It’s 4th of July weekend again, and to me that means a lot of things.
Of course, it means the birthday of the USA– which, in all honesty, is the least of my reasons to observe the day.
It also means my friends and I make our yearly trek to Saugatuck, MI to go camping.
It also (sometimes) means observing the holiday with my family.
And, of course, it also means the anniversary of my dad’s death.
This is the second anniversary of his passing, and while I’m actually a lot less emotional about it than I was last year — it truly does get easier as time goes on — I decided to take at least one day off and spend some time with my mom. So after work on Wednesday, I went home, packed for my camping trip, loaded up the car, and headed up to Kenosha.
It was dark by the time I hit the road — about 9:00PM. The skies had looked threatening for most of the evening, but no rain had fallen yet in the Chicago area. As I made my trip northward, however, I could see that was about to change. Lightning was flashing up ahead, and I could see the clouds moving quickly toward the east.
I’ve driven in rainstorms at night many times before, but I was prepared to be extra cautious this time around. There is a lot of construction on the route to Kenosha, and the cramped quarters are bad enough even in good weather. Typically, people drive with good sense in such conditions, but there is always some crazy fool who thinks otherwise.
After I passed through the toll plaza onto the Illinois Tollway, the rain started to fall– first a fine mist, and then hard, huge drops. Traffic slowed to about 35-40 MPH. I was in the left hand lane, doing my best to concentrate on the road.
As I approached Six Flags Great America, the rain seemed to subside a bit. Then in the right lane I saw an impatient vehicle pass quickly through the slower-moving crowd. I couldn’t see if it was a truck, an SUV or a car; but whatever it was, the vehicle hit a huge puddle as it passed by. The backlash went skyward, and I could see it quickly approaching me. There was nowhere for me to go. I started to pump my breaks to slow down as quickly as I could, but it was too late. The splash hit me with a massive force and I lost control of the car.
The car skidded to and fro, and I did my best to turn with the skid, all the while praying that I wouldn’t hit anyone, and nobody would hit me. Finally the car came out of the skid and hit the median. Because my car is a manual transmission, the engine cut out since I had probably taken my foot off the clutch.
I was stopped cold in the left lane of Interstate 94 in a rainstorm.
As soon as my car stopped moving, I saw another car swerve past me and spin around in front of me. It was a mid-sized SUV. I saw the car hit the median hard and bounce to a stop.
My first instinct was to turn on my hazard lights. I tried to get my wits about me. I set the parking brake. Wrong. I put the car in neutral. Right. All the while I was glancing in my rearview mirror, chanting to myself, “Please don’t let anyone hit me…. Please don’t let anyone hit me… ” over and over again.
Finally I got my car started again and found a safe path back into traffic. The car ahead of me started moving forward with its hazard lights on, and I kept mine on as well. We both drove to the Grand Avenue exit and pulled off to the side of the road.
The driver got out and came up to my car. “What happened back there?” she said, shaken. “I saw the wall of water and then you were stopped in the road!” I said, “Yeah, the water hit me and I lost control of my car. I had just come to a stop when I saw you spin around in front of me. Are you okay?”
“I’m okay,” she said, “but my car isn’t.” We decided to pull into the nearest gas station to survey the damage.
When I got out of my car and looked at it, I was shocked. I expected a crushed fender, maybe a broken headlight, and a busted bumper. There was hardly a scratch. The only evidence I could see was a crack in the bumper. That was it.
I walked ahead to the other driver. I could hear right away that her car was damaged, but when I saw it, it was definitely much worse. It looked as if King Kong had grabbed the front grill and tore it away. I couldn’t believe it was even running.
We both went inside the shop and recounted our stories. We both agreed that we saw the guy speed through the puddle, which washed us both out and caused us to lose control. We exchanged information in case insurance adjusters needed to corroborate our stories, but we didn’t call the police. Maybe that was a mistake, but we’ll see what happens.
As I finished my journey to my mom’s house (using back-roads instead of the Interstate), I realized there must have been an angel watching over me to help me get out of that situation alive. It could have been so much worse.
I’m not saying the angel was my Dad, but it’s kind of nice to think it could have been him.