I’m Sorry About Your Lamppost

I have many loves in my life. I love God, I love my family, I love the woods, I love books, I love the way spring always makes me feel like I might explode with happiness, I love my dog, I love my car and I love bread and cheese. Of all these loves, my car and my family seem to be the ones most prone to accident and damage. I could write for days about my family’s mishaps. However, I’m sure this title has already informed you as to which of these loves I speak.

It was cold. About 23 degrees and windy. The roads were fairly good for the most part. However, there is one particular road in the township that I was ignorant of yesterday around 9 o’clock and with which I became intimately acquainted by around 10 o’clock that same night. Beverly Hills Road. Emphasis on Hills.

The wind was drifting snow across the road and whipping it up until it danced across the hood of my car. I flipped my wipers on and slowed down. I knew it was coming. I had driven up this hill not 4 hours ago. I crested the hill and tapped my brakes. As I started down I kept a steady tapping up, seeing the red glow in my mirror, on – off – on – off.

No good. I knew I was going too fast. I pressed my foot down feeling something in my chest like a premonition.

Yup. I locked up. I slid. The road was steep and curved dangerously ahead. Off to the right was a drop down a hill, a fence, a telephone pole, a house, nothing good. With panic mounting I looked to the left. I had a split second to see a fluffy-looking bank and an adorable lamp shaped into a slender toadstool. So cute. So much better. I jerked my wheel to the left.

I don’t think its correct to say that it felt anti-climatic. I had been so terrified before and it felt like my car had only hit an actual toadstool, not a five-foot metal look-alike. So plush and cushy was my landing. I stopped moving. I sat still for a moment with my stomach sinking.

When I called my mom I felt ridiculous saying I had gone off the road. My window faced up to the crest of the hill and I noticed the dim glow of headlights. The car came slowly but instantly started the same sickening slide. Great.

The car did something I had been unable to do. It stopped. Not in a bank.

A lady got out and almost fell immediately. I got out of my car as well and when I did I saw that I had done more to this person’s bank than I had thought. Dirt was churned up, glass from the lamp was sprinkled around and the lamp base jutted up right where I stepped.

“Are you ok?” The woman called.

“I’m fine!” My voice came out a little more pathetically than I intended.

“You sure?” She came closer and peered at my car. “Oooh.”

“Yeah.”

“This road is terrible, I slid too.” She comforted me.

“I know.”

“Is someone coming for you?”

“I called my mom.” I realized at that moment that the faint sound I had been hearing was my mother calling to me over my car’s Bluetooth. Apparently, I was still calling my mom. I had forgotten. “I’m going to go up and tell these people that I hit their lamp.”

“Ok.” She looked up the long drive towards the house. “Well I’ll stay here until you have. They might be creeps.”

I might have laughed but it was much too cold and my despair at telling strangers of my assault on their landscaping was too acute. “Thank you.” was all I said.

I went and finished my call up with my mother, painfully aware that the lady was still standing, shivering on the frozen road, waiting for me to talk to the potential ‘creeps.’

I trudged up their drive. I looked for a path leading to their front door, but all I could see were vague footprints. I sighed woefully. I started through the snow. I knocked, hearing the television. There were voices, then silence. It felt suddenly like church visitation. I stood awkwardly then knocked again.

“There’s someone at the door!” I heard someone whisper. Muffled footsteps and then a short elderly lady opened the door. She was clutching a blanket to her chest.

Why me? I averted my eyes from her fully clothed person and started my tale of woe.

“You better come in.” She said after a few moments of my apologetic recitation.

“I can give you my information.” I said.

“Sure.” She was very disgruntled.

“Who is it?” An equally short, elderly man appeared.

“She hit our light.”

He harrumphed. Then began a rant which made me shrink a bit until I realized that the anger was directed not at me, but at the state. This was a state road and this happened every winter. They had called the township but they couldn’t do anything, or wouldn’t, which was heavily implied with much frustration.

I scribbled every pertinent thing about me that I could think of and started out again.

“Do you want to stay in here until your parents come?”

I thought of the poor lady shivering in the cold and refused. They showed me out a side door and as I started down the drive I saw that the situation had worsened. Another car was sliding down and another was spinning their tires coming up.

“This road is horrible!” The lady I had left in the road yelled.

“What?” the elderly lady standing at the door yelled back.

“The road is terrible she says!” I relayed.

“I’m calling the police!” the elderly lady crowed back.

“She’s calling the police!” I shouted to the lady who nodded and started towards the car spinning its way up. I slid back down to my car and then realized the lady at the top had stopped. I went to her.

“This road is very bad. I wouldn’t try coming down.” I said after she had rolled down her window.

“I’ll try to turn around.” she said.

She did. Very successfully. The other car squealed its way up, inch by inch, until it crested the hill and left. I stared after them, envying their happy endings.

“I told them, they were very nice and I gave them my information.” I said to the first lady who had stopped.

“Ok, are you sure you’re ok?”

“I’m sure.”

“Ok.”

“Thank you very much.”

“No problem.” she said and headed back up to where her car idled.

I shouldn’t have been so envious of the ease with which she left. I sat back in my car and stared at my steering wheel. A truck with four-wheel drive passed me. It felt like an insult.

The next car was not so lucky. She slid to a stop a car’s-width behind me. She tried to reverse. No luck. This particular lady seemed to handle her situation with less grace than everyone else. That is to say that she became hysterical.

Down the drive came the elderly couple who owned the house. She had a blanket, he had a shovel and kitty litter. She gave me the blanket and stood outside my window, which I kept rolled down.

We both watched as the elderly man spread litter around the lady’s tires and started to coach her on backing up.

“So just easy-does-it on the gas and try to back up the hill.” he said.

“Ok!” She trilled, her eyes a touch frantic.

Shrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

“Easy-does-it!” The man yelled. More kitty litter.

“George!” his wife called, “Out of the road, George! You’re going to be hit!”

His response was a dismissive wave. I got out of my car and wrapped my arms around myself. It was so cold.

“Silly man.” she commented to me. I think that was the moment that I became a chum and not the girl that had pulled them away from their favorite tv program. George was loving the action, she was loving the action, I even started loving the action a little.

Headlights down the road started their worrisome glow. She and I watched mutely as a ford SUV approached. My worry disappeared as I recognized someone who knew what he was doing. The SUV pulled through both our cars and parked at the top of the hill.

Out stepped a shadowy hulk of a man. He stepped into the light of our collective four-ways and I saw that he was actually quite young, perhaps early twenties, with the blue eyes and blonde hair of the Arian race. Everything about this guy shouted Dutch farm boy.

The German, as I came to refer to him in my mind, was missing three fingers on his left hand. He had an open, steady gaze and he instantly was in charge. Even George deferred without hesitation.

He came and looked at my car and then stood next to ‘Dear’ as George called his wife.

“Alright, try again.” George was again talking to the lady in her car. I noticed her passenger for the first time, a heavy lady who was clutching a large bag protectively. Odd.

She eased her gas this time and her tires started to turn.

“I’m sliding! I’m sliding!” she yowled.

“You’re not! You’re not sliding!” George yelled back.

“Yes I am!” She screamed, “I can feel it!”

“George, get out of the road!” Dear tried again. Even less of a response.

I heard the truck before I saw it. The German looked up the hill and I felt the familiar sink in my gut.

Dear saw all of her fears realized in that moment. The truck was going too fast. He saw us too late. I saw his break lights blaze but that was the only indication that he was trying to slow. His speed did not decrease in the slightest. He started going sideways.

Dear lunged. “George!!”

George just stared. The lady in the car started screaming.

The driver realized that he couldn’t stop it. Our only hope was the opening between our cars. But it was so narrow and there was George. The driver released the brakes. Dear grabbed me and started pulling me up the drive, away from my car. The German stepped forward. George threw himself over the hood.

We stared as he whizzed through and then slammed his brakes past our cars. His brake lights illuminated the road, marking his descent. Somehow he slid down the entire road.

The lady in the car cursed him.

“He tried to stop.” I said.

“He did.” The German agreed.

The lady subsided. Dear must have been scared into silence; she didn’t comment. The passenger in the lady’s car decided she would be safer out of the car. She hobbled around the car, still clutching that bag.

As she slipped towards us, she seemed very angry. I braced for a different kind of impact.

“My dog is going to freeze!” She crowed.

I realized with a start that the head of a very shaken chihuahua was sticking out of the large bag.

Dear was still speechless for a moment. “Uh, well, you can keep him inside.” She spoke finally.

“Well-” the lady joined us and turned back towards the spectacle. “I want to see what happens.”

The German stepped forward. “Do you want me to drive your car?” he asked the lady in the car.

She crumpled. “Yes.” she said piteously.

The German got in.

Another rumble from above. Not again. The truck stopped at the crest and turned on its four-ways. Out stepped another man. He shuffled down towards us.

His grey hair stuck out from under his ball cap and his grizzled beard brushed the collar of his coat. He presented a rather unkempt figure. He gave no explanation for his presence, much like the German, but unlike the German,  he projected no competence and in the end, offered no assistance beside that which he had already given. His four-ways. He struck a pose in the middle of the confusion and lit a cigarette. There he remained. He told me that he lived at the bottom of the road. He made many comments that all ignored and seemed to treat the situation like his personal entertainment for the night.

Meanwhile, the German waited while George spread more kitty litter up the driveway. He then just backed the car up and pulled into the driveway. Not without spinning out himself, but he never panicked and never seemed ruffled. He got out and went to my car next.

“Did you try to pull out?” he asked.

“No,” I answered, “after sliding like I did, I felt safer in the bank than on the road… especially after-” I gestured to the cars parked everywhere. “This.”

“Hmmm.” he nodded.

I felt like I was being judged.

“I started sliding the moment I crested the hill. It was either that-” I pointed across the road towards the telephone pole. “Or this.” I pointed to their lamp.

“You made the right decision.” Dear affirmed.

Thank you, Dear.

Police lights flashed down the road. The cruiser pulled up and the officer emerged. He walked up and stood behind my car. I was struck with the unpleasant realization that I knew this cop. But where? Had he pulled me over? Did I know him from the animal hospital?

He placed his hands on his hips, gun very prominent, obviously uncertain about where to start. He nodded to the collected rabble. When he looked at me his eyes narrowed. Obviously he knew me too. The difference being that I knew that it wasn’t a drug bust or jail. He didn’t. He continued to give me strange looks throughout the night.

“So what happened here?” The officer asked.

“I took out their lamp post.” I pointed to my poor, beached car.

The German snorted and then laughed behind me. The grizzled loafer automatically started laughing too. The officer seemed to relax and chuckled. He obviously was expecting a fight.

“Penndot will be here in over an hour.” He told everyone. There was moaning and I think the loafer rejoiced inwardly.

“They need to close this road now.” Dear asserted.

The officer shrugged.

“Should I wait?” I asked.

“Can you get out?” he asked.

“I haven’t tried.”

“Well, let’s try to get it in the driveway.” He said.

I climbed in and rolled down my window.

“Ok,” The officer leaned over and talked through the window at me. “You need to just ease out of here.”

I felt a twinge of fear, remembering my brakes locking, the helpless slide. I nodded. The German was watching and I secretly wished he would repeat his previous service and drive instead. The loafer crunched up in the snow and listened in.

“So nice-” The officer started.

“Niiiice.” the loafer parroted.

“And easy.” The officer finished.

“Eeeeeeasy.” the loafer nodded and tacked on his own advice for good measure. “Just tippy-tap-tap them brakes.”

I stared. As I looked at all the different characters around me, sans the lady with the chihuahua, who had retreated into the warm house, I realized that I was going to write this.

I shifted into reverse and slowly pressed on the gas. There were murmurs of approbation from all the men gathered around as I eased back over the lamppost. I felt a tad more confident. I eased further and pressed a bit harder. The murmurs were definitely in the negative as my wheels spun in the ditch.

“Oh!” The loafer threw up his hands, “You lost it! That’s just ice under your wheels now.”

The German walked up, his mouth tipping slightly. “Do you want me to drive?”

I might have been a little too eager. I jumped out and ushered him in. He tried it. He got a bit further but still wasn’t making much progress.

“Is there any way you can take traction control off?” He asked.

“There’s a button-” I leaned over and pointed to the shifter, “I don’t know what it does.”

He pushed it. Apparently it was helpful. He pulled into the driveway as George furiously scattered the last of the kitty litter in front of him.

We stood in a circle again. The group had started to feel a bit like a club. It was kind of nice, actually.

“Ok.” The police officer looked at me. “If you can get out of here, I would recommend it.”

“Ok.” I obviously did not project an awful lot of confidence.

They all exchanged glances and looked back at me.

The officer walked to the middle of the road and looked at the rumble strip. “Ok, if you can get to-” he pointed at it and we all stood staring at it.

“The rumble strip?” I offered.

“The rumble strip! If you can get to the rumble strip and drive up with one wheel on that,” he shrugged, “you might make it.”

My lack of confidence was excusable.

I looked around at all the faces. George smiled and gave me a nod. The German looked vaguely amused, as usual, and the loafer was staring, offering nothing, also as usual.”Ok.” I said. “I’ll do it.”

I climbed in and backed out until my left wheel hit the rumble strip. I braked and slid. I sent up a prayer. I stopped. They all got behind my car and started to push. Not the loafer, excuse me. They pushed me back up that hill and when I got up my velocity, I left them behind. I looked at them in my mirror, silhouetted against exhaust and the flashing lights.

It felt wrong, to just drive away without a goodbye. I stopped, willing to risk my not being able to start again and willing to risk their wrath. I got out and started walking back. George, the German and the police officer were in a line across the road. The German soared above them and the officer had his hands on his hips again.

“Thank you!”

“You’re welcome!” One of them shouted back.

“He has my information!” I pointed to George. He acknowledged it with a salute.

“Be safe!” The officer said.

“Thank you, I’ll try!” I gave a final wave and drove away. I heard a truck start as I went and saw that the loafer was rendering me the only service of the night. He followed me out of danger and then turned back with a flash of his lights. Back no doubt to the scene of so much personal amusement.

My car has a hole in the front but I discovered that the button I had the German press is, in fact, a decelerator… the image that pops up in my display is a car going down a steep hill. Too little, too late.

When it is warmer, I am going back and bringing George and Dear a plate of cookies. A thanks for the blankets, the adventure and especially their kindness.

 

 

 

 

 

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