I’m not a car guy particularly, but when one saves your life you have to take notice. Well, and dumb luck; but the car didn’t get in the way.

What happened was, Hertz screwed up and made me stand in line at midnight so by way of compensation, instead of the normal Google econobox (of which I approve) Stall 839 contained a brand-spanking-new shiny white compact crossover SUV. I loathe sports utes in principle and practice but was too tired to go back and demand something smaller.

But then I started to like it right away. It has that nimble lightweight feel that so few cars at any price do, plus tons of room and outstanding visibility. The parking spot in the basement of the Google corporate apartments was cruelly narrow and in an awkward corner, but it slipped right in; a better view of all four corners than anything I’ve driven recently made it easy.

Anyhow, tonight I got off South 101 on the Montague Expressway, which I wouldn’t normally call a particularly dodgy intersection by Bay-Area standards, except for suddenly there was a breakdown blocking the merge lane and some flaming asshole who wouldn’t let me into the next one over. There were people standing beside the breakdown; please, world, don’t do that, some slightly-less-lucky Canadian greybeard than me might mash you to a bloody pulp.

I can’t quite recreate it in my mind. There was death in front and no space behind the asshole who’d sped up to cut me off because of the other asshole who’d dodged in behind him; I had no alternative so I stomped the gas and it downshifted into redline territory instantly and I made two quick hard turns that I’m sure weren’t in the RAV4 design-goal envelope and it screeched angrily but stayed on all four tires and carried me through.

Then I was at my garage and I didn’t notice I was shaking and hyperventilating till I was stopped on the ramp digging in my pockets for the gate-opener. There was a funny smell in the cab and if I shortened that engine’s life, seems like a fair trade-off for preserving mine.

A couple of decades ago I might’ve gloated over my mad driving skillz but I’m smarter now; dumb fucking bad luck got me into a nasty box and dumb fucking good luck got me out again.

Plus a pretty good Toyota.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: BWJones (Oct 06 2011, at 23:31)

It is a nice ride... More importantly, good to hear you are safe.

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From: Anon (Oct 07 2011, at 00:07)

Today, Tomorrow, Toyota

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From: Rafa (Oct 07 2011, at 00:22)

Sometimes driving cars bring the worst of us. I'm glad you are ok.

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From: dr2chase (Oct 07 2011, at 05:11)

Hate to ask a question like this, but in hindsight, would brakes also have gotten the job done? I've been surprised by stuff in a travel lane before (tire change on the backside of a Houston overpass in the fast lane, tire change in the slow lane of I-84 smack in the middle of downtown Hartford where it's curving and underground), nowadays I work hard to remember that if I can't see it yet, anything could be there. That, and the outcome of most crashes is improved by reducing speed.

And how would Google's self-driving car have handled this?

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From: Paul (Oct 07 2011, at 06:51)

Its one of those 64K questions. The RAV4 is light and nimble, but if you're in a head on collision with a truck you're toast (at least, that's what the police told me when I looked at the wreckage of our VW Tiguan, which saved the lives of my 8 week old baby and wife at the time. She escaped with a shattered wrist. They were hit head on by a truck speeding on the wrong side of the road. And yes we bought another one).

Someone half jokingly suggested back in the 90s, that all cars should be fitted with a 9 inch nail in the steering wheel to make people drive better. There seems to be a lot of truth to that. In the UK, where I grew up, because the cars were so small and fragile, you always assumed everyone was trying to kill you, and drove cautiously. Here in the states, it seems that there is more of a "nothing can touch me in my car" attitude to driving, which is way more dangerous.

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From: Kevin H (Oct 07 2011, at 08:51)

I had a similar experience with my Nissan Altima about 7 years ago. I was making a left-turn through a busy intersection on a light that was turning from yellow to red. A car in the right-lane of the oncoming traffic - which must have been obscured from my vision because it appeared out of nowhere - came into the intersection at considerable speed.

For a moment, time stopped and my brain instantly evaluated everything it knew about the performance capabilities of the car I was driving, the speed I was traveling, the speed of the oncoming car, the distance between us and the odds that the oncoming car could brake or maneuver to avoid disaster. All these factors combined to a realization that I WOULD be hit. My options were to either slow enough that I took the hit in the front corner or speed up enough to take the hit in the back corner. The imperative was that I NOT take the hit in the mid-section of the car where my wife and child were sitting exposed to this oncoming vehicle.

A decision was instantly made to speed up, and my foot pushed the pedal to the floor. Suddenly time was no longer standing still but moving considerably faster than expected. In fact, it wasn't time moving faster but rather the vehicle I was driving. Here was a car that I had driven extensively over several years, but suddenly everything I thought I knew about its performance capabilities were thrown out the window, and I was accelerating easily 1.5x to 2x faster than I would have ever dreamed was possible. This unexpected performance changed all the previous calculations and a collision was avoided.

I know I was lucky. There are probably a dozen different things that could have prevented the car from pulling out the performance it did, ranging from road quality to tire wear to weight distribution to fuel mix. But the car did perform, and as a result it forged a strong emotional connection that has me rather convinced that was the best car I ever owned.

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From: John Cowan (Oct 07 2011, at 09:53)

What are these "cars" of which you speak?

Signed, Bewildered in New York City

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From: Ross Reedstrom (Oct 07 2011, at 14:35)

To: Bewildered in New York City

They're like cabs, but privately owned. And come in other colors.

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From: Elaine Nelson (Oct 08 2011, at 21:45)

At my last job the rav4 was hugely popular; I think 3 people in my department had them. (Out of maybe 10.)

In any case, glad to hear you are ok!

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From: Ashish (Oct 09 2011, at 23:26)

Was driving to Denver Airport and right in the middle of heavy traffic some guy cut me off as if they were driving blindly. I swerved and my car turned 180deg moving from the right most lane to the second lane missing at least 8 cars while I held the steering with such a calm that I have not had since. My car stalled facing an on coming traffic and I could hear screeching noise all around me. The car took this weird turn because the Big-O-Tire (a company that I had used) had installed two new tires tangentially. The car was (is) 1998 Toyota Rav4 and I never told this incidence to my parents. That day it was this car that saved my life.

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October 06, 2011
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