[Author's Note: This segment is part of a larger work-in-progress entitled I'M DEAD...WHAT CAN I SAY. It is intended to be humorous. Hopefully, despite the mayhem, that is true of this and the larger piece.]
LOOK...GREMLINS CAN FLY!
I am in a car. My car. Alone. Driving southbound well within the permissible 65 (plus ten) speed limit set by the State of New York. I am in the center lane but remember moving left to pass a somewhat sluggish, seriously seasoned driver who doesn’t belong behind the wheel let alone behind the wheel in my center lane. You know the type: gray and wizened, bespectacled turtle-head stretched forward over the steering wheel, over two skeletal hands permanently fused to the wheel at ten and two. His whole body moves left and right whenever he turns the wheel. My speedometer clocks him at no more, and probably less, than 70 mph.
I do everything I am supposed to do. Signal a turn. Check my mirror and glance over my left shoulder. Ease into the leftmost lane – the passing lane – and start moving forward. I am pressing firmly on the accelerator – sixty-five plus ten doesn’t apply when passing sluggish octogenarians or over-sized vehicles (like mobile homes and cranes) – when a late model SUV, a really big, gas guzzling tank with heavily tinted windows, comes barreling out of one of those discreet, semi-concealed, patently sneaky turnarounds frequented by troopers who disagree with the plus ten rule...
(You would think they’d teach basic rules of the road at the Academy but that really has nothing to do with my current situation…)
The SUV skid-turns into the southbound passing lane, kicking up a good deal of dust and gravel and heads north at something like 65 mph plus twenty, plus ten or some other mathematical exponent I’ve never really understood. He is going warp factor whatever and he is heading straight towards a head-on with me. Our headlights are mere seconds from French kissing on the interstate. The logical maneuver is to glide gracefully back into the center lane and let Mad Max pass on my driver’s side but I haven’t quite finished passing grandpa; that lane is blocked. My only move is a sudden merge onto the shoulder…
Don’t get ahead of yourself. Or me. I do not end up in a head-on collision with a man who, I believe,was attempting suicide by proxy. That would have been too easy. Instead, I manage to pull my cute, completely restored, vintage AMC Gremlin, powered by reclaimed, reformulated, environmentally friendly French fry oil, onto the shoulder at a healthy seventy-five plus mph. As you can imagine, I am pressing the pedal pretty good – my Gremlin isn’t happy; she isn’t/wasn’t known for sudden bursts of speed – but I manage to totally miss the SUV. I actually feel Betsy shutter as it flies past…but I fly forward nonetheless. It is a NASCAR miracle. And then – just as immediately – I feel my poor Gremlin pull to the left and dip slightly in the same direction. I cannot stop my merge. The shoulder at this particular stretch of the Northway is narrow and I lose asphalt under two tires. My car bounces like a Baptist imbued with the spirit or a half-crazed hooker on an overbooked booze cruise and continues furiously to the left. Before I can react, my car is sliding/skidding/careening towards the wire barrier that protects out of control drivers – me – from perilous drops off occasionally steep embankments.
Wire rope guardrails are designed to stretch a little bit, grab the car and, over a long enough stretch, force the vehicle to stop. Passengers tend to walk away from this type of accident even if the poor
vehicle looks like warm cheese forced through an angry cheese grater. The wires tear into the exterior panels; I expect long metallic strips to be rudely wrenched from the Gremlin but I also expect to be able to bemoan the loss of a faithful friend on my own two feet. I remember believing this completely until I notice incredibly bad luck or what has to be a really sick celestial gotcha – given the series of events I have already survived.
The steel cable, wire guard rails that extend southward for miles and miles literally disappear directly in front of me. Apparently, there was a previous car/truck accident and approximately 97 feet of guard rail was destroyed – flattened – at the exact spot where I need a safety net most. A gaping, uninviting, terrifyingly hungry, monstrous maw opens in front of me at a point where all the trees and rocks disappear and a normally pleasant, albeit steep, embankment begins. You could have put a giant “X” on it; that is where I am heading. My steering wheel and the brake seem intent on jumping through that hole. Despite all my weight on the brake pedal – I slow to a measly 47 mph but can’t rewrite the laws of physics (with apologies to James Doohan) – my Gremlin takes flight. We jump off the road and over the embankment with all four wheels in the air. I find myself spinning the steering wheel and working the pedals like Fred McMurray in the Absent-Minded Professor or Dick Van Dyke in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
(I should add, in hindsight, that I was proud of myself – extremely proud – under the circumstances. I tried to drive my way out of my predicament and I performed brilliantly. I even signaled a turn but I would have been proud if I managed to do all this without (1) screaming at a pitch that would make a bat’s ears bleed or (2) pissing myself. It did neither.)
Two wheels touch down first, both on my side, and the car immediately begins to cartwheel, side over side…
(Let me jump in and say that I am fanatical about seat belt use. Mine is attached and working perfectly. It locks when it is supposed to lock and holds me firmly against the seatback.)
…I turn in the air once…twice…three times before landing with a jarring but somewhat satisfying thud. The experience is not unlike riding one of those steel roller coasters at the amusement park. I land – believe it or not – on all four wheels, stopping in the center of the northbound passing lane. I have just enough time to shout “Sweet Jeezus, Mary & Johseph!” – and maybe issue a well-deserved phew! – before looking up into the grill of an eighteen-wheeler hauling a double-load of the Adirondack's finest hardwood. That poor bastard is in my latest/last lane of travel but I can’t blame him; he got there, undoubted by trying to pass his own sluggish, octogenarian road hog. It just never occured to him to watch out for flying Gremlins.
Anyone waiting/expecting/praying for a little good karma should remember karma’s a pustulating whore.
The last word of any consequence is Peterbilt. In my case it is Peterkilt.
I cannot tell you if the airbag deployed.