Day 24 – Don’t Worry, I’m Not Hurt

After my nighttime escape from New York, I slept at a rest stop in Western Connecticut.

My plan was for a rather leisurely Saturday after a very long Friday. I would pass through Connecticut and Rhode Island—which account for a fairly short drive—and actually get a hotel room in southern Massachusetts in the early afternoon. I would then spend the rest of the day getting caught up on my website.

Oh, and I would get my backlog of film developed. During that hour, I could also get my oil changed.

A pretty simple task, I thought. It didn’t cross my mind that it would be any problem at all.

I didn’t drive very far before I saw a CVS pharmacy, and pulled in to take advantage of their 1-hour photo.

“You want these back by Monday?” the clerk asked, as she filled out my order.

“No, I want to use the 1-hour service,” I replied.

She stopped filling it out. “We don’t have anyone here today who can do that. But we can get it done first thing on Monday.”

I frowned. “Well, I won’t be here on Monday. I don’t live around here, and I really only planned to be in town for an hour.”

She helpfully gave me directions to the next closest CVS, which was about 5 miles away—but in the opposite direction of where I was traveling. Luckily, she was also able to tell me about a Wal-Mart that was just a few blocks away.

I went in to the Wal-Mart, and waited in line at the counter.

When the worker finally got to me, he informed me that their machine was broken. He cheerfully offered their one-week service.

Frustrated, I drove back the 5 or 6 miles to the other CVS. I had a hard time remembering the directions, but finally found it. I walked up to the counter and was greeted by a cheerful young woman.

“Please tell me that your 1-hour photo machine is working, and that you have someone here today who can run it.”

“Sure,” she said brightly. “Do you want singles or doubles?”

“Singles,” I replied, “and I want the photos on a CD as well.”

“Oh, our CD machine is broken,” she said with a frown. “But we could develop your photos, and you could bring the negatives back next week to get a CD made.”

“I’m afraid I won’t be here past today, and I really need the CD more than I need the prints.”

“Well, you could try the Rite Aid down the street. They have 1-hour photo.”

“Really? Thanks. Where is the Rite Aid, exactly?”

She gave me directions, which took me even farther away from my end destination. Still, as I pulled up to the Rite Aid and saw the 1-hour photo sign, I was glad there was at least one place that could do the job today.

“Sorry, we don’t do 1-hour photo anymore,” the manager said, waving at the area where I assume the photo machine used to sit. “It’s a company-wide thing—it’s that way at all Rite Aid stores.”

“Ah. Well, you might think about changing the sign outside that says ‘1-hour photo.’”

As I tried to find my way back to the main road and ended up getting lost, I felt more than a bit frustrated. I had now spent about an hour and a half trying to get my photos developed, and my film still sat undisturbed in its rolls.

I temporarily abandoned my plans for taking the scenic route along the coastline, and got back on the interstate to quickly get to the next city.

Thirty minutes later, I pulled into another CVS, and was finally told that they could get the prints and CDs out in an hour. I dropped the film off and went next door to the oil change place.

If you have the choice, don’t get your oil changed in the Northeast. They charged about $20 more—almost twice as much—as what it would have cost me in Texas or Oklahoma.

I returned to the CVS an hour later, and found that they still had two of the three rolls of film left to go.

“You can leave and come back…” the clerk suggested.

“Well, I don’t really have anywhere to go. So, if it’s the same to you, I’ll just hang around here.”

About 15 minutes later, I had my photos and CDs and was on my way. Over 3 hours spent on a simple 1-hour photo request.

Later, I checked the CDs and found that the digital prints were grainy—so much so that they were unusable.

With that chore supposedly taken care of, I got back on the coastal Highway 1.

It was no more than 30 minutes later that I got into the accident.

Someone up ahead on the two-lane highway stopped unexpectedly. The Isuzu SUV in front of me slammed on its brakes to keep from hitting the stopped car, and I slammed on my brakes to keep from hitting the Isuzu.

Over the next second or two, it did occur to my brain that I was not going to get stopped in time. But I barely had time to register that thought before I hit the back end of the Isuzu.

I have thought quite a bit, since then, about whether there was something I could have done differently to prevent the wreck. There probably is. Certainly, if I had quicker reflexes, I could have avoided it somehow. But, my reflexes are not that fast.

As it is, my reflexes did cause me to swerve left in an attempt to miss the car, which means only my passenger-side front corner hit their driver-side rear corner. It still created a pretty big smash.

I was instantly deflated. 21 years of accident-free driving*, down the drain.

The driver of the Isuzu and myself both got out to check the damage. He had lost a taillight, had a bent tailpipe, and a couple of small dents. My damage was much worse.

Well, we need to at least get out of the road, we both decided. We drove forward to the first driveway we came to, and pulled up into a parking lot between a closed shop and a house.

The driver of the Isuzu was a man somewhere around my own age. I was very apologetic, but he didn’t mind at all. He understood that it was something that just happens at times.

Nobody was hurt at all. His wife or girlfriend stepped out of the passenger side, talking on her cell phone. I overheard her ask the man something about whether “he” was all right. The man replied that “he” was fine, and was even still asleep. I didn’t quite understand this exchange, until they opened up the back door and pulled out their infant son.

Oh no. Oh no oh no.

Everyone was completely, 100% fine. But I couldn’t even think about the alternative, or what could have happened. I can hardly even mention the possibility now. But that is the one thing that I don’t think I can handle. Even in an accident, if someone were to die—I wonder if that might be the end of me.

As it was, the other driver and I got down to business in taking care of insurance issues. Neither of us had any idea what to do. But, he called his insurance company, so I pulled out my insurance card to find the number for mine.

By the way, a little hitchhiker’s guide to car insurance: he got through to Geico immediately. I stayed on hold with Allstate for 10 minutes, at which point I was disconnected. Another call and 10 more minutes on hold were required for me to get in touch with a real person.

After 30 or 40 minutes, we seemed to have things under control. I helped him bend the tailpipe away from his back tire. I assured him that my pickup was drivable, or at least that I could figure out a way to get it somewhere.

After they drove off, I did a quick diagnostic check. I wasn’t able to open the bent hood, but everything seemed to run fine, and there were no unusual leaks. My main concern was the way the bumper was bent back toward the front passenger-side tire.

I tried turning the wheel to the left. No good. The tire rubbed hard against the bumper. I tried to the right. No problems in that direction.

So, I can drive straight or to the right, but I can’t turn even the slightest bit left. This should be fun.

I knocked on the door of the house nearby, and asked the owner if they knew of any body shops around. She told me of a service station about a mile down the road that might work. Luckily, it was to the right.

I started down the road, which wasn’t completely straight. Every small correction to the left caused a loud scraping noise from the right front tire.

I finally saw the service station—on the left-hand side of the road, at an intersection. I turned right at the intersection and made a U-turn to the right, which means I was driving on the wrong side of the road. After passing through the intersection, I turned right into a driveway across from the station, and backed straight across the road to the garage.

The gas station was open, but the garage was closed. The clerk pointed out that it was Veteran’s Day. Oh, that’s right, I thought. Not only is it a Saturday, it is a national holiday. And the next day would be a Sunday.

Well, I can’t just sit here at a country gas station for two days. I had to find some place that was open, or some way to at least bend the bumper out so I could drive it.

I asked a man who was airing up his tires if he knew of any place that might be open. He did not, and neither did the next man I asked. However, he walked over to take a look at the damage, and asked why I didn’t just take the bumper off completely.

Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. That’s a genius idea.

I only had one wrench that would fit the 8 or 10 bolts, so the helpful stranger opened up his trunk and produced a large toolbox. He worked beside me as we started taking bolts loose. However, we only got a couple off before we ran into one that we couldn’t reach. The bend in the bumper had covered up access to the bolt.

The helpful man, whose name was George, told me about an Ace Hardware back up the road about 2 miles. Perhaps there I could get a chain or come-along, tie it to a strong tree, and use the pickup’s own power to pull the bumper back out. Sounded like a plan.

I again limped the pickup down the road, and walked into the hardware store. When I told an employee about my predicament, he first directed me to the crowbars. I picked up a hefty 3-foot-long version—the same thing I had used in New Orleans to tear out old walls. Well, this might just work, I thought. And it is cheaper than any chain or cable I could buy.

After going through the check-out line, I went outside and found a way to get leverage against the frame. A couple of minutes later, I had created an inch or two of space between the tire and the bumper; enough to allow me to turn freely.

All right. I’ll make it through this after all.

I tried again to open the unlatched hood, and this time was able to get it up. Nothing seemed to be out of place. I slammed it shut again. Uh-oh. Now it won’t latch. And the headlight and turn signal on that side were hanging free.

I went back into the store and emerged a minute later with a roll of duct tape.**

After taping down the lights and hood, I stood back to admire my work. It wasn’t pretty, but I had successfully made the vehicle road-worthy using a $12 crowbar and 50 cents worth of duct tape from a $5 roll.

I eat problems for breakfast.

All of that put me a few hours behind where I had planned to be. I decided to get on the road and get the heck out of Connecticut. It was a pretty state, but it had given me nothing but bad luck. I didn’t want to spend the night in that state.

On the way out, I passed through the town of Mystic, Connecticut. I noticed a sign for Mystic Pizza. Wait, isn’t that a movie? I pulled into the parking lot and would have stopped there to eat, but it was so full that there was nowhere nearby to park. The city was having some kind of Veteran’s Day celebration, and the whole town was crowded.

I drove on, through the entire state of Rhode Island (it didn’t take too long), and stopped for the night in Taunton, Massachusetts.

It was much later than I had hoped for, and I hadn’t been able to stop much along the way. But I was glad to simply get the day over with, and have a fresh start in the morning.

*Yes, I have been driving in some form or fashion since I was 5 years old. I didn’t operate any heavy machinery until I hit double digits, though.

**I’ve long said that duct tape fixes everything. Now I realize that duct tape and a crowbar really can fix everything.

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