(Originally posted on the website Heron Flight)

Arissa and I took a trip to Georgia over the weekend. As Sarah, Tim and I did last year, we spent Labor Day weekend near Atlanta with Hannah and Madeline. It is a long drive by car, more than 800 miles just to get there. Since the gasoline prices have gone through the ceiling in the States since hurricane Katrina brought her devastation, this may not have been the best time to make such a long road trip. But the desire to see the girls outweighed the inconvenience of paying more than usual for gas.

We left home at 4:15 AM on Friday, September 2. Not even 20 miles down the road, I was stopped by a Princeton police officer for speeding. Luckily, he was overtaken by my winsomeness and finely chiseled handsomeness. He let me go with just a verbal warning. “Mr. Snyder, please drive safely from here until you reach your destination in Georgia. You know, a deer could jump out in front of you and you could end up in an accident.” Shortly thereafter I was doing 80 mph on I-95… breakin’ the law.

Most of the trip down to Georgia was uneventful. We were delayed by construction traffic near Washington, DC and a few other areas. We passed the time by listening to news updates on Katrina on NPR and calculating the times we would cross the next state border. Arissa had not previously had the opportunity to visit most of the states we traveled through. We further amused ourselves by taking pictures of the welcome signs while entering each state, not an easy accomplishment at 80 mph.

We passed Charlotte, NC around 4:00 PM. Shortly thereafter we entered South Carolina, the last state before Georgia. We were pretty excited about that. In fact, three quarters of the way through North Carolina our anticipation of reaching Georgia grew to the point that we were “dancing” to a funky R&B station on the radio. It is a little hard to dance while sitting in a car. But we managed to “get down” to the point that the two girls in the Jetta behind us noticed and started dancing too!

Somewhere in South Carolina, only about 15 miles into the state, on I-85, we were involved in an accident. Suddenly, the cars ahead of us jammed on their brakes. Everyone was trying their damnedest to avoid hitting the car in front of them. First I went left towards the median trying to avoid the white mini van in front of us. Then I swerved right, careful to not enter the lane to our right where traffic was still zipping by at full speed. Then I swerved left again. The whole time I was watching the movements of the drivers in front of and behind us. Instinctively I held Arissa in her seat with my right arm while steering with my left. We were precariously close to both the van and the black Honda behind us. When the Honda driver was inches from my car and heading to the left, I quickly went right, worried that I might clip a passing car in the other lane. Just as the three of us were nearly stopped, a fourth car plowed into the Honda behind me shoving him into me and pushing our car into the van. It wasn’t a violent collision, just enough to scare us a bit.

I immediately got out of the car and ensured that all the other people involved were uninjured. Thankfully, everyone was fine, just a little shaken. It all happened so quickly that a few of the ladies cried when they realized they were in an accident. But everyone regained their composure and someone called for the police.

As soon as we were sure that no one was hurt, everyone began checking the damage to their vehicles. Simultaneously, we all worried about what this incident was going to do to our already high insurance rates. The white van had only a slight scuff mark on its bumper. I had tried my best to miss him and ended up barely grazing him. The Honda had significant damage to its front end. One light was smashed out and his hood was crinkled. The fourth car had a damaged hood as well. The corner of my back bumper was crushed. But no lights were broken. The trunk still opened and closed. I couldn’t find any other damage under the car. I was greatly relieved.

A very young and amazingly skinny South Carolina State Trooper arrived on the scene. He stopped traffic and proceeded to call out instructions to all of us with such an intense southern draw that I could not understand what he said. I could decipher through his gestures that he wanted us to drive down the highway to a safer point. But I wasn’t sure where. I had to politely ask him to clarify. He repeated his instructions more loudly and slowly, perfect for Arissa and I who speak a foreign northern language. We were to move our cars to a rest area which was a mile down the road.

At the rest area, the Trooper took statements from each of us. He took our licenses, registrations and insurance cards. He told us it would take him a while to fill out all of the necessary reports and forms due to the number of vehicles involved in the accident. He wasn’t kidding. We stood around for at least an hour or more waiting for him. The van driver’s wife, a woman who appeared to be in her late 50’s, a woman whose van was hardly damaged, was the most upset and angry over the situation. It was clear that she was eager to pin the blame on the rest of us and collect money to “fix” her van. She insisted on interrupting the officer several times while he was busy writing up the documents. She eyed the rest of us as criminals whose only reason for being on the road that afternoon was to conspire to wreck her van and prevent her from traveling to her family reunion. It was obvious that her husband and children were very embarrassed. The rest of us were very annoyed.

In the end the officer handed out forms containing each driver’s information. These were to be sent to our insurance agents. He explained that the fourth car was ultimately at fault for the collision and gave that poor young fellow a ticket for being unable to control his vehicle. I felt very bad for the guy, who was on his way to meet relatives who had flown in from Bombay before he had to leave for college the next day. It was an extremely tough situation that we all were in and all of us came very close to hitting other cars ourselves. He apologized many times to all of us. Before continuing on our way, I assured him that I was not concerned with pursuing payment to fix my car. It was only a plastic bumper that I could probably push back into shape myself. I wished him well in school and got back on the road to Georgia. I could hear the words of the Princeton police officers from the early morning, “Please slow down, Mr. Snyder.” I did.

The accident cost us two hours of traveling time. Plus, we decided we needed to sit down for dinner and refresh ourselves. So, we didn’t make it to the Hannah and Maddy’s house until 10:00 that night. But we were safe and thankful that nothing more serious happened on our long trip from New Jersey.

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