The day I flipped my car and ate some humble pie

Posted in Duff 'n Stuff

Duff ’n Stuff, Nov. 27, 2012

I was going along on my way to a theater rehearsal in Langley, when the car’s back end started to spin.

I picked up speed immediately as the road apparently was covered in a sheen of treacherous ice left behind by a recent snowstorm.

I looked left and saw that the curve of the road was high and the ditch looked about six feet deep.

“I’m gonna roll,” I thought and braced myself.

The car completed its swing of 180 degrees and in that one or two seconds I was grateful there were no oncoming cars. Then the car and I rolled in a complete revolution. In that moment I heard my childhood-gymnast-inner-self thinking: “You’re doing a full twist!”  Then the car “stuck the landing” just shy of a picturesquely snow-draped cedar.

It was dark and quiet. No cars passed. No lights were there.  No moon shone over the forest onto the road. I felt a bump on my head and thought, “Put some snow on it.” I opened the door and scooped some up.

I sat for a few long minutes with snow on my head repeating a phrase under my breath, “Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod,” so that it may have sounded like some desperate mantra to a passing … well, a deer or a turkey, maybe, because no other person was anywhere nearby. Shoot.

It took me a long time to get my mind around the fact that I had just rolled my car. I had never been in any real car accidents before that, just a couple of minor fender benders. That was the thing that surprised me all the way through the roll; that little voice that was saying, “Look at you. This is happening to you. Hang on. You might possibly die here.”

And then, quiet. Snowy woods in a ditch quiet. I didn’t die. I rubbed my noggin.

I reached for my cellphone. (This was before our phones were “smart” and spoke to us and told us what to do.) It was almost impossible to dial as it was all darkness all around the dead car and my hands would not stop shaking. It was then I had the presence of mind to quietly curse the cellphone designer who had made the number pad so aggravatingly small.

I pressed the speed dial to home 22 miles away. Just as I said “James, I’ve been in an accident…” the call failed. My heart sank. I was longing to hear a voice, any voice that would calm me. Also, I knew Jim had heard only that one phrase and was not only uninformed but maybe a little freaked out. Poor guy.

I looked around. I saw the forest and the snow. Everything was so still and I longed to be as calm as the trees dressed in snow. I heard my heart ringing. No, that’s the car. I turned back.

The car continued ringing.

I had left the door open and, for the first time in my life, I did not care that the door-open alarm was ringing, although it usually annoyed me no end. From the lights of the car I saw that the camping chairs, ski racks and other odd paraphernalia from the back of the wagon were scattered about in the snow. The spare tire and jack were turned out of their well and the back windshield was shattered and in pieces all about like some weird version of Hansel’s breadcrumbs.

I looked at the car and thought how well it looked for having just rolled. It was a station wagon purchased for its roomy compatibility for our family of four and also for its notorious safety record. I realized it probably saved my life and actually rested my shaking hand on it in a ridiculous show of gratitude.

I frantically blind-dialed every number I could manage, including 911, although I knew there was no coverage.

I walked out of the ditch to the shoulder-less road, still shaking and bewildered, wondering if I should risk the dangerous walk toward the highway, to some light and people.

I started waving my arms at the odd passing car. No one stopped, though I can’t blame them. My car was hidden in the ditch under the large evergreen and I must have looked like some crazed lunatic walking on the iciest and darkest of roads in freezing temperatures. (Although I must admit I was a little disappointed that the first three or four cars did not stop to help me.)

Finally a family pulled up and the dad got out. This was Ken and Neesa to whom I will always be grateful. (Did he say Ken or Tim? I’m sorry now I had not made a note of it, for I would have liked to have sent them a gift for their kindness.)

He asked me if I was okay, and this was the most satisfying moment of the ordeal. I felt that, finally, someone was here with me and reassuring me that I was alive, and that I had been through something for which it was worth asking that question.

I told him that I only got a bump on my head and thank you for stopping. I mentioned the fine performance of my now silent car. (Secretly, I wanted to throw my arms around the car and shout out to the world that “Yes! These are, after all, the best bloody cars around!”

Ken and Neesa had super powerful cellphone coverage and called everyone for me.

The ambulance came, the police came, other concerned drivers stopped to lend their sympathies and, eventually, we all departed leaving my bruised but trusty car under the silent serenity of the trees to await the tow truck. The police drove me to my rehearsal. (Later I was awarded an ironic prize for “most dedicated actor” in that particular show.)

Of course, telling the story was fun. The ice, the spin, the moment where the world slowed and I rose up and out of my body to watch the maneuver of the car like some surreal stop-motion film, though the bump on my head from what I figured was the flying camping chair still hurt. I continued on in a foggy state of humility for a few days and thanked Ken and Neesa a few more times. I knew that it was only with a bit of grace and good luck that I walked away from that accident.

With the winter months and inclement weather upon us, please drive carefully, everybody.

From the heart,
Patricia Duff


Upcoming theater events for which others had to drive to many rehearsals:

“Scrooge, The Musical,”opens Friday, Nov. 30 and runs through Dec. 15 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley.

“Willy Wonka” at Whidbey Children’s Theater in Langley, opens Friday, Dec. 7 and runs through Dec. 22.

“The Nutcracker” by Whidbey Island Dance Theatre tickets at South Whidbey High School Auditorium, opens Dec.7 and runs for eight performances through Dec. 16.


Patricia Duff is an award-winning journalist whose most recent kudos include several wins in the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association 2011 competition.

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