It happened very quickly. I must have felt the impact, but I was aware only of the very loud noise from the side of my car. I apparently hit the brakes very quickly, and the driver of the truck must also have veered quickly back into his lane, because there was no further damage, only that initial impact.
I was driving south on the New York Thruway, at 8:30 in the morning, on Tuesday, April 10, ready to listen to The Writer’s Almanac in a few minutes. My wife was drowsing in the passenger seat. I was on my way to teach my class at the Center for Lifetime Study, which meets at Locust Grove, south of Poughkeepsie, about an hour from my home in Woodstock. As usual, I was driving in the right lane, at just about the speed limit (65 mph), with the speed set on cruise control. A truck pulled out of the passing lane and hit my car. The impact sheared off the driver’s side-view mirror and left a large circular gouge in the driver’s door. Obviously I was hit by the truck’s wheel.
I pulled immediately into the breakdown lane, as I did so memorizing the truck’s license plate number, which I wrote down as soon as the car stopped moving. The truck pulled over ahead of me. The driver got out of his truck and walked back to see the damage. His apology was, “I didn’t see you. You were in my blind spot.” He called the police immediately on his cell phone, then asked if I was all right. Then he said something very interesting: “Gee, people are usually a lot more upset.”
The police car arrived in about 15 minutes and took down information, then told me I’d have to wait for the report to come back from headquarters. That took another 45 minutes. Meanwhile, the policeman told me he had issued a citation to the truck driver and that I would have no problems with proving his responsibility.
I now have a cell phone of my own, and I had the cell phone number of my class manager programmed into it. I called him and told him about the accident, assured him that nobody had been hurt, and promised to get there as soon as I could. When I finally arrived, the class had only 15 minutes left to go. The students were sitting quietly, listening to a Mozart Piano Concerto, which ended just as Tara and I walked in.
Locust Grove was the home of Samuel F.B. Morse, a very attractive site, as one would expect. Morse was a prominent painter who became wealthy through his development of the telegraph and the “Morse code.” CLS is a volunteer program for senior citizens. I was tapped to teach there as a result of pre-concert talks I gave for the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, and my music classes have been very popular there. This semester I am “teaching” a series I call “Mornings with the Great Pianists,” in which I introduce videos of great pianists in performance. It’s a VJ series rather than real teaching, but more than 70 people signed up for it.
This accident has caused plenty of trouble for me. I don’t feel comfortable driving the car without a side-view mirror, so I’ve been using Tara’s car, which is even older than mine. A couple of times her car has been in use otherwise and I’ve had to drive my car on short trips. My insurance agency, which I like very much, took care of the contact with the truck’s insurance agency. They have not acted promptly. Apparently the driver is now claiming that I “cut him off,” an explanation which isn’t likely to hold up after the agency reads the police report. But it’s eight days as I write and I still don’t have my mirror, which I can’t replace until the truck’s agency tells my body shop where to get the replacement mirror. And I won’t have the door repaired for another three weeks. Filling out forms and spending time on the phone have wasted time I could have been using for things I prefer, like writing this blog.
Still, my prevailing attitude about this whole incident is gratitude. As I think about the accident, it seems a small miracle that Tara and I weren’t injured at all. I suspect that most incidents when a large truck hits a passenger car result in more serious damage to the car and its passengers. The impact didn’t even throw me severely off course. My car was pushed partway into the breakdown lane, but not far enough to hit the guard rail, which would probably have caused me to lose control. If things had gone otherwise, we could have been crushed between the truck and the guard rail. We could have been killed. Instead I have a car with a damaged door.
I’m curious about something. I have been doing these classes at CLS for twenty years, and I’ve never missed a class. Once or twice, I’ve been late due to traffic jams, but never by more than a few minutes. During all these years, I never had a cell phone, which I acquired only recently. The week before the accident, at the first class session, I got the cell phone number of Bill Barbash, the class manager, and programmed it into my phone. So I was able to call him within minutes of the accident, before the class was scheduled to begin, and tell him what had happened. But here’s the question: Did I arrange for this emergency call just in time? Or did I somehow clear a path for the accident to happen?