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​Thanks For Nothing

By Roger Clark

November, 2017

Professional drivers know it’s a drag, to be working through the holidays. One of the worst is Thanksgiving, often characterized by heavy traffic, slow service, and diminishing gratitude. It can also be hours and hours of tedious boredom, punctuated by occasional moments of holy terror.

Mine was in 1990, near Kalamazoo, Michigan, and it was just after dark, just ahead of a storm. It was cold that night, no different than you’d expect in the Wolverine state, and my truck was stopped at a traffic light. The red signal seemed to be glaring at me, as I waited impatiently for the green one, and I remember thinking, “Thanks for noth’n, Lord!”

Suddenly and without warning, an older Ford Mustang rocketed out of a nearby Burger King, skidded across the roadway, and buried its hood under the Peterbilt’s front bumper. Elapsed time, about two seconds. As steam instantly swirled up around my windshield, and the whole truck shuddered from the impact, I didn’t have time to react, or even think.

Jumping from the truck in a single step, partly from fear, and partly out of concern for the car’s driver, I ran around the Mustang, then yanked open the driver’s door. Still enveloped in a cloud of acrid smoke from the airbag, the wide-eyed female driver wore a look of bewilderment that must have mirrored my own. Climbing from the car unassisted, she was dazed but unhurt.

One bystander brought her a blanket. Another brought us both a hot drink. Still another called 911, from a nearby payphone, and one more made a very telling observation.

“Her headlights were never on”, he noted casually, as if I already knew. I didn’t, but made sure to point that out to the first-arriving officer. Sure enough, the cop almost immediately confirmed, they had not been switched on.

Within minutes, they administered a field sobriety test, which she passed. Then they checked her driving record, and it was clean. They even searched her car, still wedged under my bumper, for evidence of drugs or alcohol. There was none. More and more, it appeared, it was a case of distracted driving, like talking or texting on a cell phone. But here too was a problem; it was 1990, and texting hadn’t been invented yet.

It was then that one of the officers noticed a shiny round object in the Mustang’s rear window. There, frozen in a perfect halo of mayonnaise, was a Burger King fish sandwich. Then, almost as quickly as the accident happened, investigators were able to piece together what happened.

Leaving the brightly lit parking lot of the fast food giant, a greasy dead fish in her right hand, the young woman drove onto a highway illuminated only by the traffic lights. Suddenly aware of her predicament, she took her left hand off the steering wheel to grab the headlight switch. Before she could even reach for it, her car drilled my truck. The airbag drilled her, and catapulted the fish against the back window.

Sitting in the climate controlled comfort of my cabover Peterbilt, I came back to the original conclusion, but from a different perspective. There I was, with a logbook woefully out of compliance, but with a bumper that was easily bent back into shape. There was no other damage. There was no fire, despite the proximity of leaking gasoline, and there were no injuries to anyone.

So Lord, let me say it again, “Thanks for noth’n!”