I’m An Excellent Driver

We’re spinning around and I’m just praying the car doesn’t flip. I’m trying to remember which way I’m supposed to be turning my steering wheel. Into the skid? I think that’s right, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. We’re out of control.


We woke-up late this morning. We could see the first snowflakes beginning to fall through the parted curtains in our bedroom. The kids like to stand on-top of the heat register by that window and getting to see the beginnings of the snowfall was a double bonus. We had a busy agenda for the day– some errands that needed running and since we had gotten a late start on the day we decided to punt breakfast and throw brunch into the mix as well. Plus there was cooking to be done for dinner guests we were expecting tonight. Anyway, the last time I checked the forecast, this snow wasn’t supposed to be a big deal.

By the time we got everyone dressed and bundled into the car the snow was coming down a little more intensely. We altered our plan to stay closer to home and changed brunch-out to brunch-in after we hit the organic market. The drive to our first stop was on fresh white snow. We literally passed the salt truck going the other way.

In the shopping center parking lot, by the time we had collected our various prescriptions, purchases and the rare cup of Starbucks and got back to the car it was covered in at least an inch of fresh snow. As I scraped it off the car I noticed that the fresh melt from the drive over had frozen solid to the windshield. On our way to the organic market we drove behind a flatbed truck and I was reminded of the time, the day before the twins were born, when I drove smack into the back of a gardening truck and totaled our car. I was distracted then — I was dialing my cell phone. I was calling to tell my mother that we had gotten our carseats installed and inspected and were officially ready for babies. And then a sudden impact. Breaking glass. An airbag slamming into my face that led to bleeding around my cornea. As we drove behind the flatbed truck this morning, I thought back to what an idiot I had been then and how much more careful I am now. I never call or answer my cell phone while driving. Not even with a hands-free device.

We made quick work of the market — Mel got vegetable rolls she loves, I got a container of vegetarian split pea soup and the kids stocked-up on the ridiculously expensive yogurt they’ve managed to convince us is the only thing they’ll reliably eat for breakfast. As we’re walking to check-out there’s a guy with a sample table of The Switch carbonated juice. He asks if we want a sample, and we accept, feeling a little guilty that he’s opening his cans and containers for us — we’re obviously his first customers of the day. The Chickienob has the Very Berry, the Wolvog has the Grape and Mel and I have a little of each. We actually like it quite a bit — not as fizzy as an Izze and I notice they have a Black Cherry flavor to-boot. We do something I can’t remember us ever doing before: we decide to buy some. What the hell on this weird day, right? Snow. Brunch. Fizzy fruit drinks. We grab some cans and are out the door.

By this time the snow is coming down really hard. There’s a fresh layer of ice on the windshield and the roads are covered in white with no visible pavement. Our route home takes us down a steep hill that I take cautiously, driving in low gear until it bottoms out. We’re on the stretch to home, going maybe 30 mph, when I feel the right side of the car dip and catch a rut. I realize that with the absence of lines on the road I’ve drifted too far to the side and am driving half-on the unpaved shoulder (this stretch of road doesn’t have a curb). I make a slight turn of the wheel to take us out of the rut and we begin to fishtail. I’m afraid we’re going to go straight off the road and I turn the wheel again — I can’t honestly tell you which way, but it was definitely the wrong way. I don’t remember hitting the breaks but I may have done that too. And suddenly…

We’re spinning around and I’m just praying the car doesn’t flip. I’m trying to remember which way I’m supposed to be turning my steering wheel? Into the skid? I think, that’s right, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. We’re out of control. We’ve spun at least 180 degrees and maybe even 540. If I’m not panicking, it is only because I am in total and complete denial that I have fucked-up this royally with my wife sitting next to me and my kids in the back seat. We’ve been putting off getting them proper booster seats, they’re still probably safer in their car seats, but while we’re spinning that’s one of the things that runs through my mind. To my amazement the car coming from the opposite direction never appears. And the truck about a half-mile behind us has plenty of time to slow down so that when we finally come to a complete stop — facing the wrong way on the wrong side of the street — we are miraculously okay.

I slowly do a K-turn in the road and ride the less than half-a-mile left to our house in total silence. We were all freaked out, although the Chickienob later said she liked it because it reminded her of “The Whip” from Dutch Wonderland.

I’ve spent the rest of the day replaying the moment in my mind. Was I going too fast? Was I not paying attention? I think the answer to both is “no.” I tell myself I am an excellent driver — but it seems as believable as it does for Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. I just keep thinking of the eternity that was that spin in the middle of the road. The unreality of it. How even writing this now, it feels like it happened to someone else — especially since there are no practical consequences from it. But it happened to my family. With me behind the wheel. And that’s something I have to take responsibility for.




Filed under Parenting, Weekends

11 responses to “I’m An Excellent Driver

  1. heatherntucker

    Glad everyone is safe.


  2. N

    So glad that everybody was safe.


  3. I’m so glad y’all are okay.

    Some of this is freakily similar to a…well, freakily similar experience we had a few winters back:



  4. Vee

    So glad everyone is ok. I too have been the driver in my car that span out of control and onto the other side of the road. Max was in the car, there was no snow just some rain and an oil slick. It was bloody scary but we live to tell the story.


  5. I’m glad you’re all ok and nothing happened.


  6. We had almost the exact same experience yesterday on the beltway. Very scary. Glad you’re all ok


  7. Karen Paul-Stern

    I think I drove home from Adat Shalom yesterday doing 15 or 20 the whole time. We went in two cars, thinking we had to go in two directions for basketball games after services, which of course got cancelled. Which meant that I, the New Yorker who didn’t learn how to drive until I was 30 and still doesn’t parallel park, had to drive from Carderock to Takoma Park yesterday afternoon. Jonathan told me the Beltway was our best option. Nope – it was a nightmare. And while I insisted that my 8 and 10 year old drive with their father, my 14 year old drove with me. When we finally arrived at home, my daughter asked if I had cursed a lot. My 14 year old replied, “I learned a of new words.” Never again.


  8. Glad that nothing more than nerves were disturbed.

    Although it’s by no means the worst car thing that’s happened to us, I had a similar incident last year in my husband’s car _on a bridge_. His car is preposterously rear-wheel drive, which made it react to the ice even worse. I was sure I was going to plummet off the bridge or at least smash into other cars, but I did neither.

    I now refuse to drive that car in the winter (since snow and ice are not rarities around here) and when we got a new car, I insisted on 4WD. I also drove awfully slow on that particular bridge for the rest of that winter.

    It’s not about your driving skills. It’s mostly about the type of car and the type of tires. The best thing you did was calm, which most people don’t, flailing wildly and freaking out the passengers. You did as well as you could have in the situation.


  9. Phew. Stressful and scary. Glad everyone’s ok.


  10. fishtail skid into a spin is so, so scary. one never has complete control over all the factors – us IFers know that, right? Glad you are all safe and sound.


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