My car’s radiator exploded, steam covered everything. The right front bumper crumpled, the heavy steel hood folding like tissue paper. I’d just rear-ended a 53-foot long semi tractor-trailer that had pulled out in my lane but going only a third of my speed. I was waiting for the engine block, the big, cast iron V-8, to come through the firewall and end my life.
The truck driver, seeing that I’d hit him, gunned his engine so that the inertial force would be less. I rammed the steering wheel hard, so hard that I flattened it. I sat there stunned; knowing that my car would go up in flames, unable to move. The truck driver pulled off the road, me connected to his massive rear bumper, a steel I-beam that showed no damage.
“You OK?” he asked. “Didn’t you see me?”
I found it hard to speak, my chest hurt a lot. I nodded, and then slowly climbed out of the crumpled convertible. “I saw you pull out, no signal,” I said my back hurting.
“Car’s totaled,” he said.
I didn’t look back.
“You wait for the cops, I’ll see if I can raise them on the radio.” He returned to his cab, started his engine and with two tugs, disengaged my car from the truck. I thought he might leave, and I’m sure he would have if a State Trooper had not been traveling the other direction, made a U-turn and come back with lights on. He pulled in front of the semi, blocking his exit. Got out of the car, told the truck driver to stay in the cab, then walked up to me. I was leaning against my car, dazed.
“Hey, Roger, remember me?” he asked. It was somebody that I’d gone to college with a couple years before.
“Yeah I do,” was the best I could do as an answer. I leaned against my wrecked car.
“Let me handle this,” he said. “Get in.” He led me to his patrol car, and then put the truck driver in the back seat and we sped off to see the Justice of the Peace. The driver admitted guilt, posted bond, and left with another patrolman. My friend took me to the bus station, called my folks, and paid for my bus ticket back to Pittsburgh.
I spent a couple weeks at home in back injury rehab. The United States Marine Corps, to which I had promised my military life, got wind of the accident and I flunked a physical at Bethesda Naval Hospital a month later. Now discharged from the Marine Reserves the Army took me. In about six months I got a large cash settlement from the trucker’s insurance carrier. Sudden wealth meant new friends and I was a minor celebrity at work.
One of them was a co-worker, Jane, who had never spoken to me for any length of time. She poked her head to get details about the accident, and then asked if I’d give her a hand. Normally, that meant lifting or moving something, but I stood unsteadily and asked what.
“Blind date,” Jane said. John,, a fast-talking Navy Lieutenant in the office, had asked her out. She felt he was too fast for her to go with him alone, but if I’d go along with her roommate as a foursome it might be OK.
“Where?” I asked.
“El Bodegon, the Tavern, a Spanish restaurant on 21st Street Northwest in DC.
“OK,” I said with feigned enthusiasm. “As a favor, can John drive?”
El Bodegon was fun, the kind of place where they pour wine in your mouth directly from the narrow spout of a kidney-shaped bottle. Until you choke. It was a good time, but not a great time. At the end of the date we shook hands, my blind date and I.
Two years passed, and we saw each other twice, once by accident. Another night we tried to spend some of my insurance windfall, but that didn’t work well. I left for Fort Benning, the army, had orders to Vietnam. She went on to other things including a boyfriend.
Three years later in July, 1970 we stood at the ornate soaring altar of the Washington National Cathedral, her in a bright white Priscilla of Boston dress, me in a rented gray morning coat. I felt that old twinge from that accident. She put her hand on my lower back and said, “It’s time.” The pain went away.