When we last left off
, I had capitulated to the peer pressure: We were heading to the hills on the morning of one of Vancouver's biggest-ever snowfalls. More than a foot had fallen now, and was still coming down, and would be, for a few hours yet.
Myself, Anna, Shawn, and the Two Germans, were stuffed into that little car. We had our gear, our thermos of cocoa, and life was gonna be just fine, right?
The unusually dry, powdery snow (we usually get slush in these parts) crunched and moaned under the car as I cautiously took us through Surrey, New Westminster, and Burnaby, as we headed all the way to North Vancouver, home of Vancouver's famous North Shore -- fine skiing on three major slopes, all within 15 minutes of the downtown core.
On the roads, nary a soul. My fears began ebbing away as we progressed farther and farther on our trip. "This isn't so bad," I thought. Add to that the respect shown by my passengers, who kept the talking quiet and to a minimum, so I could drive safely and concentrate, and my nerves weren't nearly as bad as they'd been at 8am.
Like we all come to learn at one point or another, confidence often breeds arrogrance, and arrogance usually breeds carelessness. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was careless, but with a healthy mix of confidence and ignorance, I'd say that wound up being the end product. How could I have forgotten the effects of elevation on weather, and the low stance of my itty, bitty made-in-Japan by Mitsubishi for Dodge car in that already-14 inches of snow?
Finally, we hit the legendary Mountain Highway. It is exactly what its name suggests: The main thoroughfare up the mountain. So, what was about 14 inches of snow in the city was now closer to 20. Roads were largely unplowed, given that it was still snowing so hard and was a Sunday morning. The weather front had never been predicted, and the snow took everyone by surprise, including the departments of highways, who would be responsible for plowing -- as soon as they got their shit together and did something about it, that is.
My little Dodge Colt must've taken one look at the perilous ascent that loomed before us, because I could swear I heard it sputter, "You got to be fucking kidding me."
No sooner had we merged onto Mountain Highway than my little car would go no further. Spin, spin, sputter, spin. Whirr, grind, whoosh, whirr! We came to a stand-still, the tires spinning out under us.
Secretly, I was relieved. The road was terrifying. Up, up, and up, snow, snow, and more snow. I didn't want to have to deal.
We sat there in the car, wondering what next to do.
Shawn got out, looked at the tires, and then came around to my window and addressed me.
"Well, we both have 13"-145 tires, so why don't we do a u-turn, head down the hill here, and we'll go to Canadian Tire? It's 9:45, they open at 11, we'll enjoy our thermos, then I can buy some chains, it'll get us up the mountains, and when we get back, I'll keep them for my car."
I gave it some thought, figured it was a smart plan, and with the use of chains, my confidence would be higher, and our safety factor greater. Suddenly it seemed a little less daunting.
"Why the hell not," I said, starting the engine back up and putting the car into reverse.
Shawn got in, buckled up, and I backed up. After I backed out of the spin-out patch and thrust my stick into first gear, my tires now began to move forwards. I negotiated a u-turn, was happily about to descend to the bottom of Mountain Highway for the Mecca -- Canadian Tire, land of all things auto -- when we heard a creak, my tires began veering wildly, and my car zoomed out of control.
It all happened so quickly that the suddenly new reality of the ass-end of Ford Bronco looming omniously in my front window was enough to shock the shit out of me -- if the accident itself hadn't.
We had hit a patch of ice under the snow, and my car fish-tailed and slid faster than we'd been driving, and slammed into the back of that huge truck. I couldn't fucking believe it. I was outraged. It was the only vehicle parked on the street as far as the eye could see. "What the FUCK?!" I raged.
I muttered something about, "Everyone okay?" and got murmurs of agreement before I jumped out and took a look at the situation.
What I saw was the last thing any car owner wants to see: The Bronco's rear-end was mounted on top of my shitty little hatchback's front-end. Beneath it all, a still-spreading sea of green snow. It was obvious that my radiator had been obliterated by the beast. My frame was unquestionably toast. It was, I knew instantly, at least $3,000 damage to a $750 car.
"Oh, fuck," I whispered. "Fuckety-fuckety-fuck-fuck." My sorrow and fear gave way to instant anger. "FUCK," I raged. "Jesus fucking Christ!"
Then I kicked the back tire of the Bronco, and if I hadn't already assaulted it enough, I punched the fucking rear quarter-panel. I threw my arms up in anger, spun around, shouting silently at the heavens, raging in my mind, growling audibly in a pissed-at-the-world tone, and clearly looking both angry-mad and insane-mad simultaneously. I shook my head, exhaled, groaned, moaned, and then, that's when I saw it.
A television camera was pointed right at me.
A roaming reporter was standing in the driveway, talking to the owner of the Bronco, who'd just moved the truck onto the street and was shovelling his driveway, when I hit his truck.
As it happens, the dude's day was going from bad to worse in a real fucking hurry. The reporter had been driving around, looking for "human interest" stories for the news, and was bummed that so little had been going on, in spite of the record snow. The Bronco owner, who I'll call Pete, was shovelling the drive while snow was still falling in big, fluffy, fast-falling flakes. No one else was shovelling sidewalks or driveways, and no one else was considering driving off into the white weather, except for Pete. The reporter smelled a story.
And rightly so.
Pete and his wife had received a call that morning that his mother, who lived out in the Valley, had had a stroke during the night. He was waiting for the snow to let up a teeny bit, so he and his wife could drive out to see the mother at the hospital. They tried starting the wife's all-wheel-drive station wagon, but the engine wouldn't turn over and the mechanically-inclined Pete realized the block had somehow cracked. The gas-guzzling Bronco would have to do the trip, and considering the vast amount of snow that had fallen and the many hours-return the trip would be, he decided he would get some of the snow out of the driveway before they took off to see his mother, who apparently was already stabilizing, taking at least some of the pressure off the trip.
But that was when their cat slipped out of the tree and broke its rear two legs. Now he knew he had to take the cat to the vet first, and that's why the Ford Bronco was not only in the street, but idling and warming up. The reporter saw the truck running, the driveway getting shovelled, and decided to talk to Pete, who was still clearing the drive.
And then that's when I came careening over the hump of the highway's descent, and slammed into his truck.
"Holy [BEEP]," Pete said to the reporter while on-camera. "Can you believe this [BEEP]damned day I'm having? And, oh, man, look! She looks like she's about to take off!"
But that's when I saw the reporter. "Oh, christ," I murmured. At the time, I was a journalism student. I knew it was a story, before I even heard about Pete's calamities.
The reporter spared me any questions, and knew he already had his story. Which was definitely true.
We all have seen the news stories on snow days. They have that montage of all the accidents -- cars in ditches, tow-trucks hauling people out, kids building snowmen, trees weighted down, roofs collapsing, et cetera. Well, I didn't make the montage. No, we were our very own story of calamities: The cat, the stroke, the crash (which was caught in entirety, thanks to the angle of the interview), and yes, even my freak-out raging at the heavens.
The clip was about two minutes long and was quite amusing -- except for the fact that I'd lost my car and was legally at fault, with no insurance coverage, since I hit a parked car and had never purchased "collision" insurance the day before, thinking it was only a $750 car, and the $200 extra coverage didn't compute. I didn't even need to wait to find out if my accident would be covered: Pete's wife was an adjuster with the insurance company, she told me then and there I'd be fucked, and naturally, I was.
Fortunately, they were good people. Pete and his wife saw that my heart was busted as wide open as my radiator was, and my friends clearly felt like shit for pressuring me into doing the day's travels, so they decided to open their home to us. They still had to deal with a crippled cat and a stroke-stricken mother, but they had a small games room separate from the house.
"Here," Mrs. Pete said, "You kids can stay here until your family can come and get you," which we already knew would be about four hours. "I'll go get y'all something to drink."
Shortly after, she came back with mugs of hot cocoa and some sandwiches to tide us over.
Anna's father thought the whole affair was hysterical, and he loved having the opportunity to pick us up in the afternoon. Throughout the ride, he taunted and teased me. By the time we rolled back into Surrey, my pride was ground-level, if existent at all. The remarkable stupidity of my lack of judgment was growing more and more apparent to me as time lapsed.
It still took me hours to screw up the courage to phone my mother. Oh, how she roared at me!
"Are you a FUCKING IDIOT, taking a car out in more than a foot of snow? How could you POSSIBLY be my daughter?! I thought you were much smarter than that! I don't have half the education you have, and I wouldn't be that stupid!"
To be fair, it was the only time my mother ever raged so cruelly at me. She was LIVID. "I'm too fucking angry to see you today. Probably tomorrow, too. You'd better tell Anna's folks it's not safe to come home until at least Tuesday. Goddamnit, Steffani! What the hell were you thinking?"
The car died in less than 24 hours, a brutal, brutal death.
And at 6:04, the world would see it all unfold on the province's most popular newshour. And again at 11. And again the next morning at 7.
The anchor, the ever-popular Bill Good, had a shit-eating grin as his eyes sparkled on the camera, introducing "my" segment. "Well, heh-heh," he chuckled. "Here's a fun story about mishaps in today's record snow-fall. Well, fun for everyone, that is, but the owner of the vehicles involved. Have a look at this one!"
The story was funny enough to make us all laugh, and even amusing enough that Anna's father would show the clip for the next decade as often as he was able. The tape emerged at the next Ken & Dan party, where it was prefaced with, "Hey, Steff, drink this. You'll feel better. Yo, Danno, roll'em."
The whole catastrophe was played on their 32" television not once, not twice, but six times at that first party, and by the evening's end, my nickname went from being "Snake" (another story for another time) to being "Crash." The moniker of Crash would stick with me for years. All anyone would have to do to shut me up and hurt my pride would be to mutter, "January third, 1993."
I was vehicle-less for a couple months as the car sat out at my old Czech mechanic's pad in the valley, waiting for bits and pieces to emerge from wrecking yards. Janus was slowly amassing used parts and a new body, and by spring, I'd have a newly hodge-podged, pieced-together, shitty bondo-patched Dodge Colt amalgam of 1980 and 1982 models. And, no, it wouldn't be candy red, but partly rusted, heavily scratched white. Ew.
That car would meet its demise, a year later, when a driver would run a red light and t-bone me at the intersection of Arbutus and 16th in Vancouver. The insurance company settled with me in less than 24 hours, which I stupidly took, failing to realize the years of neck problems that would follow (hence their speedy offer to buy out my claim -- duh)... but I was thrilled, since I was burning through 2 quarts of oil per tank of gas and knew death loomed for the White Bitch.
Back then, cyclists would pull up next to my car, coughing, and shout, "Kill the fucking car before it kills us! JESUS! Polluter!" One cyclist kicked my car for no apparent reason, except the cloud of black smoke spewing out the back. Then there was the wiring problem -- whenever the headlights were turned on during the day and the car was "idling" at an intersection, it would auto-rev. It'd go vroom-vroom-vroom, revving up and down as I sat there. Pedestrians would glare at me, thinking I was trying to intimidate them as they crossed the road in front of me. Sigh.
And then, with my insurance settlement, I paid the down-payment on my first ever new car, the car that would last me a decade, my Hyundai Excel -- the best purchase I've ever made. It took me from Vancouver to Mexico, into the Canadian Rockies, up to the Yukon, and through Alaska, and back again. Over 10 years, I paid $1500 in maintenance and repairs. Fuck, what a car.
I don't have a clip of the news story, and sure as shit wish I did, but hey, like a friend said to me then, "Hey, Steff, it sucks, but look at it this way... for about $2300, you've bought yourself a story you can tell for the rest of your life."
Right. Yeah. Most of my stories come at prices of under a hundred bucks, but what the hell. And to this day, I've never learned to ski. I think it's a Freudian thing. Fucking mountains...