Driving home on highway 101 during rush hour every evening is a lot like playing with fire, only not nearly as much fun, and when you get burned it costs a lot of money. It sure does light up the night sky real pretty though.
Tonight, just as I was settling into my evening commute, the car in front of me hit the brakes, I hit my brakes, and the guy behind me hit his brakes. None of this is really newsworthy, since it happens about 18 times a second on the 101. What made it interesting was the guy behind the guy behind me, who didn’t hit his brakes. Car #2 and I came to a complete stop, but car #3 hit car #2 hard enough to slam him into me, creating a nice car #2 sandwich. Car #2 hit me so hard the impact actually knocked the hat off my head (the driver of car #2 later told me that his hat ended up in the back seat).
As car #2 and I limped to the shoulder, car #3 caught fire.
There happened to be an ambulance a few hundred yards behind us. It joined us on the shoulder and the paramedics called the fire department. By this time, the other two drivers and I were exchanging information and watching car #3 burn as traffic swerved to avoid it. The paramedics seemed strangely disappointed that none of us was injured and had us each sign a statement saying we had refused care and wouldn’t sue them. Lovely society we live in. Meanwhile, car #3 burned bigger and brighter and there wasn’t much we could do about it.
After another ten or fifteen minutes, two fire engines arrived nearly simultaneously (one from each direction) and the firefighters had the fire out in a jiffy. They were followed shortly by a CHP officer, who began trying to figure out how to get the mangled, smoldering wreck out of the middle of the highway. What they ended up doing was brilliant:
The firefighters attacked the wreck with their axes, pounding down the crumpled hood and peeling back protruding bits of metal to make enough room for one of them to squeeze into the driver’s seat. Then, after stopping all five lanes of traffic on the 101, the cop got in his cruiser, nudged up against the wreck from behind, and floored it. There ensued a cacaphony of squealing tires and a cloud of smoke, and somehow the firefighter managed to steer the wreck (with wheels pointing in opposite directions) onto the side of the road. It was great fun to watch.
This was followed by lots of boring statement-giving and report-taking. Luckily the damage to my car was minor and seems to have been limited to the rear bumper, so I was able to drive home. The guy in car #2 was also able to drive away, but just barely, and accompanied by a lot of unhappy grinding noises. Car #3 wasn’t going anywhere, so I assume he waited around for a tow truck.
Now I get to deal with insurance and hope my headache (which existed before the accident, but which the accident didn’t help) doesn’t get worse.