My first car was a 1965 Mercury Comet, which I bought for $300. It had a “Dead End” sign that was used to patch a large hole in the floor, but was mechanically perfect apart from a mushy gear lever. It was a car with character, roomy and heavy, with sharp, boxy corners on the front end. The entire car would start to tremble at about 65 miles per hour, which was not about the engine but the rusting body just trying to give itself to the wind.
The Comet was good to me until it tried to kill me.
It made its move on a chilly Spring night, the sort of night when most people are home, minding their own business, so that people like me can cruise around trying to remember where home is without encountering a lot of traffic.
Pulling into a steeply graded parking lot, I noticed that the 7-11 was the only open store and there were no other cars. I parked in the middle of the lot pointing uphill. I slapped the gear lever into the “P” position, a bit too casually. Not realizing my error, I had opened the door, half stood, put my foot out on the asphalt, and leaned most of my weight on that foot before I saw the lever pop back to “R”.
Several things happened very quickly. The first thing that happened was that I fell down. I do believe that the door knocked me over because I was too far out of the car to get back in the car. The excessively sturdy driver’s door closed itself swiftly, catching a long swath of my jacket and my arm skin in the process and pinching it securely against the bottom edge of the door frame. I lifted my head too late to have it whacked by the door, but just in time to see the front wheels turn toward my prone body. I tried to jerk my arm free and roll away, but only managed to turn onto my side so that my butt was in direct line with the wheel. The car rolled a little faster until it was stopped by my ass.
There was no swift thinking on my part, rather it was just dumb ass luck.
So there I was, pinned under my car and for the moment, sparing huge panes of store-front glass from being shattered by a ton of old-fashioned American vehicle.
I lay there for a little while trying to decide what to do next. I couldn’t free my arm without help, so I looked around for some. Having a cat’s-eye view of the lot, it was clear that no other cars were there and I was alone in a medium-sized commercial desert.
I tried to imagine being a human tire wedge until the sun came up, and consequently I was consumed by a perilous case of the giggles. “Help?” My voice sounded really weird, so I laughed harder. “Um… HELP? HAHHAHHA… SOMEBODEEEE? FIRE! NUKES! FREE ICE CREAM!!! HERE! UNDER THE UGLY CAR!”
I figured that it would be the perfect conclusion if some drag-racing teenager pulled in and parked on my head too quickly to hear my weak-but-wacky cries for help. Instead, young Abdul, the beefy 7-11 cashier, noticed that, like, wow, there was a body in the parking lot.
He raced out to look me over. I had to instruct him very firmly not to try to pick me up off the pavement. Abdul didn’t appreciate the vital nature of my butt position or the significance of my securely pinned arm flesh.
Methodically, I talked him through the necessary maneuvers and jumped to my feet to double check the gear and employ the emergency brake, since I had just finished having my emergency.
I wouldn’t let him call 911, and explained that I wasn’t hurt and only mildly shocky. I couldn’t remember what I had stopped to buy, but just to reassure Abdul, I bought a Big Gulp and a can of cat food.
Of course, I didn’t have a cat, but I had the fuzzy epiphany that I’d better start to get ready for anything.