Yesterday’s disaster defeated me. It took hours for me, the Princess of Perspective, to fully appreciate just how lucky I was: I’m OK and no one was injured or killed.
I’ll take what could be a short story, and tell it in full.
I’ve been really enjoying my Smartcar, learning to appreciate how much fun it is to drive. Last week I was zipping up Hwy 1 north of Bodega Bay, past beautiful Sonoma Coast State Park Beaches.
Fast forward to yesterday (Friday), when circumstances found me driving the RV and towing the Smartcar along County Road 131 from Winters to Davis. When I’m driving the RV, I use the side-view mirrors (not the camera mounted on the rear of my RV) to look behind me. The wind along 131 on Friday was fierce. I understand it was exceptionally windy in the San Francisco Bay Area as well.
As I approached Davis, I came to a four-way stop at County Road 98, crossed the road and then pulled over to let the car behind me pass. I looked up at my rear camera. The car was not there.
My cerebral cortex cordoned off my visual cortex. In other words, I could not believe my eyes. I got out of the RV and looked around the back, honest-to-goodness expecting to see the car. But it still wasn’t there. The tow bar, sans car, had been dragging along the highway for how long I couldn’t be sure.
I fought the tow bar in the wind to secure it in the usual bolt. Something was blocking the tow bar from reaching the bolt. I looked again and realized that the entire hitching bar, which had been attached to the front of the car, was now attached to my tow bar, preventing me from using the bolt. I ran inside my RV and grabbed some spare bungee cords I keep in a plastic bag. Then outside again in the wind, lifting the heavy tow bar (now made even heavier with its added and unwanted hitch feature), trying to secure the combo tow bar/hitchbitch with bungee cords that are, of course, catching and tangling each other. When the bar was hooked up sufficiently for my purposes, I drove back in the direction of Winters. Looking carefully – shit, how hard can it be to spot a driverless blue Smartcar anyway – I arrived back in Winters without seeing a single vehicle out of place.
In Winters I went into the post office and asked if anyone knew the phone number for the local police. The Mayor of Winters identified herself and placed the call for me on her cell phone. I advised her, in all seriousness, to describe me to the cops as distraught.
Once the young officer of the law understood what had happened (the city girl lost the car she was towing; how is this even possible?), he retraced my steps, looking along roadside ditches. He found my car about a mile before where I had stopped and turned around.
Happy as I was to see the car, it was an awful sight, revealing more damage from every new angle. I asked the officer to reconstruct from the evidence at the scene what had likely happened to cause the car to come to rest at the bottom of the ditch facing west when I had been driving east. Pointing out the tire marks and flattened weeds, he said the car appeared to have rolled down one side of the ditch, gone up the other side of the ditch and then hit a telephone poll, spinning it around.
Following the AAA tow car to its home repair shop in Davis, I gave up. The naysayers had been right. This had been a terrible idea. I couldn’t handle this on my own and at my age. What had I been thinking?
It took me hours to fully appreciate how lucky I had been. The guy at the repair place told me, repeatedly, “This wasn’t your fault,” and placed the blame squarely on the improper tow hitch poorly mounted on the car. The hitch was attached to the car when I bought it. The seller had towed the Smartcar behind his 2006 Winnebago View (the same year and model I drive). The repair guy showed me where the screws worked their way lose and noted it had been only a matter of time.
The perspective, when it came, allowed me to understand how fortunate I was that I was driving on a lonely stretch of a county road when the toad detached. What if I had been on a freeway with traffic behind me? One innocent car hitting the Smartcar, spinning it into another innocent car. Someone could have been seriously injured. Someone could have been killed. What would it matter to me under those circumstances if the car coming lose was my fault or not?
I’m now at Snowflower, a very nice Thousand Trails RV camp near Emigrant Gap (off I-80 on the way to Truckee/Lake Tahoe). The car is in Davis. My insurance agent in SoCal has been notified. Most likely scenario is that the car is totaled. In addition to damage to the body, there’s damage to the frame.
Give me a few more days and I’m likely to decide to buy another Smartcar, replace the tow bar (that mile of being dragged along the road couldn’t have been good for it), and attach a proper hitch properly.