The car was a Plymouth Laser, the two-wheel-drive turbo version. Ha, you say, a Plymouth? This thing was a rocket ship. It was a really light, small car with 190 hp, and handled like an American sports car, which is to say not very well. When the turbo kicked in, the torque steer would yank the wheel out of your hands.
I bought the car from a dealer in Columbus, Ohio - I picked out the options and they had it shipped over from another dealer somewhere else in Ohio. When the car came in, I went down to pick it up and the salesman started writing up the deal using the sticker price of the car. Whoa, I says, I'm not paying sticker price. He said, oh, OK, how much are you going to offer? I don't remember exactly what I paid but it wasn't sticker. What I do remember is the salesman, who was extremely fat, like 450 lbs, telling me about how he walked a paper route on his off day to "keep in shape and earn extra money." He was good, this salesman.
Anyway, I had fun driving the car all summer. I used to have to drive over to the Transportation Research Center for work, and it had a long driveway on its private property, maybe a mile long with only a couple of gentle curves in it, so you could really get up some speed. I had it up to 115 once and was still accelerating but chickened out because the wipers started lifting off the windshield.
|The TRC driveway where I went 115|
That winter, one Friday night some of us at work decided to get together at a roadhouse in a tiny town called Broadway, which was a few miles north of the office. We never made it to Broadway. We pulled out of the office around dusk. (At that time, the entire American Honda design department fit into one room in a low building now occupied by the Honda Federal Credit Union, on State Route 739. I had badge 125; they must be close to 10,000 by now. But I digress. )
So three of us, myself and Jim and Tim (not their real names), went busting up 739 toward Broadway. I was way ahead of both of them and didn't notice the curve until it was way too late. I was probably going 80 on the straightaway and maybe braked down to 60 by the time I hit the curve, so there was no way I was going to stay on the road. It would have been OK except there was a drainage ditch along the road, and when I went off the road, the ditch flipped me. I think I went over three times, but don't really know. It was definitely more than once. Time really does slow down to give you a chance to think about your lifelong regrets in a situation like that.
|Route to near-oblivion, also known as State Route 739|
Luckily, I came to rest wheels-down and still strapped into my seat. If I hadn't been wearing a seat belt, you would not be reading this blog. I was kind of dazed, but actually not hurt at all, except for some small cuts on my head from flying glass that I didn't notice until the next day. Gradually I regained my senses as the mangled windshield wipers came spontaneously to life, working back and forth over the empty frame where the windshield used to be. There was not a square foot of that car that didn't have damage on it. I remember calling in the claim to my insurance company and them asking me if it was a total, and I said, "Uh, yeah...I'm pretty sure."
I could see Tim running to the car in the darkness, and he stopped about 50 feet away, I know because he was afraid of what he was going to see in the car. So I had to yell to him that I was OK. Somebody called an ambulance, and I took a ride to the Marysville Hospital (they gave me oxygen over my objections and then charged me $10 for it) where they let me go after checking me out. I called my girlfriend and she came out and picked me up. When we went out into the parking lot, I discovered both my jacket pockets were filled with tiny bits of shattered glass.
After the accident, Jim gave me the single best piece of advice I've ever gotten. I was already paying a risk premium on my insurance because of previous automotive-related indiscretions, so this accident would probably have made me uninsurable. Jim told me to immediately lease a car through the employee lease program. The lease came with its own insurance, and if I did it before my court date, the insurance company wouldn't know about the accident. The idea worked like a charm. Jim also let me drive "loaner" cars for the 30 days or so until my lease was ready. (At work they would buy competitors' cars and have employees put miles on them, then take them apart to see how well they held up. Jim was in charge of these cars.) Later I was able to pay Jim back by helping him with a couple of roofing jobs, but I came out far ahead on the deal. Jim, if you're out there, you know who you are --- thanks! When the two-year lease was up, I had two years of clean driving and was able to get regular insurance again.
I did get convicted of reckless operation and had my license suspended for a month, with driving privileges only to work. In the 22 years since, I've had a total of one speeding ticket (55 in a 35) and no accident claims. But I had to learn the hard way.