Saturday, February 22, 2014

Freeway Flying

It was one of those rare occasions where both Admiral Karen and I had evening appointments – in opposite directions. So she took Hymie the Hybrid and I resurrected our second car, a ’94 Toyota Corolla that only got used every month or so.

It had been at least that long, and the windshield was pretty gross. And the wipers had been installed during the previous millennium. So before going to work I cleaned the windshield with paper towels and Windex, even kneeling on the hood to get the far side. 

I went to work on the freeway – no problem.
 Got to work. Somehow survived the day. Left work in the evening, get on the freeway, accelerated up to highway speed…..

And I don’t know what happened. 

I heard a gigantic BANG noise that seemed to come from the entire car. Simultaneously it seemed there was a huge dark shape in front of the car, which instantly disappeared. I drove on, trying to figure out what had happened. Then I glanced down at the car’s engine, trying to see if anything was obviously wrong there.

Eventually I realized that I shouldn’t be able to look down at the car’s engine.

The hood was gone!
 I looked in the rearview mirror and sure enough, there it was, far, far behind me, hanging out in the slow lane, rocking slowly back and forth after its maiden flight.

The Toyota in Happier times, at Yosemite.
Also pictured in this photo: Attitude.
It took my wee brain a few more seconds to register all of this, and by then I was much too far away to stop the car and go get it. So I took the next exit (shaking with adrenalin), did a couple of lefts, got back on Highway 1 going the other way and so on till I had done a complete 360.

This time I entered the freeway slowly, flashers on, poking along in the slow lane. And I couldn’t find the hood!

So I went home, knowing that traffic was safe. I wasn’t sure if anything else was wrong with the old car so I wanted it back safe, and besides I had an appointment to keep: It was video games with Mykey night, and these things are important.

I checked the car out later in the evening, with Admiral Karen and a flashlight: The Toyota now had a sizable dent all the way across the roof of the car, about 8 inches from the top of the front windshield. When the front hood latch failed, both rear hood hinges had given way at the exact same moment.

The next morning I got up early, got in Hymie the Hybrid and headed back to that section of the freeway. This time I parked the car and walked back to investigate thoroughly. I found the hood down the grade in some foliage. I guess some nice driver had flung it there.

One of the front corners was pretty mashed up, presumably where it had hit the asphalt after its wild flight. 
I dragged it back up to the roadway and then picked it up and carried it back to the Hybrid.

As I was doing so I was dreading what would happen, and with almost perfect sitcom timing I heard behind me - over the roar of traffic - the unmistakable sound of a police loudspeaker being cleared.
 A curious, but polite voice said simply: “Sir?”

You can just see the massive, white dent all the way
across the top of the roof, JUST above the windshield.
I turned, carefully, not knowing how close the cruiser was behind me. The last thing I wanted was to munch the front of a cop car with my hood.*

I looked at the bemused officer behind the wheel. He put down the radio receiver, leaned across the car and said out of the passenger window: “Um, is everything okay, sir?”

Several rejoinders popped into my head but I decided to play it straight. “Yes, Sir. This came off my other car last night, and I was just taking care of it now.”

He nodded once, very slowly, and then his mouth opened and closed a couple of times. Then he moved back behind the wheel and merged back into the morning traffic without another glance in my direction.

Driving back home with the hood in the back seat I recalled my very favorite moment on the old SportsCenter show, back when Keith Olbermann was (still relatively sane and) calling baseball highlights.

He was reading the diagnosis of an injured shortstop, whose condition was listed as ‘day to day'. Keith read that and then a strange look came over his face. “You know”, he said philosophically, “We're all day-to-day”.

I believe I came within about 8 inches of being suddenly decapitated that day. 8 inches from being OGFP. (Only Good For Parts.)

Every moment is precious boys and girls, and Death, random, arbitrary, top-hatted
Purple Naugahyde, baby!
giggling Death can come for us at any time, in any number of atrociously goofy ways.

And I think that if your cars hood suddenly gets all Highlander on your ass "THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!" (ssshhhwing!) then you get a FastPass into Heaven. Plus drink vouchers.

But my car's hood was not the coolest thing that I ever saw flying through the air on the freeway.

Perhaps the most beautiful sight I have ever seen, was a purple Naugahyde corner booth from an old-fashioned family restaurant
  • about 30 feet up and slowly tumbling through the air
  • the sunlight flashing here and there on the thick plastic fabric
  • centrifugal force sending the now de-velcro-ed cushions out in all directions
  • the smoke from the tires of the flatbed truck that slammed on its brakes when it realized that that last bump had snapped all the tethers and sent its cargo skyward
  • the other cars on the freeway skidding and diving this way and that to get away from the impending impact

And above it all, slowly turning over, glinting in the sun, was this sublime vision of shouldn't-be-there-ness.

It was gorgeous because it was so implausible - and you knew that it would not last. (Which is the Secret of Life, by the way.)

There are worse ways to go than this.
And Willow and I, about 70 yards behind and quicklyslowingdown, we had the best view of all. The landing was messy and clunky and spectacular and the sound of ripping Naugahyde gave me a hard-on that just wouldn't quit.

And I thought "THAT is how I want to die. Crushed to death on the freeway by a flying purple Naugahyde corner booth. YES."

I want Willow to paint a picture of that moment in oils, and I want it to be the cover of the program that will be handed out at my wake. I want an Irish piper playing Amazing Grace - to make everyone cry and then, because death IS chasing us all like a Benny Hill sketch in slow motion - Yakety Sax on the bagpipes.

Angus McMahan

*Does hitting a car with another car's hood that you are toting count as a vehicular collision?

(1st 3 photos from Authors collection. Naugahyde Eames chair photo from [lot #112060221], and corner booth from

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