The wreckage on the New York State Thruway

A couple of weeks ago, I had to drive from Albany to Schenectady for a project.  As I drove along the New York State Thruway, enjoying the drive and listening to one of my iPod-synchronized radio stations, the raindrops pattering on my windshield as my wipers tried to maintain rhythm with whatever Boston classic was blasting out of my car speakers…

I noticed that traffic was now gradually slowing to a crawl.

Hmm.  Let’s pay attention, Chuck.  Corral your inner Brad Delp, you’re never going to hit those high notes anyway.

It was only after I passed one point on the road that I saw what had happened.

A red Toyota Corolla was on the side of the road.  Or should I say, what’s left of the Corolla.  The front end was smashed in, the front bumper was torn away.  This car was pulverized.

I pulled over.  I need to offer assistance.

Two other motorists pulled over.  They got out of their cars and walked over to the wreckage.

A woman was inside the Corolla’s cockpit.  She was frantically calling someone, anyone.  We made sure she was okay.  Miraculously, she escaped the accident without a scratch on her.

I could see all the emotions pouring out of her.  She got out of the car.  Tears down her face as she saw the wreckage.  Anger at the incident.  Sorrow that whoever did cause the accident – apparently some car was slaloming from lane to lane, she got caught in the blind spot and over-corrected and hydroplaned in the rain and physics took over – drove away without even stopping to see the carnage they caused.  Ugh.

Another driver – from a panel truck – walked over to her, and apologized for the accident, using words like “there was nothing you could do,” and “wrong place in the wrong time,” and “thank God you’re okay.”

But that was cold comfort to the driver.  She looked at what was left of her vehicle.  Her car looked like a tinfoil ball.   That’s not a “it’s just a scratch, it’ll buff out” dent.

I talked to her.  Anything I could do to help her calm down.  “You’re safe now,” I said.  “Whatever that car looks like now, it did whatever it could to save your life.  It protected you with its last inch.”

She nodded.  She understood.

I offered to stay until the troopers and the tow truck arrived.

“You must be busy, I don’t want to keep you from what you need to do,” she apologized.

“Ma’am,” I said, “This is what I need to do right now.”

The tow truck operator arrived.  Somehow he was able to get two hooks under the car’s exposed front axle and winch-dragged the Toyota onto the flatbed.

Meanwhile, a police cruiser arrived.  The troopers took down information from all the drivers involved, asked one of the witnesses if he could identify the car that was slaloming from lane to lane – unfortunately, he couldn’t get a license plate – and then the cop went back to his cruiser to prepare an accident report.

“Where do you need to go?” I asked the driver.

She told me she had to get to work in downtown Schenectady.

“I’m going that way.  When you’re done with the police, I will drive you to your job.”

“Isn’t that out of your way?  I don’t want to inconvenience you.”

“It would be more of an inconvenience if I let you stay on the side of the road.  You’ve already had a rotten day.  I’m not going to make it worse.  Whenever you’re ready, I’ll drive you.”

A few minutes later, the cop provided her with the accident report.

And then, I drove my guest to Schenectady.  During the trip, she received phone calls from family members, and she told them that she was all right, she told them about the accident, and that some nice stranger was driving her to work and she would let them know what to do next.

“I’ve had such a terrible 2018,” she told me.  “And I hoped that 2019 would be better.”

“I know this is a scary moment,” I replied.  “I’ve been through moments like this.  Many people have.  What’s most important right now is that your family can still talk with you.  That your family can still be there for you.  And you can be there for them.  It’s not your time to go yet.  Take these extra precious moments.”

We arrived at her office building.  Another round of thanks.  Then she went her way and I went mine – a little late for my appointment, but I didn’t care.  Sometimes you do something nice in this world  You don’t expect any remuneration or reciprocation – there is no “do something good and you’ll get rewarded thrice over,” that only works if you’re a Deadhead on Shakedown Street.

What’s more important is that in this world, tomorrow is not promised to anyone.  Treasure every moment you are given.  And when God sends the car to pick you up, that’s your last moment upon this earth.  Make every moment you’re here count.  Do the right thing and be good to others.

In loving memory of Allen Michael Miller.