Monday, November 28, 2016

Hanging On in Your Universe

Sacchi Green

The older you get, the more close calls you have, and the more likely it gets that you’re at fault. Okay, maybe I should amend that to say the more likely it is that I’m at fault. But if we limit the definition to things that aren’t one’s fault, the one event that sticks in my mind the most involves driving. Well, to be frank, the ones that are my fault mostly involve driving, too, or at least those are the ones I remember (and, hopefully, learn from.) I must have had non-automotive close calls, but maybe my mind just doesn’t hold on as well to memories that don’t involve large metal entities traveling at high speeds.

I’ve been trying hard to remember other incidents, because I’m just about sure that I’ve mentioned this one here before, in detail, but so far I’m coming up empty—maybe my mind helpfully blocks out the worst ones—so here goes. The fun part, and there was one, sort of, comes after the almost-crash itself.  (And the "universe" part comes way at the end.)

It was at least ten years ago. Ten years plus and quite a few cars ago, although the car in question, a Taurus station wagon, did survive for several years afterward. I was driving, with two family members as passengers, in the passing lane of a crowded multi-lane highway in New Hampshire, heading south. There was a high concrete barrier to my left, and a very big tank truck coming up on my right. The traffic was so heavy that changing lanes was just about impossible, but the tank truck, apparently not even seeing my car, tried it anyway, moving into my lane more or less ahead of me, but not far enough ahead. There was nothing I could do but slow down as much as I could, which wasn’t much with cars close behind me, and hang on hard to keep from hitting the concrete barrier as the big wheels of the tank truck scraped all along the side of my car, leaving a deep crease and smashing my right-hand rear-view mirror.  He must have known he’d hit me. He moved to the right as soon as he could, and I followed, trying to get him to pull over into the breakdown lane, but he did everything possible to get away, eventually dropping back when I couldn’t because of the traffic behind me.

We got his license number and the company name on his truck, and fifteen miles farther along we pulled off into a huge rest area just before a toll booth (also the site of a State of New Hampshire liquor store.) We called the State Police, and just before a trooper arrived, we saw that very same truck pull in to the parking lot and park some distance away, as far as possible from the buildings. He didn't see us, and I would have missed him if I hadn't append to see him driving in the long access road.

When the policeman arrived we pointed out the truck, and told him about where the incident occurred (we’d noticed the mile posts along the way.) He was brusque at first, not believing that we could possible know it was the same truck after all those miles—until he saw that the truck driver was doing something odd to his wheels. He was spraying the tires with some sort of cleaner, and there was still paint from our car on them when the cop got to him.

I almost felt sorry for the guy. Another cop arrived. They called the company he drove for and he was immediately fired. There’d apparently been some other complaints and he was on the edge anyway. The police inspected his whole rig in great detail and found enough illegal aspects to arrest him even without our complaint. They told us later that they were determined to put him in jail and not let him drive any more in New Hampshire after what he’d done. If we had hit the barrier there would have been a catastrophic pileup of crashes on the crowded highway, while he would have sped away unscathed.

How did I feel while it was happening? What did I think? I couldn’t let myself feel. I could only hang on, resisting the pressure trying to force me toward the cement wall, refusing to panic—and focusing on every fraction of a second that wasn’t yet total destruction.

We were soooo lucky. The elderly relative in the back seat would never go with us to New Hampshire again, but I don’t know how much the incident had to do with that. My younger son, who wasn’t with us at the time, got possession of the car after that, and drove it for a couple of years, with people assuming, I’m sure, that the deep, wide crease down the side was his fault. He didn’t seem to care.

Close call. So close. Sometimes I wonder whether the multiple universe theory is true, the one where in some one of an infinite number of universes everything that could happen does happen. Are there universes where we did crash? Where any of my close calls, of anybody’s close calls, turned out differently than we’re aware of in this universe? Or do we skip from universe to universe instantaneously so that we’re always in one, if there are any, where we’ve survived?

It doesn’t matter, any more than the theory that we’re all part of a huge computer simulation, because there’s nothing we can do differently in any case. We still feel pain, and fear, as well as pleasure and joy. We work with the laws of nature, of physics, of whatever, that we’ve been dealt. And when there’s nothing we can do but hang on, we hang on. And hope.


  1. Definitely a scary story. Knowing New England drivers and the highways around the area (was this on 91? Or 95?) I can easily imagine this.

    In fact I have dreams about that sort of event, when everything is going slow motion and you just can't help hitting the barrier, or going over the edge...

    Funny I'd think about missing deadline dreams and not the almost dead dreams. (What does that say about me??)

    1. I think it was on 93, north of the junction with 95. These days I go north on 91, through Vermont and then over into NH to the White Mountains, and that's a picnic compared to the eastern routes. In fact I often stop for a picnic at a new-ish rest area near Brattleboro (because I never seem able to get packed and on the road until nearly lunch time.)

  2. Woo, what a story. I'm glad you survived, and I'm really glad the driver was caught. Talk about getting caught red-handed!

    I'm fascinated by the science fictional comments you made about alternate universes. I think about that sort of thing all the time, but the idea that I'm always in a universe where I survived has never occurred to me. Maybe I'm not enough of an optimist to think of that possibility? Anyway, as you say, it's just a thought experiment, but I think it's an interesting one.

  3. Scary episode! I'm glad the culprit was caught and taken off the road -- or at least, removed from his job driving a big rig.


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