What I Did 0n My Summer Vacation: Walked Away from This...

On Father's Day, while we were headed east on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, on our way to a family vacation in Amish country, the steering on our 1992 Taurus gave out. The car spun out in the grassy median, flipped over, and came to rest partially in a westbound lane.

Car wrecks are favorite topics chosen by freshman composition students. Such stories typically emphasize crisis at the expense of conflict, so they often cause trouble for students who submit them for personal essay assignments.

This essay would not make a good freshman comp paper, in part because it depends on images rather than words for its emotional impact. But writing it sure was therapeutic.

My wife had been driving. I was fiddling with my PDA, and looked up when I felt something was wrong with the motion of the car. We were weaving back and forth, slightly at first.

My wife had a white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel, which was jerking back and forth, more and more severely. "It's malfunctioning!" she shouted. We bounced off the gas tank of the 18-wheeler that was keeping pace with us on the right.

I was actually relieved to see the truck receding from my window, but then the car spun around 180 degrees and we started to roll.

When the car stopped moving, I asked Leigh if she was okay. I turned around and saw my children, hanging upside down in their car seats, looking very surprised. Carolyn was still clutching a red lollipop. They were both alert and responsive, and surprisingly calm.

My wife unbuckled herself, slumping down onto the roof of the car. She was trying to say comforting things for the children, but she was almost hyperventilating. I told her, "All four of us are awake and talking."

I didn't know at the time that we had rolled all the way across the median and were hanging over into the oncoming lanes of traffic. (Leigh, who had to crawl over the yellow line as she exited, was more aware of our situation.)

Somehow we each managed to squeeze out through the compressed window spaces, scraping ourselves up a bit in the process.

On the other side of the car, I saw my wife getting to her feet, shouting for someone to call 911. A man in blue surgical scrubs was running along the side of the road towards us. Then I saw my son walking around from the back of the car.

I brought Peter over to the grass, where some bystanders were making Leigh lie down. I was going to head back to get Carolyn out of the car, but I saw four or five people were already working on getting her out.

"Daddy, is this real?" Peter asked, still stunned.


Someone carried Carolyn over to me. I think it was the guy in blue scrubs, and I think he was the same one who handed her the stuffed dog

"Daddy, can you fix the car?" she asked.

No ambulance had arrived yet, but we were all safe. With nothing better to do, I inspected the wreck. I even pulled my digital camera out of my pouch and took a few pictures while lying on my back.


My daughter said she wanted to pick a flower for Mommy.



I sent a bystander to retrieve Carolyn's pink suitcase of toys. Someone else started reading Carolyn a "Little Red Hen" book, but I offered her the choice between "Nurse Nancy" and "Doctor Dan," a pair of Little Golden Books from the 50s, which would be great subjects for an analysis of traditional gender roles in juvenile literature.

I offer this detail as an example of how non-ideal circumstances affect the formation of the literary canon.


My aesthetic sense was intact enough that I adjusted Rainbow Hector's little paw before I took this shot.

I also shifted the camera enough that Tweety was not in the frame.

Along most stretches of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, there isn't a grassy median -- the traffic is separated by a concrete barrier. If we hadn't had an escape route leading away from the truck, we'd have bounced off the barrier and probably gone under the truck's tires.

According to one of the witnesses, we were within eyesight of a tunnel, which could have caused a huge pileup.

My wife did the best she could trying to keep the car under control after the steering went out... but really, what can you do in a case like that?


When the state trooper arrived and ordered the bystanders to clear out, one of them shook my hand and said, "For a man who's been in this kind of an accident, you're in an amazingly good mood."

I told him, "Everyone's talking. Everyone's awake. We walked out of that. What a Father's Day present!"

The truck driver wasn't hurt. Leigh and I are still sore, and she's got some follow-up medical appointments to take care of.

But we all walked away.

(Feel free to leave comments on my blog entry for this page.)

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