In the right lane. Doing the speed limit. There is heavy traffic all around. It's full-on dark, and there are shiny lights. Suddenly, an SUV is crashing into the driver's side door, going about 70 mph. Bernie is behind the wheel. He doesn't swerve us into the guardrail, but we are over the rumble strip. The SUV makes contact bumps us. Then it proceeds to careen on past the front of our car. The SUV slides down the guardrail, scrapping along for about 35 feet before coming to a stop.
Cars, trucks and semis hurl on by. We are nowhere near our own home. It is hard for Bernie and me to comprehend quickly enough what has just happened to us. We've been hit. We might be sitting in a totaled car. We were on our way to a hotel to spend the night before driving on the next day to visit friends in NH for Christmas. We are somewhere in PA, and it's around 8 pm. So much traffic is racing by us in the dark. Now what?!
Bernie and I snap out of shock in about the same moment. I say. "I think that guy must be drunk." Bernie says, "Call the police." I dial 911. Bernie takes a photo of the guy's license plate. Slowly then more quickly, the SUV comes off the guardrail and accelerates back into the fast-moving traffic. Bernie is enraged, high on adrenaline, focused. He pulls promptly in behind the SUV. He flashes our lights, sounds the horn. I've got the police on the phone. I get too rattled when the police ask where we are because I wouldn't know the answer without reading the mile marker, and I am more concerned with whether we should be chasing this erratic drunk or not. Just as I see a mile marker, Bernie takes the phone from me and starts talking with the police dispatcher. The SUV takes the next exit, and we follow off behind, Bernie driving and talking with the police.
The SUV comes to a halt at the stop sign at the end of the exit ramp. A roundish fellow, mid-60s, pops out the driver's side door. He is trotting towards Bernie's door. He doesn't look mad or drunk by the way he is trotting over. "You guys OK? I didn't hit you, did I?" What! "Oh yes, you did!" we both say in unison. Bernie explains to the guy that he's got the police on the phone and that they already have his tag number. He tells the guy we need to go somewhere to exchange insurance information. The guy says, "OK," and hops back in his car.
We wind our way to a Holiday Inn Express parking lot. When Bernie goes to open his door and step out, I am surprised the door will open. I've imagined it totally caved in. I've also been surprised that the front tire has not felt warped or flat. I get out too and prepare myself to look at the damage to our car. Again, I think of how far we are from home and our Christmas plan destination. Neither of us has ever been to this part of PA. Now we are here in the dark with our damaged car.
The police tell Bernie they are sending an officer over and hang up. The SUV's driver's name is John. He's a friendly guy. He tells us he was sneezing, and the next thing he knew, he was riding the guardrail. He thought we had pulled over behind him to make sure he was OK.
Bernie and I are so rattled. We are in disbelief. That this has happened when we were minding our own business and driving along carefully. That we are both fine seems a miracle. That it could have been so much worse. We realize that just a little more swerve and our lives could have been over or greatly changed for the worse forever. We look at the side of John's SUV. It is wearing a nice full-length impression of the guardrail. We look at the driver's side of our car. There is no visible damage. We look again and again in disbelief. The mirror is folded in toward the window. It is folded in but not damaged, folded in by an SUV going 70 mph. We can only guess that the contact was made by the SUV's tire hitting ours. This is what steroidal good luck looks like.
We are elated. We can proceed with our plans, with our lives. We feel so lucky. We are two that have been fed a reminder of just how quickly the ride can come to a halt. Precious and tenuous that's, how life is.
John says he was sneezing. I want to believe that he was but, it's as likely he was distracted by his cell phone. On our two-week vacation of traveling from our farm to Tryon and Oriental, NC and then to NH, Bernie and I saw so many cars swerving all over the road. We saw a flipped-over car in the bushes on a dry back road near Tyron. The police had just arrived, and the driver was crawling out the window. We saw several more fender benders. We saw a car hit a big deer that had passed in front of our car. Exploded the deer's back end and tore the bumper off the car. We saw a semi flipped on its side. We tooted at several trucks and cars wandering into our lane. We even called in a tag number of a guy entering the highway, texting on his cell phone and swerving all over the rumble strip. We watched the glow of cell phones on the laps of many drivers as we passed.
It's surely a nation addicted to their phones. Highway announcements are pleading for drivers to turn off their phones while driving. Nobody believes that the problem or the addiction is theirs. That's the nature of addiction.
Life is what all of us are gamboling with when we choose to use our phones when driving. It may or may not be your own life that you gambol; perhaps it might be mine or a deer's or that of a nice man riding across the country with his mules. Look up. Keep your eyes on the road. Show you care about the preciousness of all our lives. Don't use your phone behind the wheel. PLEASE!