Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Crash Boom Bang

Sing to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme song. (For those of you under 40, Gilligan’s Island was a show about a bunch of people who could have easily gotten off an island if they had just killed and eaten Bob Denver. I assume you can YouTube the theme song.)

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
a tale of a fateful trip,
that started from a snowy town,
and ended in a ditch.

The driver was a mighty steering man,
his wife worried and unsure,
three passengers in the back,
for a six-hour tour.
A six-hour tour.

The weather started getting rough,
but the Suburban was going straight,
if not for the driver of the sliding Nissan,
we might have made it out of the state.
Made it out of the state.

The Suburban landed in a ditch,
on an uncharted stretch of road,
with Ron the tow guy,
Tow Truck Chuck, too,
the state trooper and his car.
Now the passengers,
the driver and his wife
are all at the Shilo Inn.

Yes, we started the New Year with a bang. Well, first an expletive, then a bang, then a ricochet, then a crunch, followed by eight more simultaneous bangs as all the airbags in our Suburban deployed. Good times.

I’ve always been comfortable driving in the snow. I was born and raised near the Sierras, one of the biggest, baddest mountain ranges known to man. I understand what chains and four-wheel-drive can and can’t do for me. I actually kind of like driving in the snow.

So when it started snowing heavily on our way from Grants Pass, Oregon to Crescent City, California on Monday afternoon, I didn’t sweat it. I just put the Suburban in 4WD, slowed down, increased my following distance, and powered through the curves. My wife was not as relaxed. She’s the smart one.

I think it was the first car that was upside down on the side of the road that made her worry. And when I say upside down, I mean literally sitting on its roof in the ditch.

How? Why? What the hell is the matter with you people?

Oh, well. Some people just can’t drive.

Hey, look. There’s a pickup truck UPSIDE DOWN in the ditch.

Hmm... two cars sitting on their roofs within a mile of each other.

Now, for some people, that might have been a warning. Not me, though. I just shrugged and said, “They were probably just going too fast.”

My only precautionary thought on the whole drive was, “I wish this was a divided highway. I know I’m not going to screw up, but what about the oncoming traffic.”

Dennis, who used to drive a black four-door Nissan sedan, was on his way home at the same time we were on our way to Crescent City. Unfortunately for us, Dennis was one of the cars in our oncoming traffic. And unfortunately for everyone involved, Dennis had successfully talked himself out of stopping to chain up, since he was only a few miles from home and had made it this far.

Then Dennis stopped making it any further and slid into our lane.

The lady in front of me in the Lexus SUV was able to avoid him by driving into the ditch. I tried the same maneuver, but didn’t have quite enough road or time to get it done. About a split second after I swore loudly under my breath, we hit the little Nissan almost head-on. The ‘almost’ was probably the key to how well things went after that.

I had started to dive off the road, so I hit him with the driver’s side headlight area of my Suburban, pretty much square in the middle of his front bumper. Thankfully, that sent us ricocheting into the ditch instead of continuing through his car. We went twenty feet down the bank and slammed into the snow, which deployed all eight airbags. It was loud.

(FYI, airbags smell like metallic gunpowder and make the inside of the car smoky, which my wife does not like in the least.)

Amazingly, the five of us, Dennis, and his passenger all walked away without so much as a scratch. Given the fact that we hit hard enough for airbags, and the entire front of Dennis’ car was missing, we all considered that nothing short of miraculous.

Now, if you’re going to crash into Dennis and then into a ditch in pretty much the middle of nowhere on US-199 in Oregon, I highly recommend mile post 19, because that’s where Dave lives. Dave was checking on us before we were all out of the car. Dave was directing traffic and setting out flares right away. Dave was on his cell phone calling the state patrol for us before the airbag smoke had settled. Dave even opened up his shop for us so my wife could sit somewhere warm. Dave rocks. Dave got beer money.

Another perk to mile post 19 is Cheryl’s Bar and Grill. Unfortunately, Cheryl wasn’t open at the time, but her bar and grill has a covered porch that is really handy in a heavy snow storm. It sure beat spending three hours standing in the forest.

When crashing near Grants Pass, I would also recommend Caveman Towing. Besides their really cool logo of a caveman dragging a car with a rope, Ron and Chuck are pros.

When getting a cheap room late at night in Grants Pass, I would also recommend the Shilo Inn. Sure, the hallways smelled like mildew, but the room didn’t, the bed was comfy, and the boys loved the make-your-own waffle machine at the complimentary continental breakfast buffet. Also, its proximity to Caveman Towing and Enterprise Rent-A-Car make it a convenient choice.

I tentatively recommend Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Grants Pass, only because of the wait. The service was excellent, but apparently everyone in Grants Pass rents cars when it snows. Who knew? The perfect Suburban in the parking lot was unfortunately reserved, but the Dodge Ram 1500 Big Horn four-door pickup with the 5.7-liter V8 HEMI and 8-speed automatic transmission was up for grabs. Mine!

When shopping for a tarp to cover a Suburban’s worth of soft-sided luggage, pillows, blankets, shopping bags full crap, etc. in the back of a Dodge Ram 1500 Big Horn HEMI in a snow storm, I highly recommend the Grants Pass Bi-Mart. The 10’ x 18’ medium-duty outdoor tarp is perfect for the job, and on sale right now for $9.97.

And finally, when the two coolers you thought would hold the tarp down on I-5 fail to do their job, I highly recommend the Ace Hardware in Rogue River, Oregon. They sell 40-pound bags of wood chips for $6.99 that perfectly match the woodchips under your play structure at home. Nothing does a better job of keeping your all-weather tarp snuggly protecting your luggage than two hundred and eighty pounds of mulch.

One thing I certainly won’t recommend... meeting Dennis the way we did. Stay safe out there, folks, and remember: If the little voice in the back of your head is saying “I don’t like this,” or your wife is sitting next to you saying the same thing, it pays to listen!

Adios, Suburban. We’ll miss you, but I guess it’s time to go car shopping. Maybe I can leave my wife at home this time. That HEMI really had some get up and go...

What’s that my little voice is telling me? Never mind. Probably not important.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. yet again, I cried but loved singing the theme song, I know it well. Happen to get the full run of the show for my boy for Christmas. Glad you're all safe. 2017 is looking good, one less car to wash for a few weeks. Cheers

    1. Yeah, we got the car crash out of the way early this year, so bonus! Nice work on the gift. Every kid should be required to watch that show!

  2. Oh my gosh, I'm glad everyone is safe. What a story.

    1. Thanks! It's great to be alive! Except for the insurance part...