at the Paradise Lanes.
As for me, well, fortunately, I knew the name of a very good physical therapy center.
If you’re keeping track, my nine lives have so far been used up thusly: (1) encephalitis; (2) radiation emission and water contamination from the nuclear reactors; (3) arrow to the head; (4) first car crash; (5) second car crash. Yup, just four lives to go.
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“Secret Sex, A Book Alive Online,” written and lived by John Scott G, is Copr. © 2011-2012 by JSG, all rights reserved under U.S. and international copyright conventions. Commercial use in any form is forbidden without express written permission of the author. Originally published on eNewsChannels.com with permission. Credits: Book cover design: Phil Hatten.