At the bottom of the section of Interstate 5 known as the Grapevine, I noticed a sign announcing "possible snow" at the summit. I briefly considered stopping and renting a motel room for the night, but decided it should be safe enough.
By the time I reached the top of the pass, it was snowing. I tried to keep the car in the ruts left by the cars in front of me, and was in the process of losing speed when IT happened. Cars in front of us had spun out and collided with each other, in some order. When I saw that, I tried to change course. The road had become a patch of ice, and so changing course wasn't going to work. Instead, I got to watch for three years while the stopped car got closer to me, and finally crunched against the front of my van.
The impact spun me around 180° and left me facing oncoming traffic. Thus, I had a nice view of the car that had been behind me as it skidded in to the front of my van.
I was number three in a six-car pile-up.
Joan called the Highway Patrol, and I called the Auto Club. Because the freeway had been closed (just a little
bit late?), the Auto Club would not be able to make it. The CHP called in the tow trucks on snow patrol and had us towed off the freeway.
The tow truck that got us towed us to the Flying J truck stop in Lebec. It turned out there was no room at the motel, so we'd be sitting in the trucker's lounge until things cleared up. And by the way, how did we intend to pay for the tow?
They wanted $340 for towing us a few miles at most. And they wanted to drop us off ASAP so they could go back on snow patrol. I'll tell you, I was very tempted to tell the operator, "I don't have that much left in my card. Put us back on the freeway, and you get to tell CHP why you're not removing us." Instead, I paid it. I'll submit the receipt to my insurance company, and possibly to AAA. They can fight over who gets to reimburse, and how much.
The trucker's lounge had been described as "warm". Compared to the outside, it was. But it was too cold for really comfortable sleep. Fortunately, I had brought a blanket which was warm enough to keep us warm while the van cooled off in the snow. I arranged some of the bench seats in the lounge so we could curl up on them, and I draped the blanket over them. We both slept in fits, and finally surrendered to the ambient noise and light around 7 AM.
We went into the cafe for breakfast. I wasn't hungry, and would stay non-hungry until mid afternoon. We ordered hot tea, and sat and drank that for a while.
I don't know if this is typical, or a lagniappe given to people who are stranded at the truck stop because snow has closed the freeway, but the waitress actually brought us refills on the tea bags. Refills on the hot water are quite normal, but nobody
refills the tea bags! About that time, Joan decided she was hungry, and the breakfast buffet looked too good to ignore any further.
After breakfast, I went out to the van and brought in Joan's bag of pills. I added my pills, some advil for her headache, the copy of Eragon we had bought the day before, some cans of Diet Coke, and Joan's glasses, which had disappeared in the crash and weren't to be located in the dark.
We bundled back under the blanket and read. I periodically called the Cal Trans number to find out if the freeway was still closed. Finally, at 10 AM, the advisory changed to "traffic delays". I immediately called the Auto Club and told them I needed a tow. Within half an hour, the tow truck was on site. At 11:00, we were underway. We were going at tow truck speeds rather than minivan speeds, so we got to the car dealership in North Hollywood at 1:00. I dropped the van off, telling my regular service advisor, "It won't start."
Although one of Joan's housemates picked us up at the dealership, my insurance did cover car rental. They contacted Enterprise and gave them a reservation number, and I had them pick me up from Joan's house. I drove home, arriving only 16 hours later than I had told the Adopted Nephew I would. His brother had been spending the last few days at the house to keep him company, and when I got home, I found he had cleaned the kitchen and living room. ("OK, who are you, and what have you done with Spike?") We finished greeting, and I told them I was going to take a nap. I decided I wasn't up to attending the lasfs
meeting that evening, but I told them to wake me at 9:00, and I'd take them with me to the aftermeeting at Coral's.
At Coral's, I reassured everyone that I was, in fact, still alive, and relatively unhurt from the accident.
Friday, I was recovered enough that I was willing to do my scheduled donation at the Red Cross. (Platelet donation – a double dose, usually every four weeks. This visit had been postponed once, because I'd had a horrible cold.) After the donation, I picked up Spike and we went to empty my van of its load of cargo. We headed home, stopping at In-N-Out. I gave the Nephews a ride to their home in Glendale, and gave Joan a ride to the LASFS clubhouse to act as keyholder.
On Saturday, I did a couple of errands, including picking up my mail and a library book for Fred Patten. Then I went to visit the car lots on Van Nuys Blvd. I looked at a couple of minivans, and settled on a silver Honda Odyssey, 2002 model year. It has lots of very nice features, and is roomy enough for the occasions when I need the room. It can hold 7 people, or reconfigured, lots of cargo. It also has electronic side doors. They open and close from a button on the dashboard. I may have jumped the gun on the purchase of a replacement vehicle, but I can't imagine the insurance company won't declare the van a total loss. (Indeed, with 303,000 miles on it, I think a flat tire is enough damage to call it a total loss.) So, I bought the new van before the adjustor had even looked at the old one. He won't be able to get to it before tomorrow, and I suspect by then the year-end sales at all the car dealers will have ended.
The only thing that remains is to get the car radio – the MP3 capable car radio – taken out of the old van and returned to me. It was a birthday present from Joan, and dammit, it still works just fine. (And the radio in the new van doesn't speak MP3.)
Physically, I'm OK. I have a nice collection of bruises, and there's a slight chance that I may have knocked a chip loose on the bone in my elbow. Joan has a very sore neck and back, and a concussive headache. She went in to Kaiser and was x-rayed, and nothing was broken. She was told she could have that headache for two weeks.
After that, they have to charge her for it.
I think her Christmas present from me is going to be some visits to the chiropractor.
All told, though, it was a very impressive end to the trip.
Oh, yes. One other thing worth noting: Everyone involved in the pile-up walked away from the accident, with the exception of one babe-in-arms who wasn't going to walk away from much of anything at that age. The accident was very impressive, and very nasty, but it could have been a hell of a lot worse than it was. And I had made some good decisions in the past few years, so I was able to walk in and buy a replacement car without waiting for the insurance company to pay me whatever it decides to pay.
But here's hoping next year is a lot less expensive, and a lot less boring, than 2006 was.
And I wish everyone reading this expenses low enough, and boredom high enough, to make them happy in the new year!