There’s no IDEAL way to rouse another person from a peaceful slumber while they’re operating a vehicle.
Most human beings are startled by the sound of other human beings crying out for salvation, especially when it reminds them that they’re driving a car. Operating on instinct, they try to stop, drop and roll, but they can’t, because their seatbelt is on, and then you’re all dead.
Which no one blames YOU for, of course.
No one expects you, the passenger, to lean calmly across the cupholders, like, *tap tap tap* “Hate to wake you, but we’re hurtling into a construction zone at a devastating velocity.”
Unless you go around telling everyone who can’t outrun you about what a genius you are. In that case, no one is impressed by your “shrill and startling” reaction to near-death experiences, and, next time, remember to use your inside voice when saving everyone’s lives, you idiot.
My brother is 16 and freshly-licensed when the two of us set out for my grandpa’s magic farm one summer night six years ago.
Though I am a fucking fantastic driver with a flawless driving record, my parents are bored with always knowing that we’ll arrive safely. So, when they depart ahead of us that morning, they insist that I allow Tony to drive us both to the farm once he returns, exhausted, from band camp that afternoon.
Where we’re going, we won’t need roads!
I’m 18 and thinking about how rural it smells when I begin to wonder if something is amiss.
We’re 2.5 hours into our 3-hour trip to the annual Heath Family Campout in Freeport, Illinois, but we’ve only been driving on the wrong side of the road for the last ten to fifteen seconds.
If you’ve never driven through rural Illinois, you might fail to see how there could be any confusion in the “something is fucking amiss” regard.
But we’re winding across a limestone “sinkhole plain,” so, tectonically, the “correct” side of the road is the side that is not violently imploding beneath you. And anyway, once you’re this far into farm country, they pretty much just drag a stick through the gravel to delineate one lane from another. Which is really more effort than it’s worth, considering I’ve seen more designated possum crossings than oncoming headlights in the last half hour.
When we continue to drift into the left shoulder, I turn and raise an eyebrow at Tony.
Which is when I realize that he is, very disappointingly, sound asleep.
“OHMYGOD TONY!” I squawk. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WAKE UP!” Now is OBVIOUSLY not the time for napping, and, frankly, this is a very poor judgement call, even for a novice driver.
With a startled snort, he realizes he has miscalculated the amount of time that a person can blindly pilot a sedan down a narrow gravel road.
“OHMUHGURD!” I blurp. “WATCH OUT!”
We’re about to slam into the concrete roadside barrier.
I fling my iPod at the windshield to emphasize how extremely opposed I am to our impending collision.
Tony swings the car spasmodically right, missing the barrier by less than one foot. We spin 1800, wheels hovering over the gravel until the rear bumper screeches against the wall, slowing our momentum just enough for tires to anchor earth.
This excites me for 1/8 of one second, during which time I erroneously presume that Tony would like to stop and discuss what a shitty driver he is and how we should both change into a fresh pair of underwear before continuing on to the farm because the ones we’re wearing are probably bad luck or something.
I can’t speak from experience here because I take prescription amphetamines and do not require sleep, but I think we can all agree that there IS an ideal way to wake up while operating a vehicle, and it starts with taking your foot off the goddamn gas pedal.
Which apparently doesn’t occur to Bo Duke next to me in the driver’s seat, so our wheels hit the ground whirling.
The next moments are a blur, but, basically, I’m all, “ABORT! ABORT!”
And Tony’s like, “YEEHAW! EAT MY GRAVEL, LEFT-SIDE BARRICADE!”
WARNING: My interpretation of this dialogue may be distorted or a full blown hallucination justifiably brought on by fratricidal fury.
We come out of our tailspin, and Tony immediately peels across the road to teach the right-side barricade a lesson. Cruise control is set just below the speed of light.
So…it only feels like time slows down as we bounce from barricade to barricade.
“OHSHIT, SIS! HOW DO I WORK THIS THING?!” Tony shouts, or, at least I hear it this way, but again, my perception is warped by the trauma of Tony’s outlandish attempt to murder me with his nap.
“STOP!” I tell him, trying to be helpful. I put my hands out in front of my face because, when they find my lifeless body, I’d like it to be face-palming.
Tony’s like, “DO YOU MEAN SPIN THE WHEEL VIOLENTLY!? OH, NO, THAT’S DEFINITELY WRONG…HOW ABOUT 270o THE OTHER WAY??!”
The whole thing is over in about five seconds, which is more than enough time for Tony to orchestrate a spectacular totalling of our vessel.
When we finally grind to a halt, the right side of the car is pressed against the right-side concrete barricade, blocking my escape.
My chest hurts, and I’m really struggling to hyperventilate over what just happened. I know a lot about medicine because my father is a dentist, so I make the brave self-diagnosis that one of my ribs has punctured a lung and I’ll be stone dead in moments.
Tony groans from the driver’s seat, and it’s the most terrifying moment of the night. “Are you hurt?” I gasp.
With a strangled sob, he slumps over in his seat and plunks his head against the steering wheel. “MOM AND DAD ARE GOING TO KILLLL MEEEEEEE.”
Nah. My parents will be happy that Tony’s alive. He’ll be disinherited and banished, at the very worst.
I unbuckle my seatbelt as relief and adrenaline wash over me. Leaning over to open Tony’s door, I take a deep and full breath, which means that I have not been fatally impaled by a fragment of my own sternum, after all.
Things are looking up for me.
“I AM SO DEAD,” Tony continues to lament while honking the horn with his face.
I grab his hands and peel them off the steering wheel. “You will live long and prosper,” I firmly instruct, then I pop his seatbelt.
Though the one thing I fear most in this world at this point in my life is car accidents, I have seen countless depictions of such calamities in film and television, and I am prepared to respond proactively to preserve our existence. To calculate the ongoing threat to our lives, I draw on my extensive and heavily science-fiction-oriented knowledge of action films.
On the bright side, there’s a 99% chance that we are merely launched through the air by the harmless propulsive force of a 20 ft. fireball.
Looking out Tony’s door, I see wreckage strewn across both lanes and headlights approaching from the distance. So, we also need to be far enough away to avoid getting crushed by that approaching vehicle when it swerves to avoid our detached bumper and rolls several times, presumably killing everyone inside.
(Don’t worry, these are ancillary characters, and the plot will progress unhindered by their ambiguously grisly fate.)
Engage vehicle-wide evacuation!
“Get out of the car,” I instruct, shoving the weeping Tony out the door. “Get outside the blast radius!”
With no apparent urgency, he shuffles across the gravel and slumps against his old pal, left-side barricade.
Meanwhile, I shovel life-saving items into my purse. Registration, proof of insurance, garage door opener, official Honda envelope of unidentifiable car-related materials. I grab the GPS and Tony’s shoes, and fling myself from the car.
Rolling through gravel and possum droppings, I hit the left shoulder and leap to my feet. “I’ve got your footwear!” I shout to Tony then dive over the barricade. I crouch on the other side and wait for him to follow.
He just stares vacantly into the smoldering remains. “We can’t tell Mom.”
The front of the car looks like someone lit an accordion on fire, and the trunk is now located in the backseat. Something like 15 airbags appear to have deployed, and I think someone spilled lemon Fanta on the passenger seat.
“I don’t think she’ll notice,” I reassure him.
I duck back behind the concrete.
He half-heartedly waddles around the side of the barrier and stands next to me. “It’s a brand new car.” Yep.
When I ring the police, I try very hard to communicate that I’ve got this shit completely under control.
Dispatcher: 911 Emergency Services. Please state the nature of your emergency.
Me: Good evening! My name is Corielle Heath, C-O-R-I-E-L-L-E, and the last name is spelled just like the candy bar.
Dispatcher: Ok. Please state the nature of your emergency.
Me: I’d like to report a collision, please.
Dispatcher: Multiple vehicles?
Me: Nope! Just one vehicle and several fixed objects, fortunately!
Dispatcher: Do you require emergency medical assistance?
Me: No visible injuries were sustained, although a significant amount of gravel was displaced. I’m just concerned that the engine is about to explode.
While the Dispatcher rallies three ambulances, five police cars and a fire truck to the scene, I dial my dad’s cell phone number.
Tony scampers off to crouch in the shadows of the barrier.
Dad: Hi, Punkin! You guys getting close?
Me: Is Mom in the room?
Me: Leave the room.
Dad: Erm. Okay. *footsteps* So…what’s up?
Me: First of all, Tony and I are both fine!
Dad: What happened? Are you hurt?
Me: We were in an accident, but we’re really doing very well, and the ambulances are on their way, so there’s nothing to worry about! Maybe you just shouldn’t tell Mom at all.
Dad: A serious accident? How is the car?
Me: We are completely unharmed, so that’s what matters! If I had to guess, I’d say it will haunt me emotionally and psychologically, but Tony slept through the whole thing, so he’s fine!
While my parents desperately race to meet us at the hospital, 25 emergency response officers arrive on the scene.
I greet them cheerfully while Tony simply meeps and scuttles further into the shadows of the barricade. I assure them that I’ve got things under control, but they’re not used to interacting with such calm, helpful accident victims and insist on carting us off to the ER to be thoroughly CT scanned.
Though I have now told them numerous times that everything is going stupendously for Tony and I, my parents are distressed by the sight of their children wheeling past them on stretchers, wearing full-body braces.
While we wait for the results of my chest x-rays, Tony, in phenomenally improved spirits, recounts the parts of our evening that he was awake for.
“Then, Corielle’s like, ‘BOOGITY BOOGITY BOO! WAKE UP OR I KEEEL YOU,’ and that scared the crap out of me, so I jerked the wheel, and then we lost control of the car!”
“We lost control of the car when you fell asleep while steering it!” I interject weakly. I lie prone and pitiful on my stretcher while my parents nuzzle Tony.
“Corielle!” my mom scolds. “Your brother made a mistake, and he’s already paid for it. He doesn’t need you giving him a hard time on top of it.”
“He’s crackin’ jokes, like suddenly he’s funny and tells one-sided stories making fun of other people’s pain! That’s MY THING,” I shout. “He forced me to live out my worst nightmare tonight!”
“Well,” says my Dad, thoughtfully, “I’m sure it would be difficult to regain control and respond safely when the person beside you is freaking out…”
“ERMRAAWR!” I bellow, “If I hadn’t been there, Tony would have slept himself to death!” I begin to cry, but it makes the pain in my chest swell, so I revert to belligerent grumbling. “Let’s all just stand around in this cozy hospital room, passing judgement on Corielle even though, if it weren’t for her, we’d be out destroying Tony-the-Zombie’s reanimated cadaver right now!”
“The results of your CT scan have come back normal…” the doctor informs us from the doorway, double-checking the clipboard in his hand.
“And my x-rays?” I bark, anxious to hear the bad news.
I’d like to spend whatever time I have left on this plane of existence making my parents rue the day they decided it was best that I not be raised as an only child.
He flips on a backlit wall panel and clips up the results. “No broken bones,” he pronounces pleasantly. “You’ll have some lingering contusions from the seatbelt,” he continues, “and there is substantial bruising to your spleen.”
Ooo, ‘spleen’ is a heavy word. I look up hopefully. “Will I recover?”
He chuckles warmly, which disgusts me because there is absolutely nothing funny about almost being seriously injured in a really serious car accident. “You’ll make a full and speedy recovery.”
“See, Corielle?” Tony smiles. “Neither of us was injured!”
“YEP, TONY,” I snap, staring at the ceiling. “YALE COULD USE A MAN LIKE YOU.”
(This would be THE END.)
But, a friend of mine who reads this blog told me that my stories would be “improved” if they came fully equipped with a moral, and I’m like, “This blog is not intended for children or adults with a history of moral goodness.”
But it got me thinking about what lesson there is to be learned from this story, and that lesson is this:
Most people on the road are stupid, drunk or tired. Watch out for them, or they will destroy you. Always wear your seatbelt, pull over before sleeping, and keep fresh panties in the glove box.