Wasn’t that a red light?

Recently, a friend was in a freeway auto accident. Fortunately, she’s okay. Her car is totaled though. It got me thinking about all the close calls I’ve had. When you’ve toured for 24 years, most of it by car, there is bound to be mishaps. No humans or animals were hurt in the course of these stories. There’s a lot of bent metal and bruised egos though.

A few years ago I was driving across Ohio on I-80. Construction had closed one lane, slowing everyone down to an almost-stop. I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw a semi bearing down on my little truck. Heart racing, I glanced to the lane on my right; it was blocked off with orange cones. I considered jerking my steering wheel to the left and stomping on the gas because the car in that lane had just moved. I didn’t move quickly enough. I heard the screech of brakes as I braced myself for the crunch of metal but heard only the hiss of air brakes. The semi had come to a stop just inches from the car in the lane to the left of me.

Even after traffic started to move, I sat in my lane, stunned.  Jerked back to reality by the honking of a horn, I drove like a robot until I could pull off the road and stop. I dropped my head to the steering wheel, arms folded around me. I didn’t just cry, I sobbed.

Another time, on a busy LA freeway, I was doing what everyone else in five lanes was doing and trying not to get run over in the process. One lane over and about five car lengths ahead I watched in horror as a semi’s brake lights snapped on. The whole back of the truck rocked to the left, then to the right. Time slowed down as I planned where I would go when it toppled. Superman must’ve been driving the semi because that enormous truck rocked back to the middle, stayed there, and continued to zoom down the interstate. I wonder if he was tempted to pull over and cry.

A few years later, after playing a disappointing gig in the Midwest, I was gratefully heading back to comfortable housing in Chicago. My mouth watered as I thought of the thick sandwich I’d have in my hand as I sat with my feet up in front of a favorite TV show.

Sitting at a stoplight on Lakeshore Drive, however, a cab driver had other plans for me when he slammed into the SUV four cars back. It started a chain reaction that ended with the tailgate of my little truck mashed into a V. I was so pissed I jumped out of my truck in the middle of traffic, left the door hanging open and stomped back to look at the damage. A cop who’d been directing traffic at the intersection pointed at my purse on the seat and admonished, “Lady, this is Chicago!” I dutifully got back in my truck and pulled off to the side.

The cop turned out to be a youngster who was part of a volunteer force that only directed traffic. “Since you can all drive your vehicles” he soberly informed us “You’ll have to drive to the police station. I can’t call someone to come out here.” Two of us were from out of town. We were given vague directions. Construction had closed one of the streets. After driving in circles, I found expensive parking and walked into the station.

The other drivers were there but no cabbie. Fortunately, one of them had noted his license, called from the station lobby and angrily informed the dispatcher about their inept and cowardly driver. It was a good hour before the cabbie strolled in, a glassy look in his eyes. His hands shook as he picked up the pen to fill in the forms.  I found out later that the cab company had let their insurance lapse. No wonder, given the fine gentleman they’d hired to drive one of their cars.

I had a gig in a small bar in the Southwest a few years ago. The woman who offered me housing rode with me in my truck. She clutched the dashboard every time I pressed the brake; she warned me about every danger until I was close to pulling over and making her ride in the back.

I stopped at a light. I didn’t expect another one just a short block beyond. I cruised through the intersection going about 20 mph and t-boned a truck going the other way. In a shaky voice my passenger thoughtfully pointed out, “I think that was a red light.”

I felt about two feet tall as I jumped out of the truck and ran over to the guy I hit. “Are you okay?” I asked. He nodded yes but didn’t say anything. We pulled out of the intersection while someone called the police. After a couple of minutes, the guy ambled over to me and said “I’m sorry I was short with you.” Huh? Dude, I ran into you! We talked more while waiting for the cops. He’d just made the last payment on his truck the day before. Just make me disappear, Universe.

There was only a tiny dent above one of his wheels but it might have bent the axle so he was towed away. My little pickup had a smashed front grill, a buckled hood and a missing headlight. “Are you still going to the bar?” my nervous companion asked. “Sure” I answered confidently, like I was some master mechanic who could just look at my truck and know it wouldn’t be crawling sideways to the gig. Besides, I’m a touring musician! I’d like to see a mail carrier continue her route after that.

I jumped behind the wheel, started it up and drove slowly to the gig. The truck didn’t rattle, grind or overheat so I figured it was okay. I shouldn’t have bothered. I’ve had better gigs. Maybe I was too distracted by my poor mangled truck parked just outside.

I had a tour to finish with little spare time or money. I cautiously drove during the day and bummed rides for my gigs at night. The truck was fixed after I got home.

My next truck will have a special sensor for uninsured drunken cab drivers. And a cattle prod for me so I won’t miss any more lights.

******************

That’s my friend’s car in the photo above. Thank god for air bags.

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About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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3 Responses to Wasn’t that a red light?

  1. Sandy Andina says:

    Close call: last Feb. en route from Chicago to a FARM Bd. meeting in Montpelier, OH, sleet was falling on the car but not the road–but alighting on all the trees and encasing them in ice. White-knuckled it to Montpelier, had the meeting and went to sleep. Awoke the next morning to 10″ of fresh snow–and we had a house concert in Upper Sandusky that night. Gingerly set out again, over just-plowed county roads; and when we reached the interstate we counted SEVEN semi-trailers lying off the shoulders in various states of disaster–overturned, accordioned and/or jackknifed. Turns out the road had turned to a snow-shrouded sheet of ice e. of the IN/OH state line overnight, and the accidents happened before the sun rose, the road thawed and the plows came through.

    Not so lucky: en route from Chicago-Memphis for Folk Alliance 2010, we had planned to overnight way downstate in Mt. Vernon, IL and reserved our rooms. Clear weather was predicted. Got a bit of a late start, and stopped for dinner along I-57 in Champaign. Went outside to find freezing rain falling and icy slush covering the windows of my singing partner Steve’s little Pontiac Vibe. I’d had a glass of wine with dinner so Steve took the wheel. About 10 miles south, the winds kicked up, the drizzle began anew and the car began to fishtail. Steve expertly steered out of it. Suddenly the road turned unbelievably slick, and to our horror we were spinning out–3, 4 full revolutions. We found ourselves flying off the right shoulder, down an embankment, and through a barbed-wire fence–coming to rest in a cornfield in a foot of snow. We looked at each other, asked simultaneously “You OK?” and then after a brief pause I said, “If we don’t get a song out of this we’re in the wrong business.” Walked outside to assess the damage–just a few scratches but the fence was much the worse for wear. Called the insurance company, which notified the State Police. Called the motel to cancel and were told snippily that we’d still have to pay because we notified them too late. I argued that we had no idea 24 hours in advance we’d find ourselves crashed in a cornfield 2 hrs. north, and the clerk said she’d check with her manager and let us know in the morning. A good Samaritan in a pickup came by to try to tow us up the embankment on to the shoulder, but its chain was too short–it’d have gotten stuck in the ditch itself. Police came by, saw we were okay and didn’t issue a citation or warning. As we waited, we counted 12 plow trucks salting and plowing like mad, only to have their work obliterated by the fierce crosswinds.Tow truck finally came and hauled us back on to the shoulder, and the driver admonished us “Go slow and hole up for the night first chance you get.” (As if we needed to be told). Crept along to Mattoon (another 12 mi. south, considerably north of where we needed to be, scored a couple of rooms at a branch of the same hotel chain and slept like the corpses we might very well have become had traffic not been so light. In the morning, got confirmation of a refund for the Mt. Vernon rooms, and came up with an angry, sarcastic parody ending with “Shove it up your Winter Wonderland.”

    Next evening we arrived in Memphis too late to take advantage of Mardi Gras on Beale St. So we sat in the conference hotel’s bar, nursing a couple of Sam Adamses. Related our adventure to Orlando singer-songwriter Doug Spears, who sat down next to us. He replied dryly, “Where I come from, people pay good money for a ride like that!”

  2. jamiebobamie says:

    Yikes! Don’t do that again. 🙂

  3. I once T-boned a police cruiser in North Dakota. Technically I had the right of way because I was turning left with a green arrow and he didn’t clear the intersection but still… how do I miss lights AND sirens? I was probably jamming out to some old skool women’s music in my little Ford truck. We were both fine and I wasn’t cited, I just hope whatever call he was headed to turned out okay.

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