Monday, October 26, 2009

You're hurt but you don't know why

Sit and listen, my friends, to a horrid tale of frustration, hurt, anger and loss, all culminating in mixed feelings of yearning for what once was, yet looking forward to what will be.

Of course, this really has nothing to do with the tale I promised of my trip to Annapolis, which I'll quickly go over now. It's too bad that my other story trumps this one, as this trip was supposed to be a highlight of at least this month, if not this year, but circumstances have changed. Anyway, the trip was exciting and went well. It was great to see the exhibitry and videos I wrote scripts for in action at the Naval Academy -- I even got a couple photos taken by my Jim Lovell leadership video kiosk, which you can see below:

I'm actually pretty happy with how everything turned out. I got some great experience with being on the road and helping out during filming, and I think my boss was pleased with how I took copious, detailed notes and was always ready with whatever he needed when he needed it. Things went mostly according to plan, and I say mostly because there are always things that come up last-minute when you're on a shoot. It's just the way of the industry.

So on to my tale of endless frustration that's plagued me since Oct. 9, 2009. It was on that evening, a Friday, that Darren and I were heading to my parents' house in Central New York for our trip to the Fly Creek Cider Mill near Cooperstown. It was dark and drizzly, and I was driving my nice little red 2002 Ford Focus (with racing stripes on either side). The story behind how I came across that car is actually interesting as a side note. I bought the car from my father a couple years ago when I knew I'd be needing one for my internship at The Standard-Times in New Bedford, Mass., a little more than two years ago. We had looked around Herkimer for a couple weeks for a car within my budget (at that time, only $4,000), which didn't turn up anything that wouldn't require tons of maintenance and repair costs down the road. My father turned to Skinner & Damulis, a Ford dealer my grandfather had worked for and from whom my father always buys his cars. They had recently received a Saturn as a trade-in that they were willing to sell for exactly $4,000, but unfortunately for me, it had a manual transmission. We borrowed the car for awhile and I tried to learn stick but gave up after a week or two. At the end, I ended up buying that car for my father, who gave me his Focus, which he had bought from Skinner's a couple years before. At the time, it had about 75,000 miles on it, which was fine for me. It had been taken excellent care of, and I in turn did the same. I absolutely loved the car, despite it not having any bells and whistles. I was so proud of how well it ran despite its age and how many miles I was putting on it.

By the night of Oct. 9, 2009, the car had 111,456 miles on it, and I was certain it would last much longer if I continued to take good care of it. Traffic on I-95 and the Mass Pike from Dedham to near Worcester had been stop-and-go and all-out horrific. It had taken us about an hour and a half to go 30 miles. Around 8 p.m., near Exit 11 going westbound, we got going pretty good until traffic came to a complete stop up ahead. All the cars around me, including myself, slammed on our breaks to avoid hitting anyone in front of us. I was in the fast lane and turned slightly to the left to avoid hitting the Jeep Liberty in front of me. Luckily, I stopped in time, though I was deathly afraid I wouldn't make it. A couple split-seconds later, I heard screeching tires behind me, and a Honda Accord slammed into my passenger-side rear, jerking Darren and I forward in our seats and sending the car into the rear of the Liberty in front of us. The next thing I remember was the driver of the Accord pulling up beside us and mouthing, "Are you OK?" over to me. I nodded and pulled my poor, surely damaged car over to the left shoulder. The Liberty and the Accord did the same.

Long story short, a state trooper arrived and surveyed the damage. Most of the Accord's front was completely smashed in; the car would surely be totaled. As for the Liberty, I'd given them a small dent on the rear driver's side bumper, so they were able to drive off without anything further. My car, on the other hand, was completely smashed in on the rear passenger side, and the impact had caused shards of my car's body to puncture and pop my rear passenger-side tire. Strangely enough, the front of my car was completely undamaged, despite the small dent it had put in the Liberty. A tow truck came and took both my Focus and the Accord to a salvage lot. No one seemed to think the damage to my car would be enough to total it.

Understandably, this whole incident completely shocked and jolted me. It was the first time I'd been in an accident, so I was somewhat unprepared to deal with the rush of feelings and logistics to comb through that accompanied this whole ordeal. Miraculously, no one was injured -- I didn't even feel any whiplash the next day. Since all the rental-car places were closed by this point, Darren and I were forced to take a taxi from the salvage lot to a hotel, where we stayed the night. We got a rental car first thing the next morning and continued our trip to New York. I have the rental car even now, a 2009 Kia Optima.

I had my Focus towed to a body shop I'd received two positive, independent recommendations for. I went through the whole process of filling out an accident report, filing a claim with both my insurance company and the insurance of the person who hit me, and got the ball rolling on getting an adjuster out to assess the damage to my car. Unfortunately, much of this had to be done while I was on the road and on the job, which made me feel pretty bad, because I wished I could have devoted myself 100 percent to what I had to do there. (I don't think anyone noticed or complained, though.) Several phone calls later, an adjuster deemed my car a total loss. You can imagine the immense sadness and shock I felt upon hearing this news. I hadn't expected this result at all; I was counting the days until I would be able to drive my beloved car again. To me, it felt like losing a pet. That probably says a lot about how attached I can be to material things, but I think a lot of other people feel that way about their cars, too. To us, they're not just material objects -- they're friends, companions with whom we've spent times both good and bad and seen each other at our best and worst. We know our cars well: what makes them tick, how to maneuver and manipulate them just right, how hard to step on the gas or the brake. We feel they know us as drivers: how we react to others on the road, how hard we brake and accelerate, even what kind of music we prefer. So to me, it's natural to undergo at least some form of the grieving process when you find out the car you love is destined for the scrap heap. Even now, it's hard for me to imagine my car's body being crushed to a thin layer of metal and the parts (especially the nearly brand-new struts) being sold to the highest bidder -- that car, the first one I ever owned, the one I drove for more than 40,000 miles and which I was sure would run for much longer ... now it's gone.

The insurance company paid me much more than I thought I'd get for my car -- I got nearly as much as I originally paid for it. The title has been signed over to a salvage company, and I'm leaving work early today to go drop it off at the body shop, where it's still being held. The salvage company should come pick it up tomorrow. I'll get to see it one last time today, when I take everything that's left to take out of it, including my plates. It's kind of pathetic, but it brings tears to my eyes knowing that this will be the last time I'll get to see it, the last chance I get to say goodbye.

The insurance company is covering my rental car until Nov. 7 -- enough time for me to find, finance and purchase a new pre-owned car. From the start, I was set on a Honda Civic. Darren has a '98 Civic he bought new and has had ever since. It's had its share of problems now and then, but it still drives and rides like new. I want something reliable that looks nice and will last me a long time, and a Civic matches all those requirements. Darren and I spent all day Saturday test-driving and shopping around the greater Boston area for 2006-and-newer used Civics, and we found some pretty good ones. We'll be looking at one tonight as well, and after that, I think I'll be able to make my decision.

It's exciting to think about getting a car and looking toward the future, but it's also sad to know that my poor little Focus, which I loved so dearly and which would have gone on for so much longer had I not been rear-ended so badly, will no longer be there sitting in my driveway, waiting for the next ride.

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