January 10, 2008

How to wreck a car -- twice -- in 2 days

I'm not really a "car person." I'm a plant person, a house person, a pet person, a clothes person, but I can't get excited about makes and models and horsepower and the like. However, a new car is pretty exciting. Last week Kevin and I got our first ever new car: a cherry red 2008 Honda Fit. Its exterior -- and we had an extra gloss finish put on -- was as glossy and unblemished as a new marble. And then I wrecked it. Twice. In under a week.

It must be a new record, and I already have a record-breaking history of fender benders. In high school, I managed to involve my hand-me-down Sable in traffic violations a couple of times a year: speeding, speeding in a school zone, running a red light, speeding, rear-ending a parked car, speeding. I was in traffic court so frequently, that the judge warned me that he "never wanted to see my face again" -- and he was a friend of the family.

The anecdote my friends and family never tire of telling is the night I manage to wreck both of my parents' cars. The short version is that on night in the 11th grade, I snuck out of the house to meet my friends at the IHOP. Unbeknownst to me, my parents heard me leaving and followed me in their car. (I think it was my brother who ratted me out.) Somehow, they arrived at the IHOP before I did, and when I finally showed up with my friends, there was nary a parking spot to be had. I tried squeezing into half a parking spot next to an enormous Mercury Grand Marquis, but as it was parked well over the line -- it was over the line, I tell you! -- I nudged it a bit. My friends and I all freaked out, but we didn't think the Grand Marquis had sustained any damage, and so, we left the parking lot, the "scene of the crime" some would call it, parked several blocks away and walked back to the IHOP.

By this time, though, some good Samaritan had taken down my license plate number and gone into the IHOP to find the owner of the damaged Grand Marquis, for it was damaged. Somehow everyone in my car had missed the enormous basketball-sized dent I left in the side of the other car. The owners of the Grand Marquis seemed to recognize the number on the license plate. Turning to my mother, my father asked, "Hey, isn't that Sarah's license plate number?"

And so when my friends and I finally arrived at the IHOP, my parents were out front waiting for me, right in front of their damaged car. Ironically, I was actually lucky the car I damaged belonged to my parents. Had it belonged to someone else, I would have been charged with a fender-bender and "leaving the scene of the crime." I might have had my license revoked. As it was, I was grounded for a month, but thereafter was free to commit several more traffic violations.

However, these mishaps were in a 10-year-old Mercury Sable. Nothing could add significant damage to its spotty exterior, while this was a brand-new, shiny red Fit. Kevin and I had owned it for less than a week. Also, I was a teenager back then. I like to think that I have gotten over those trying years and developed better driving skills.

But driving in the far North is a lot harder than driving in Arkansas or Boston or even England, which I've managed to traverse twice without a single scratch.The problem is the snow. There's just so much of it, at least 10 inches on the ground right now, and it snows a little more every day. Also, Edmonton is very hilly, and snow and hills -- they just don't mix. As a new-comer, I had to relearn how to drive in order to cope with these treacherous conditions, and I still slide around like a fish. Remarkably, the old-timers don't seem to be any better. I have seen more wrecks, more rear-endings, more insane driving in Edmonton than in Boston -- and any one who's been to Boston knows its drivers have a death wish.

Mohamed, the Middle-Eastern cab driver who rear-ended us on Monday, must have a death wish as well. We were coming down a very steep hill, that leads into a sharp turn, just before a pin turn onto a very frozen bridge, when a jogger suddenly darted out in front of us. Now, why the city of Edmonton would put a cross walk at the foot of a hill on a major highway just before a pin-turn onto a bridge is anyone's guess. (As I have written here before, I don't think the city of Edmonton has any city planners.) Why a jogger would run out into the road in rush-hour traffic without looking both ways, is also anyone's guess. But it was a crosswalk. She had the right-of-way, and so I stopped. Very suddenly. But not so suddenly that I fish-tailed, nor so suddenly that my anti-breaking system started to grind. In fact, I stopped in enough time to collect myself and wave through the startled jogger. And then I was reared ended. Hard. About 30 mph, which makes me think Mohamed was actually accelerating down that snowy hill.

Now, having been involved in many traffic accidents in my life, I am well aware that the one who does the rear-ending is always at fault. Mohamed, though he seems to be new to this country and to cab driving in general, was aware of this rule as well, and he graciously agreed to pay for the cost of repairs to our rear bumper, which was sporting an enormous crack and busted rebar, out of pocket, so long as we didn't report it to our insurance companies. Our sentiments exactly. But I felt really bad for Mohamed. Cab drivers don't make a lot of money, and $1,000 must be a real pinch for him. It's a real pinch for a college professor and his wife, too. Also, Mohamed seemed to have been so familiar with this procedure that I think he must have been through this many times before. That, and the fact that he has to squint to see through his bottle-cap glasses makes me sure he's been through this many times before.

Well, two days later, Mohamed, Kevin and I meet up at the dealership body shop at 7:00 am to get an estimate on the damages. Now what you need to remember is that at 7:00 am in Edmonton it is black as midnight outside. The sun doesn't rise this far North until closer ten. What you also need to remember is that when it is -15 outside and snowing, as it was on this particular morning, visibility is very poor. The exhaust from your car creates such a plume of smoke that it positively envelopes you. If you remember these two things, it will not be so hard to imagine how I could have backed right into that enormous metal fence, especially when I tell you that that fence was never closed on the half-a-dozen other occasions I've visited the dealership.

Of course, these details didn't much impress Mohamed, who witnessed the whole thing. Still, "the one who does the rear-ending is always at fault" is an immutable rule, and grumbling, he still agreed to pay the $1,000 in damages he caused to our brand-new Fit. But "the mirror has two faces," as they also say, and as I "rear-ended" that motionless fence, I will have to pay those damages, about $800 all told. The worst part is that the car will have to be repaired on two separate occasions lasting about a week each, and so, in the near future I am looking at two whole weeks without wheels, which, when considering my driving history, is probably a good thing.

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