Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wanna know how I spent my Saturday?

I guess I'm lucky to be alive. I hydroplaned on the interstate and flipped my car over last Saturday. That was an interesting experience, to say the least.

The wreck happened April 16. I had that Thursday and Friday (April 14 & 15) off from work, so a trip to see my girlfriend, Candace Nelson, was planned. She lives in Morgantown, roughly 4 hours away from where I live, in Princeton. I left early Thursday afternoon and made it there that evening. I left Saturday morning. I had a fun time with her.

Thursday was likely the last time I spent any time with her at her job as Editor-in-Chief of West Virginia University's newspaper. I got to spend some time in her office and see some of the people there one last time.

Friday was a low-key day. We goofed off before heading off to dinner with a couple of her friends and an Associated Press correpsondent for West Virginia. That was interesting. It was a pretty swanky restaurant, which Candace will probably blog about soon. She blogs about new restaurants she goes to.

I had to work at Pizza Hut on Saturday at 3 o'clock. There was also a management meeting at 9:30, Saturday morning. When Candace is involved - either she's in Princeton or I'm in Morgantown - I usually skip the meeting.

Depending on the day of the week and what time I have to work, I will either leave Candace in the morning or late at night. If I have to work in the afternoon, I leave in the morning and get to Princeton right before I have to work. If I work at 8 a.m., I leave that night around 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. and get home in time to get a couple hours of sleep.

I don't know if you want to call this a premonition or just a coincidence or nothing, but in the back of my mind, I was thinking "I should probably leave Friday night." I enjoy driving at night for a few reasons - there's less traffic and I'm not rushed for time.

I don't get to see Candace as often as I'd like, so I like to spend as much time with her as possible. Falling asleep with her Friday night sounded a lot more appealing than driving from the top of West Virginia to the bottom. So, that's what I decided to do.

*cue dramatic music* It was a decision that nearly killed me.

Not really, but anyway...

I woke up Saturday morning. I got ready. We said our good byes and I walked outside. My first thought - "Shit. It's raining." I get in my car and head toward Don Knotts Drive, which will take me to Interstate 79, which will take me to Route 19, which will take me to Interstate 77, which takes me to Princeton.

It's about 10:30 a.m. as I get onto I-79. It's a light drizzle, but it quickly turns into a torrential downpour. I start at exit 148 and get off at exit 53. It started getting heavy right around the beginning and did not slow down until after exit 67. Remember that number.

I start out around 70 miles-per-hour, but quickly realize that won't work, as visibility is not good and the rain is very hard. I slow down to about 45-50 mph and try my best to see in front of me. This continues for nearly 2 hours.

The trip takes roughly 4 hours. In ideal conditions I can usually get the trip done in 3 1/2 hours. The longest it ever took was 5 hours, which coincidentally was another time it was raining heavily. I'm a little pressed for time because the four-hour time frame puts me in Princeton at 2:30. With the heavy rain, I realize that I could possibly be late for work.

Here's the part where I need to admit something. I will occasionally text message while I'm driving. I've done it before on the drive to and from Morgantown. Despite admitting that, it should be noted that looking at my phone was not a factor in what happened on the drive home. I might be irresponsible at times, but I am not stupid.

At one point early in the drive I glanced at my phone and saw that I had a text message from Candace. I didn't read it, didn't reply to it, I put my phone back in my lap and concentrated on driving. Around exit 100, I get a call from Candace. I remember our conversation, because it wasn't very long.

Candace: "Is everything okay? I texted you like an hour ago."

Me: "Yeah. It's raining really hard."

Candace: "Okay. I'll let you go."

Irresponsible. Not dumb.

At one point between exit 100 and 67, there were cones in the road and only one lane was open. At that point, I did text Candace about my drive, since we were going much slower and in a single line. The situation was a little bit more under control.

Exit 67 is always a favorite of mine, since there's this really cool truck-stop diner that I always pass on the drive. I wanted to eat there for the longest time and the first time Candace and I made the drive together, we did eat there in November. I forgot what county I was in and tried to look at the high school to see the name [It's Braxton County High School]. It was still raining too hard to make out the words.

About 10 minutes down the road and the rain lets up. I'm closing in on exit 62. This was my first mistake - I let my guard down. My windshield wipers went from the max setting to the first setting and I guess I stopped paying as much attention as I should have.

Realizing I was potentially going to be late for work, I sped back up from around 50 to 70. I neared the edge of where road work stopped - where there's a little bit of an incline as the recently paved road meets the part that hasn't been paved. I went from the slightly raised new paved road to the old and that's where the problem started.

I was in the left lane and hit the old portion of road. The car bounced a little bit and the front of my car was now aimed toward the right lane. I tried to get back in the left lane and I guess that's when the hydroplaning began.

I didn't panic at any point, because that's one of the first lessons you ever learn about driving - if you panic, you're fucked. Once I started to hyrdoplane, I was headed toward the median. I took my foot off the gas and tried to steer myself back to going straight. This caused the car to start spinning around. The back was now headed toward the median and I was no longer in control.

I still wasn't panicking. If you wind up in the median, you just drive out or get towed out. No big deal, I thought. I was headed into the median backwards, when the car decided to turn around in the median. My car was now in the right direction, it was just in the median instead of the road.

And then the car flipped over.

The median was kind of like a shallow half-pipe. As I was going forward, I was also going up the right edge of the median, which caused the car to flip over. As this point, I still wasn't panicking. I was going straight ahead and things seemed to be okay. I guess maybe I flipped over too fast to freak out or panic, but I remained calm throughout the entire ordeal.

I distinctly remember keeping my eyes open the entire time. I had my hands at "10 and 2" on the steering wheel and watched the world in front of me flip over. I watched the glass on the windshield shatter, but not break, as it hit the grass and I watched as the car skidded to a stop.

[Here's a picture after they flipped it back over]

I didn't realize it at the time, but a big chunk of dirt/mud/grass came through the window and pretty much landed in my lap. I also didn't realize that the car was on its roof at an angle, kind of on the edge of the half-pipe median.

I was surprisingly not jostled around at all. I didn't have any injuries and my glasses didn't even come off. I didn't realize that there was mud in front of me yet, but as I was sitting there upside down I turned the car off and unsnapped my seat belt and slid out of my seat and sat down on the celing of my car.

I wasn't disoriented at all, but I was having a little bit of trouble figuring out which side of the car I was on. I now realize I was sitting on the ceiling underneath the passenger seat. But I couldn't see the steering wheel (because of the mud) and didn't yet realize that I was at an angle. All I could see was the two seats and I couldn't figure out which was the drivers side and which was the passengers side.

I looked around and realized how much stuff I had in my backseat, since it was all laying in a pile on the ceiling, which was now the floor. It was very muddy and kind of wet in there. Luckily it wasn't cold. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I saw my iPod laying close to a puddle, so I picked it up and threw it to a dry spot. I then looked around and assessed if I could get out anywhere. I couldn't, so I just sat there and looked at the scene around me.

I had an open bag of vanilla wafers on the passenger seat at the time of the wreck and saw those spilled all over the floorboard in front of me. That was another clue that I was on the passenger side.

I looked around to see if I could find my phone. That's when I realized the pile of mud that had crashed through the window on the driver side. The phone was in my lap, so I reached toward the floor board for it. Still a little confused about my directions, I reached under the pile, which would have put my hand on the steering wheel. I would have needed to reach over or around the pile. But, there was too much mud to do anything.

As weird as this sounds, I wasn't worried about calling for help. I was fine. And, besides, people eventually notice cars flipped over on the interstate. Somebody would eventually find me. I needed my phone so that I could tweet and make a video.

Disappointed that I couldn't find my phone I turned to the back seat and looked through some of the stuff there. All of this happened within the first 2 minutes of flipping over. I wasn't in there long before I heard a female voice.

"Is anybody in there?"

"Yeah."

"Are you okay? Is there anybody else?"

"Just me. I'm fine."

She got on her hands and knees and looked in through the passenger side window. I was sitting Indian Style by that window. I waved at her. She walked away.

A guy came over.

"Is there one male and one female in there?"

"No. Just one male."

"Are you bleeding?"

"No. I'm fine."

He walked away. The first woman came back.

"Help is on the way."

"Okay. Can you call my phone?"

She didn't. I saw through the back window that there was a crowd of 3-4 people out there. Then I heard the sirens. The side window in the back got busted out. A guy asked me if I was okay. I said I was. He started to bust out the driver side window, but stopped. He then busted out the back window and asked if I could crawl through. They put down a blanket because of the glass and mud and I crawled through.

I was out.

There were two EMT guys around me. One was asking me if I was okay and had any injuries, the other was physically checking me for injuries. He had me pull my shirt up and show him I was okay. The other asked if I wanted to go to the hospital. I said no. He had me sign a form and they walked off to the cop car that just pulled over.

Once they realized I was okay, I guess I was no longer a priority for them. The one that had me sign the form looked at the other guy and said, "Where do you want to eat lunch later?"

The cop asked for my license, registration, and proof of insurance. I told him I could see my wallet, but that I couldn't get to the registration and insurance. He said to wait until they got the car flipped over.

I asked one of the EMT guys if he'd call my phone. He did, but we couldn't hear it. This was something that needed to be tweeted about. It was then that I realized that the lady I talked to wasn't there. I asked the EMT guy about her and he said she stopped and called 911. I wish she had stayed so I could thank her.

The tow truck guy showed up and it started raining again, so I got in the back of the cop car. I apologized to him for bothering him and all these other people. I guess he was having a bad day, because he wasn't being very nice to me. He told me not to get mud in his car, then asked if I knew how this happened. I started talking about hitting the bump and hydroplaning, when he interrupted me and said, "No! You were driving too fast."

I realized I was in a small town once the two truck guy was working. The cop started talking to the EMT guys - "His dad coulda had this thing flipped over in no time. He's been working for his dad a while now, not quite as good as his old man, but he's getting there."

The car got flipped over and I went over to collect my stuff. I saw my wallet laying in the grass and picked it up and handed my license to the cop. He sternly said, "I asked for your registration and proof of insurance too!" I told him I'd get it for him. I managed to get the door open and got the necessary paper work out. I spotted my phone on the floor and picked it up. I also grabbed my iPod and saw my backpack off in the distance. They must have pulled it out after they busted out the back window.

I walked back to the cop car, then spun around and snapped a picture of my car. Sitting inside the car, I took a quick picture of myself.

I wasn't sure what was going on or where I was going. I sent Candace a text that said something to the effect of, "Don't worry. I wrecked my car. I'm in the backseat of a cop car in"

I looked up from my phone. "Are we in Braxton County?" The police officer confirmed it.

"Braxton County. I'll let you know more soon."

She sent a text telling me that she was on her way. I told her she didn't have to and to not worry, but it was already too late for that.

The police officer started driving north-bound on the I-79. Princeton is south-bound. He pulled off exit 67 and I noticed the truck-stop diner in front of us. He pulled up to the door and said to me, "Here's a spot you can sit down and make some phone calls and clean yourself up a little." He gave me the number for the tow-truck company and I got out and he drove away.

I went inside and headed to a bathroom. I took my shirt off and cleaned the mud off of my arms. I put on a new shirt and checked my phone. I had tweeted from the cop car that I wrecked my car but hadn't put up any pictures yet. I had a couple tweets from people asking about me as well as a text from my friend Justin Edens that said, "Are ya dead yet?" I replied, "No. Stranded in Braxton County. Figuring out what to do." He offered to come get me. I told him I wasn't sure if I needed a ride yet.

I talked to Candace and she was on her way. I checked the time. It was about 1:30. I called Pizza Hut and let Mark (aka Horsehead aka my boss) know about the situation. I ended the call by saying, "I just put a picture of my car up on Twitter. It's some crazy shit. Check it out."

My mom tells me that I need to let her know before I start driving across the state, because she worries. I forgot to tell her I was going to Morgantown, but let her know when I got there. She told me to text her before I leave. Well, I forgot to do that. Instead, I called her and told her that I flipped my car over. She was concerned, but I assured her I was okay and told her that I would put a picture of the car up on Facebook so she could see it.

The diner is connected to a hotel, so I sat on a leather couch in a laundry room area while waiting for Candace. I tweeted and Facebook-ed with people about my wreck, as a lot of people were checking up on me. I was very surprised by the large outpouring of support for me. A lot of people I didn't expect to show concern did. I was also a little surprised by some of the people who didn't check up on me. But, that kind of stuff happens, I guess.

Candace showed up around 3 and we headed to Princeton. I got there around 6 and went straight to work. It was kind of surreal. I went through all of that, then got to work and instantly answered a ringing phone and took somebody's order for pizza. I just jumped right into work and that's how I finished off my Saturday.

Candace spent the night at my apartment and left Sunday afternoon, before giving me a ride to work that morning.

All-in-all, a very interesting Saturday. I guess I'm lucky to be alive. I haven't lingered on it too much. I've joked around a lot about how fine I am physically. I've had a couple people somberly note that it was a good thing there weren't any other cars around me. But, for the most part, I haven't thought too much about "what could have been" or things along that line.

My mom's boyfriend let me borrow his jeep to get around until we figure out what I'm doing, in regards to a car. So, that's where we're at now.

We try to keep things lighthearted, as my friend Shane pointed out something very true: "Be careful, it's a lot easier to flip a jeep than it is a Cavalier."