Confession time: I used to drive like a freaking maniac down country roads. My family thinks I'm an impatient driver now? 19 year-old-me would pass 50 year-old-me, and for the brief moment while parallel on the road, I would give me "the look" for having the audacity to be in my way.
The summer between my Freshman and Sophomore year at Purdue, I worked in the McCutcheon Hall kitchen on campus. While at school, that's where I lived for 2 years (even though the homestead was only 20 minutes away - 15 if you drove like I did), and it was the dorm where a lot of outside groups stayed over the course of the summer. It was my job to help feed them.
I worked the lunch shift one hot afternoon and was very eager to get home. My sister and her family were coming to visit for a few days, and I hadn't seen them in a long time. I jumped in my parent's 1977 Chevy Impala, rolled down all the windows, and took off. It was a hefty car. It looked like this:
The stretch of road between the dorm and the homestead included a curve at the top of a very steep hill. A gravel crossroad met the road at the very bottom of the hill. Overgrown weeds and bushes forced a driver to pull up to the very edge of the "T" to check for oncoming traffic. The scene loosely looked like this, with me speeding down the hill in the bright yellow car:
From near the top of the hill, I saw a vehicle at the crossroad (we'll call him Jeep Guy, because of the illustration) and Dull Yellow Sedan far off in the distance. Jeep Guy pulled out, supposedly wanting to turn toward me. Then he must have seen me, barreling down the hill and the guy coming from the other direction, and stopped. The idiot completely blocked the road. He was in the process of trying to back up when I slammed on the breaks.
If Jeep Guy wouldn't have hesitated and followed through with the turn, I wouldn't be writing this now. To this day, I believe that if you start doing something stupid behind the wheel, follow through. Well, within reason. It's likely to have a better outcome than hesitating and trying to correct your actions in the heat of the moment.
Nothing about 1970's cars were as efficient as they are now. Breaks tended to lock up when you tried to stop a car traveling down a steep hill at 65 miles an hour. By the time Jeep Guy got out of my way and Dull Yellow Sedan saw was was happening, I had skidded over to the left side of the road and rolled down the embankment.
I remember the side-view mirror being torn off and the windshield crunching. I don't remember being tossed around the cab of the car, but from the bruises that appeared later, it must have been like I was inside a clothes dryer. (Seat belts? Cars had seat belts?) The next thing I knew, I had crawled up the embankment.
Jeep Guy took off. It's a good thing, because adrenaline can make you do crazy things, and I probably would have choked him or her. Dull Yellow Sedan came over to see if I was OK, and at some point, went into town to call the police. Mr. Policeman showed up soon after, and I was ushered to the front seat of his cruiser, shaking like a leaf.
I take the blame for speeding, but I still say Jeep Guy caused the accident. I was convinced of that, even though I got the impression Mr. Policeman had formed a different opinion. He didn't give me a ticket, but I could tell what he thought. I kept thinking, "Go find 'Jeep Guy'!! If nothing else, arrest him for being a leaving-the-scene jerk!! For all he knew, I could have been fatally wounded, and he just left!!"
We sat in the police car, on the gravel crossroad, going over the incident for the third time. Because of the overgrown foliage, I could see only a small patch of the main road and the weeds that were mowed down on the far side by my car. Then, of all people, Denny sped by in his gold cargo van. Without thinking, I said, "Hey! There goes my brother!" Mr. Policeman flipped on his siren, hit the gas, and took off after him. Never mind that I was still shaking, in shock, and again, sans a seat belt.
Denny stopped and we pulled up next to him. He looked confused as to why a cop was stopping him, then he saw me sitting in the cruiser and was surprised, to say the least. I explained to Denny (and his dog, Bender, who was riding with him) what happened and where (you couldn't see the car from the road). He went into town and called Dad.
Explaining to Dad. Ugh. That was worse than telling rude Mr. Policeman for the umpteenth time. The tow truck came, drug the car up to the road, and off to a garage. I can't remember, but it had to have been totaled. It was in pretty bad shape.
All my dad had to say about the whole thing? "You better thank your lucky stars, Joan Marie. You better thank your lucky stars."
And I most certainly did.