Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Unstoppable Car Meets the Improbable Branch

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a cocktail meatball, I think I know.

Let me start again.

My kids and I have a little game I call, “What are the chances of that happening?” It’s not so much a game as a question I always ask after something random and highly unlikely happens. It’s a game because it has a set answer. No matter the actual odds, we always say, “100 Percent.”

It’s a dad thing.

Last weekend, however, something happened that was so unlikely that…

One more try. I’ll just say what happened.

Here goes.

On Saturday morning, I was driving my daughter to get the bus at the High School for an 8:00 am departure to the CNY Model United Nations event at Syracuse University. Yes. She’s an MUN nerd. But let’s not get sidetracked. We still love her.

So, we’re driving, and chatting, and I’m thinking about the fact that I had no real plans for the day, in part because it was ridiculously warm out for January in Upstate New York and all the usual things, like skiing, sledding, skating, building snow forts, etc., were not possible. Apparently, I'm a large child during winter. 

I’d even just opened one of my cans of Diet Rite as I drove, which is this no calorie, no sodium, no caffeine soda I drink – even in the mornings – which is probably awful for me.

Anyway, driving and chatting and sipping a crappy soda, and BAM!

An explosion! (It sounded like one, anyway).

Suddenly there was glass dust everywhere, and my daughter and I were just like, “Holy Crap!”

“You okay?!”

“I’m okay! You okay?!”

“Think so.”

We looked up at the now-fractured-into-a-thousand-pieces windshield and saw a branch sticking straight into the glass a solid ten inches. It poked through about halfway between us, just down from the rearview mirror.

For some reason, I kept driving. Probably because she had to be at school within minutes, and I calculated that she would miss the bus if we stopped -- One of the many things I thought about as my mind raced and processed what had happened.

We’ve had a bad string of luck with our cars the last year and a half or so. A bit less than a year ago, this same car got hit as it was parked on our street. A neighbor in a much bigger vehicle slid on some ice and took out the rear left corner. It probably should’ve been totaled. Instead, it spent three months in the body shop while I drove a rental, racking up thousands of dollars for the other guy's insurance to cover.

That accident was on top of the general car troubles you tend to have with Jeeps of similar age -- brakes, tires, ball-bearings, the transmission, even a battery that stopped working because some piece inside of it broke. Add to that four other incidents with the van in the same time frame. Those included my wife ending up in a snowy ditch; my wife hitting a curb and blowing out a tire; my wife hitting an actual bear on the Pennsylvania Turnpike; and my wife hitting a landscaping boulder at a mini-golf course.

I thought about this string of bad luck – and bit of bad driving by my better half -- as we chugged up the hill toward the school, peering through a windshield with a spiderweb of crack and a giant branch sticking out of it.   

As we drove, the branch, standing straight up in the air, began to lean in reaction to the wind and our momentum. As it did so, the shattered windshield creaked, raising concern that it might fall in on us and cover the car and its passengers with thousands of shards.

I grabbed the stick to stabilize it and kept going.

“That could’ve killed one of us,” I said, reflecting on the falling branch, as my daughter agreed and laughed. The only proper reaction.

We were lucky, to be honest.

After we parked and she darted toward the waiting bus, texting her friends about her brush with death, I got out and stared at this seven-foot-long stick that had fallen into our lives, and thought about the unlikelihood of what just happened.

Think about it. A car moving at 30 miles per hour, the wind blowing just enough to knock a branch loose, the branch falling on the perfect angle and with the right speed to spear the windshield of the moving car like an expert hunter.

If the branch had tilted a bit, it may have bounced off. Or if we were 2 seconds sooner. Or two seconds later. 

The math. The odds. The impossibility of it all.

What were the chances? I thought to myself.

The answer: I'm guessing 100 percent.

Like the article? Here's others you may enjoy: New Year, Few Expectations, One Fish, Two Fish, Dead Fish, New Fish and Kid Quotes from a Family Hike,

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