Driving as metaphor

It’s freezing cold here and we’re being battered by a pretty big cold front. Newlands always gets the most rain in the Cape so it’s been quite fierce. I’m shivering, my dog is shivering and she’s also trying to climb onto the bed and the couch at any opportunity. At the moment P has covered her with a big blanket and she’s breathing some heavy breaths which could indicate sleep. I hope so. The schlurping and the licking is pretty annoying when she’s not sleeping.

The cold weather tends to make me hibernate and so it’s an extra effort to get round and read all my usual blogs. Apologies on that score. I’ll get there eventually (spam problem notwithstanding).

For today I thought I’d post something I wrote on Monday after a near-miss traffic incident the day before. I’ll be back with a book review of N2BFO hopefully on Monday. Happy weekend!

*****

I’m still a bit shaken today by a near-accident yesterday. It was just after 4pm and I was late for a walking date with P. I was barrelling along on the M3, heading for the U-turn near the hospital when out of nowhere, or more accurately from the turn-off to the forest, a woman in a grey sedan pulls out right in front of me into the fast lane. Into the fast lane, I want to stress with a little shake of my head. The flipping fast lane.

Just remembering the incident I’m going into forensic mode. The greenish-blue Toyota was going at 90 kms/hr and had 20 metres to stop. There was a loud screeching of tyres, a cloud of burning rubber and two cars narrowly missing each other. One of the drivers had a look of innocent surprise and the other was cursing and shaking his head in disbelief.

I start to rationalise: maybe she didn’t see me, maybe the light was funny – but it was clear for me – and she pulls into the fast lane going at 20 kms/hr. I realise that I was also at fault. I should have stuck to the speed-limit (cf. the nanny state). But I did well in the circumstances. I kept my wits about me. I didn’t over-steer and roll the car.

With 20 metres between you and an almost certain collision, what would you do? I tend to stay pretty calm under that kind of pressure. I can have a little cadenza over something minor but when it’s life-and-death I can be pretty steady. Brake as much as possible and steer into the slide. There’s bound to be a slide. You can’t slam on brakes at that speed in a Tazz and just stop normally. I think of the damage to my brakes, tyres, bumper, her car, hope and pray that it’s not too serious, that neither of us is hurt, that my dog doesn’t hit the windscreen. God, what if she has a baby in the backseat? What was she thinking? P is already going to be mad that I’m late. And on and on the thought-reel goes. You’re doing OK, keep it together, it’s not over yet, it might not happen.

I slam on brakes, hit the hooter, swear for all I’m worth and wait for the sickening crash. Time passes pretty slowly now that my senses are on full alert. The adrenalin is pumping and there’s not much to do except watch this play out. Turn the steering wheel hard and we’ll roll for sure. Or else: collide with her as she’s taking evasive action. I’m waiting for the wheels to lock, the screech, the skid, the crash. Fuckinell. Fuckinell. Fuckinell.

And then it doesn’t happen. As I drift pass her in our time-slowed-down moment I notice that the woman seems to be frozen with innocent surprise at this surprising development. One minute she was enjoying a mother’s day picnic with friends and family and the next she has casually pulled into the fast lane of a very busy road and narrowly averted a nasty accident. She looks a nice-enough person, well-dressed, it’s a good car (grey family car of no distinct type). She has a passenger. Perhaps they’re commenting on the lovely picnic they just had. Perhaps she had one too many drinks. At the last second she pulls over to the left-hand lane and I go skidding into the empty space where she was. The dog hits the back of the front seat with a little jolt and then we’re off again on our way. I’m wearing my seatbelt so I don’t do anything except start to shake. As I pass her, she looks like she’s smiling, half in apology, half in innocence. Just thinking about it now I get a very uncharitable thought (which I won’t share). I realise that I’m pretty surprised we managed to avoid a crash. Cars pass us and we merge into the traffic and all the while I’m looking out for a grey family car with two occupants and wondering what the hell happened.

As I drive on, I realise that I was partly to blame. I shouldn’t have been driving at 90 kms/hr in an 80 km/hr zone. “Everyone does it on that stretch” is the automatic response and I counter that with a stern “it doesn’t make it right”.

This morning I passed the spot and noticed the distinct trail of burning rubber. That stretch of road looks so innocent. In my memory we were further on than this, and the lane was on the opposite side of the road. And then the recrimination starts. What the f…ing hell do you think you were doing? You’re a psychologist for … sake. Have a good look at the metaphor. Driving too fast. What does that tell you?

And then I’m off on a thought-trail that encompasses co-construction, defensive driving, treating everyone as potential idiots, being more careful, going back to therapy and waking the hell up. I’m still a bit shaken as I write this. Crash as metaphor. Driving as metaphor.

*****

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about this incident and realising that I need to slow down. Metaphorically and in my driving. Take my time to think things out rather than rushing in with interpretations, to-do lists and my usual anxiety. Slowing down doesn’t lessen the anxiety but it gives me more time to consider the options, and of course more time to react to nasty surprises such as irresponsible drivers.

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8 Responses to Driving as metaphor

  1. Emily says:

    those near-miss accidents have a way of focusing us, don’t they? glad you are ok.

  2. seachanges says:

    Yes, near misses or real hits, either way they make you focus. After my accident back in November now I drive differently, even if it was not my fault. Nevertheless, I cannot help thinking that perhaps if I had focused more and not been so preoccupied with…. etc.
    It seems that whether hot or cold or downright miserable, the weather seems to have an effect on all of us this time of the year, wherever we live!

  3. litlove says:

    Wow – I’m unclenching my muscles one by one after reading that description. Very glad to know you are okay, and yes, listen to the warning of the universe. Destiny took care of you, which is encouraging and good. Now remember to take care of yourself (what do you expect? I’m a mother. If I could, I’d remind you to put you coat on as well 😉 ).

  4. Natalian says:

    I try to remind myself – “life is too short to rush through it” – when I find myself gripping my steering wheel, feeling the need for speed! Metaphorically, I have also been focusing on my need to slow down in the way that I am dealing with my day to day living. I have been looking at where I am wasting energy and where it needs to be channeled to ensure a more ‘relaxed’ approach to the tasks at hand. Hope you took full advantage of the cold weather by hibernating with a good book and a glass of red wine!

  5. Pete says:

    Emily – Thanks. I am feeling very lucky, both for the miss and also for the opportunity to learn the lesson. SA drivers are often crazy, which is more reason why I should be careful.

    Seachanges – Defensive driving really does seem to be the way to go (unfortunately). But glad you’re also OK. Hope you’re enjoying the sunshine there. 🙂

    Litlove – Thanks for the good advice (and motherly concern)! I tense up just reading it as well. But nice that I got to learn such an important lesson without crashing first!

    Natalian – Yes, managed to hibernate a bit this weekend and have lovely soup and snuggle. Movies, books and hot tea. Although the house is still a fridge.

  6. mmaaggnnaa says:

    Hi, Pete –

    Glad you are okay . . .

    I think the Universe (God, Mother Nature, etc.) has a way of knowing how best to get our attention . . . better pay attention or He/She/It may have to use something a bit more dramatic.

    Thanks for reminding us!

    – Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)
    http://mmaaggnnaa.wordpress.com/

  7. Pete says:

    Marie – Thanks. Yes, that’s plenty dramatic enough to get my attention for now. Will meditate on the sound of tyres squealing 😉

  8. Effendi says:

    Hi Pete – Glad you survived that (and the other folk!). I know that stretch of road and how easy it is to speed. In fact it’s one of those places you are pushed to speed by the other cars. But where was that driver’s mind? It’s frustrating waiting for a gap in the traffic there, but you’ve got a long stretch of straight road and excellent visibility. How could she not see you?
    Anyhow, Obs4T sometime?

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