Posted by: dougery | February 19, 2009

Blackest Ice

This morning I just couldnt stop. I’ve been driving all winter, on roads far worse than these. I’ve spent my entire adult life driving on snow and ice. There have a been a few close-calls, sure, when you’ve driven as many miles in inclement weather as I have there are going to be some close-calls, but it wasn’t until this morning that I just couldn’t stop. A little before 8:00am I ran the Jeep into the back of a tiny little Honda on the corner of Dorchester and 57th Street in Hyde Park. I’ve never felt so helpless or powerless to stop what was coming.

Hyde Park has notoriously poorly maintained streets. They are rarely plowed, never salted, and generally a mess. Which was why I was surprised this morning when they looked quite good after some snow fell last evening after it rained all afternoon. Which is not to say I was being careless or driving too fast. No, it’s still winter and it’s still Hyde Park. I was trudging along from block to block, pausing at each intersection’s stop signs, nothing seemed to be a problem. Then about 4 car lengths behind this little Honda that had already stopped at the next sign, I just couldn’t stop.

I was on a field of black ice. I let go of the brake as soon as I saw it was doing nothing, which is to say immediately. A fraction of a second. I then tapped it twice more, but it seemed to have locked. With the Jeep getting closer and closer and time slowing way down I reached that tipping point moment when I knew… I knew that there was going to be a collision. And I stupidly tried one final thing, to turn out of the way. It was instinctual, an act that my hands performed of their own accord, and by far the scariest part of the event. Because I actually turned toward the oncoming traffic, which fortunately there was none, not that I had a chance of veering far enough over to miss the Honda.

So the Jeep collided with the Honda at an angle, which pretty much made the left side of the Honda’s bump explode. I was going perhaps 6 or 7 MPH at this point, sliding along, and that was all it took. “These things are designed to explode like that” I’m told. “Their failure is exactly what protects the inner parts. The more things in the way to fail between you and the other cars around you the safer you are.” Whatever. It simultaneously looked terrible and surprisingly minor. His bumper blew up and there was a slight deformation in the trunk, which could still open properly. The Jeep was practically untouched. I lost a fog-light.

After this I abruptly pulled backwards to the curb. I got out, as did the 3 passengers of the Honda, all Chinese graduate students. Everyone was fine, although I think I asked them this a dozen times. It’s like I was in shock, and all I could think about was making sure nobody was hurt. 2 of them couldn’t speak English, but one could and I convinced him to move his car back from the stop sign to the curb. Being absolutely clueless as to how to proceed I called 911. I made it clear this wasn’t an emergency and that everyone was fine. The police weren’t needed and wouldn’t be dispatched, evidently there were HUNDREDS of accidents all over Chicago, and trust me when I say I was one of the lucky ones. I was told to exchange information, which I did.

The entire time we stood there during this exchange, every single car that approached the stop sign either ended up skidding right over into the intersection, we’re talking 20 or 30 feet farther than they intended, or if they were lucky enough stop, had their wheels spin furiously around in a futile attempt to move forward once more.

The most surreal thing happened next. The part where I got behind the wheel and drove again. Drove a whole block and a half and parked in front of the Medici Bakery as I would have any morning and ran in and got some OJ and a croissant. My fingers were still petrified from writing down numbers in the 14 degree weather. I had my phone in my hand, and I wanted desperately to call my wife for the second time in as many minutes, but then I saw that stupid ‘no cell-phones’ sign and put it back into my pocket and ordered.

I still can’t believe it happened. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to me. I’m THE safest most cautious driver in the world. And all that wasn’t going to make a lick of difference on this morning.

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