I noticed a black car swerve and barely recover. Saw the wild spurt of dust. Heard the awful bang. Ran out to find the white van on its side on my grass, wheels still spinning.
So next was to venture over, dreading what might be inside. Lucky for me, the black car did a U turn, sped back and disgorged a young man who ran bravely up to the van window. Shortly after, two more cars screeched to halt, one with a woman who was an emergency room nurse. As I gingerly approached, the young man talked away to someone inside the van. To the immense relief of all, a woman eventually stood up inside the sideways vehicle, her head emerging from the smashed driver’s side window. Apparently unhurt, she wanted to find her phone to call her day care. Her next thought, which came with a grin probably induced by shock, was the photo she could now send to her boss proving why she wouldn’t drive to work in the morning.
The nurse advised her not to try to climb out the window so we all stood there until the village fire trucks roared up along with the ambulance from town and eventually a police car. Children’s toys, coffee cups, papers and assorted other debris spilled from the lower window, also broken. The fire department, all togged up in firefighting gear, ran a hose over, standard procedure in case of fire or explosion. They popped open the rear of the van, again pulling out a child’s bike and another cascade of family clutter before the woman was able to crawl out, shaken, but luckily all in one piece. Her seat belt saved her from being thrown out and splatted by centrifugal force. I cringed at how close she must have come to hitting the black car on the road head on and what a mess that would have been. Right in front of my window.
Her next most urgent desire was to have a smoke.
This driver, like all the others, claimed, with wide-eyed wonder, that “the car just went out of control” before sheepishly confessing how fast she had really been going. She adds herself to the parade of accidents, skids, near misses and rollovers that happen in this exact spot. Last month I drove home to discover a car enmeshed in my pasture fence and a woman standing looking at the damage in stunned confusion. She took out four steel posts, mangled the page wire and turned her car into a write off. Of course her car, all by itself, perversely “went out of control” landing her in my domain. The pasture was full of cattle and required three steel gates to fill the gap until I could wrestle with her insurance company into paying for fence repairs. The lady had been on cruise control, above the speed limit.
Others have gone before her. A teenage new driver took out my fence anchor posts, another car flattened my mailbox, yet another ended up deep in the ditch to be pulled out by a friendly passing pickup truck. All my culverts have their ends smashed in from cars skidding off the road. My poor ornamental pine got flattened and now leans drunkenly in a determined effort to keep growing. A stunted oak in front of the barn sports a large healed scar from a vehicle collision. That fellow irately demanded why a damn fool tree was growing there anyway, despite all the empty space around it he couldn’t seem to find. The fence has been knocked down by a little red car that rolled right over it into the field, leaving a trail of broken glass that had to be painstaking picked up before the cattle could swallow any.
Nowadays, with the advent of 911 into the country, police, fire and ambulance can be summoned in a moment. Previously, someone would knock on the door asking if they could call their parents and they were really going to get it because it was their mother’s car they were driving. Other times, if the car was driveable, parties just backed themselves out onto the road again and sped off leaving bits of chrome, metal, headlight splinters and more fence damage as their only trace. And this is not counting all the times I hear the crunch of gravel and see the cloud of dust telling me someone veered off the pavement and had a close call. Once, a long time ago, a small truck rolled in the yard at night and the passenger (no seat belt) was thrown out was killed. Luckily, no one has been hurt very much since then but at any moment I fear that story could change.
Not to mention that I walk across that spot every day to get the mail or hike the fields.
My corner is not a bad corner or in any way remarkable. It is a fairly gentle curve with wide shallow edges and better visibility than dozens of other corners on rural roads. So why can’t folks keep their foot off the accelerator when heading into it? Probably its the long straight stretch just before, tempting the speedsters. I get to know them, sort of. Like the adrenaline junkie on the motorbike I called the Green Hornet who you could literally hear coming a mile away. There’s a gray Subaru that flashes past early in the morning, making my stomach crunch until it makes it safely out of my neck of the woods. There are even dump trucks that thunder and shudder as tough guy drivers boost them into racing mode.
Sooner or later, someone else is bound to over correct at the curve or get caught in the gravel and spin round out of control once again. I tell myself that any corner on any road probably has its own history of skids and mishaps. I just have a front row seat at mine. Half a mile down the road the brush is still broken from where someone went over the escarpment, all the way to the bottom. A mile up the road, on a far worse curve, a cross on a burnt tree marks the grim end of someone who hit black ice. One of my earliest childhood memories is of seeing the breadman’s trunk being hauled up from the precipice just beyond that curve. I don’t think the breadman made it.
However, I have noticed a new development along our roads, the appearance of vivid lime green on black signs announcing “High Collision Intersection”. It’s time to call the county engineer and agitate for one of those on my very own speed strip.
If anyone pays attention to signs.