Reflections of a Working Stiff #5

Dump truck horror on Autoroute 40

Crash! Bang! (No beep)

Memo to truck drivers: Your vehicles are big.
For fuck's sake look before you swerve!

The SUV was about 150 kilometres from flipping over to 100,000 but it ran like new and didn't have a mark on it. That part of my brain which remembers being eight years old hoped that I would chance to glance down at the gauge when all but one of the numbers changed to zero.

As it happened, I did remember to take a look when the change came, but by then the vehicle I was driving was a far cry from the perfectly-maintained car in which I had started out.

It's true, Montreal drivers are notorious for driving too fast, for changing lanes with wild abandon and for signalling only on alternating saints' days. To add to the chaos, Quebec highways are designed with a maximum of complex and multi-level interchanges, exiting on both right and left, and with on- and off-ramps that merge remarkably quickly into full-speed traffic.

Leaving Montreal on Sunday, my van was very nearly clipped by a car passing on my right even as I was making my move (too slowly, apparently) to pass the car ahead of me. My best guess is that he cleared both me and the car I was passing with 15 centimetres to spare. I cursed and the passenger riding shot-gun cracked wise about how things would be safer once we were "back in Canada".

That was Sunday and we did arrive "back in Canada" without further mis-hap. Come Tuesday, had I paid attention to the omens, I would have called in sick.

I left the house with my bike on my shoulder, made my way down the front steps — and promptly slipped on a patch of ice as I reached the sidewalk. I went down hard on one knee. My bike clattered onto its side. My first bad fall of the winter.

Still, shit happens. I persevered and found myself at the office about 5 minutes before my scheduled departure.

Today's early trip (08:00 hours) was a long one, to Trois Rivières, with a planned wait of about three hours, followed by a trip to Montreal's airport, and then home at last, empty.

I did make it to Trois Rivières, but that was all that went according to plan.

As I said, Quebec's highways are designed with tight curves, complicated interchanges and very short ramps. Among the worst of them is Autoroute 40, part of the Trans-Canada highway, which runs through Montreal north of Mont Royal, and which is three very narrow elevated lanes in both directions for 10 or 15 kilometres of that route.

Fairly early on that elevated section, the left lane (out of three) exits onto Autoroute 15, northbound. We were travelling in the middle lane, no more than 50 kilometres an hour, and maybe quite a lot less. It was rush hour and we were coming up on one of those famous, complicated ramps.

On my right, a transport truck powered past while, on the right, I saw that a white car had broken down and was blocking the lane. Almost immediately, our vehicle shuddered and our cabin was filled with the dull screech of sheering metal.

I must have hit the breaks, because the next thing I knew, we had stopped, and the nose of an enormous truck stared at me from my rear-view mirror. I turned and saw that that vehicle's bumper was hooked into the side of our car.

"Son of a bitch," I said. "Is everybody okay?"

"Idiot ran right into you," said Frank, a pilot who was riding shot-gun and who, moments before had suggested I stick in the left lane, because "it's safer." Good advice, but impossible to take when the left lane was an exit lane.

Everybody was okay, and I said as much to the driver of the truck, who seemed very relieved. He was a French Canadian, about my age, and I practiced my rusty French as he pointed to the stalled car ahead of us and explained that he hadn't seen us when he swerved to avoid it.

I noted that the nose of his truck was 150 or 200 centimetres over the line, looked at the mirror on his passenger door, and the one planted on his fender and wondered if he'd bothered to check them at all, but decided now wasn't the time for recriminations. Instead I took a look at my vehicle. While I could see bits and pieces of the skeleton of the door, the rear wheel looked unimpeded. The truck driver said that, since no one — grâce a dieu! — had been hurt, we should get off the highway if we could. I agreed and he got back in his truck while I climbed back behind the wheel of my SUV, which now seemed very small indeed next to the monster that had so casually impaled us.

I watched as the truck growled and lurched backwards. Our vehicle rocked as the truck's snout withdrew from the wound it had made. I got out of the car to double-check that the wheel was free of obstructions, then shrugged and got in again and set the car in gear.

We took the exit buddy had been making for and then the first exit off of the 15 and pulled to a halt in a bus-stop zone. I told the truck driver I needed to call the office before we went any further.

I got through to Ahmed and explained the situation, that the door was a right-off but that the vehicle was drivable and that the other driver was cooperating. Was I able to carry on to Trois Rivières? Were my passengers willing? I was, and we were. To my surprise, there was apparently no need to call in the police.

So I exchanged information (driver's licence, insurance, &ct) with the truck driver, Dominique, and noted that his tone was making a subtle shift from I didn't see you to it could have happened to anybody.

Nevertheless, that was that. Frank had a smoke, the other pilot made a phone call and I refused an invitation from a pair of opportunistic tow-truck operators to visit their nearby garage.

We made Trois Rivières about an hour later than expected.

The rest of the day was a long and dull anti-climax. I was supposed to pick up the pilots a couple of hours later (they were there to test fly an airplane that had been in for repairs), but things went later than expected and — some five hours after I dropped them off — the office called to tell me they would be staying overnight and so, to come on home empty.

14 or so hours after banging my knee, I hoisted my bicycle and clambered up the front steps of my home, safe and (mostly) sound.

Anti-climactic? Sure, but I'll take it. Even my knee feels okay.

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