Le Car Est Mort!


This here is a picture of my Saturn. It is totaled. Can you tell?

Thursday last, which is to say April 19, I was on my way in to work at about 8:30 in the morning. I was driving west on Michigan Street, approaching the intersection with Lafayette, when a city bus ion the oncoming left-turn lane turned in front of me heading north. I slowed down to give it room to get through, and as the bus completed its maneuver, the traffic light turned yellow.

So rather than run a red light, I stopped.

I saw the grill in my rear-view mirror about one second before a big white SUV slammed into the back of my car and pushed me all the way through the intersection and into a car in the oncoming left-turn lane. I remember pushing myself back into my seat to protect my neck, and then I was laying flat in the back seat of my car staring up at the roof. I felt my car moving, then it hit something and stopped.

I lay there for a couple of seconds, waiting for pain to kick in. Nothing happened. So I flexed my back and neck. No pain or stiffness. I moved my arms and legs around. Everything seemed okay. So I sat up and looked out the rear passenger window.

Next to me, about a foot away, was the drivers’ side window of the car I had been pushed into. On the other side of that window was a very confused woman who had just (from her point of view) seen an empty Saturn hit her car, then some dude suddenly appear in the back seat.

If you are not familiar with Grand Rapids, I should point out that the intersection of Michigan and Lafayette is the focal point of what we are starting to call the “medical mile”; a hill chock-full of hospitals and medical research facilities. If you can manage it, I highly recommend getting in a car accident outside a hospital. Even if you are not hurt, there are doctors EVERYWHERE!

It took me a moment to extricate myself from my car (which was still running!) because I had to crawl through the passenger door to get out. I grabbed my laptop and stood up. Still no pain. Good enough for the moment.

The SUV which had hit me was stopped on the other side of the intersection. The front bumper was caved in, the grill was smashed and unseated, and the engine was making a nasty grinding noise. At this point someone told me “You better turn you car off.” Oh, yeah. It was still running. And in gear.

A few people came over to see if I was okay (which I was). The SUV suddenly moved ahead and, engine sounding like a strangling velociraptor, pulled into a driveway. The driver got out and limped over to me, in tears, near hysterics, and apologizing like there was no tomorrow.

She had seen – she said – the bus turn, and was so focused on it that she never noticed that my car had stopped for the light.


She was in worse shape than I was, physically and emotionally. We talked for a bit while waiting for the police, and she eventually got herself under control.

The police dude came and took our statements, a tow trucked was called for the SUV, and I got ready to head in to work. My car seemed to still be running just fine. The trunk was popped and would no longer latch, and the drivers’ side mirror was torn off; and there was a long gouge along the side of my car where I had scraped against the oncoming left-turn lady. Well, nothing too earth-shaking – just a $500 deductible and a couple of weeks for repairs.

As I was pulling up the steep slope to the parking lot at work I discovered that the ratchet which holds the back of the driver’s seat in place was stripped. There I was again, flat on my back in a moving car.

Long story short: cars like Saturns, which have lots of fiberglass in the body, tend to not show all of the catastrophic damage which happens in violent accidents like the one I had just survived. The assessor dude took one look at my car and said “Oh, boy.”


“Your frame is bent.”


“See how the driver-side doors are all kind of hard to open, and the passenger-side doors have kind of a gap around them?”


“Bent frame.”

So it was. The SUV had accordion-ed in the left side of my frame, bending my car into a very slight (but irreversible) banana shape.

And I only had five more months before it was paid off.

I should also point out that this all happened the day before I had to drive to Toronto for a four-day conference. I have spent the last two weeks driving around a rented Mazda 3, which is a fine ride, but it seems too light; all of the parts seem less substantial than they might be, as if the car were made of recycled aluminum, or something.

Which brings me up to now: Tomorrow I will pick up my new car, and post photos and its pedigree. I appear to have no lasting damage from the accident; sixteen years of kung fu practice have taught me how to take a fall, which was essentially what happened to me in the accident. Oddly, this is the second time I have had a car totaled in an accident where my training kept me from being hurt badly. I guess, in a town full of crazy drivers like Grand Rapids, it’s good to have an edge.

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