Automotive Safety

When the tire blew out on the Toyota Land Cruiser, we were on the last paved road out of Durban, South Africa on the way to Mozambique. Things were already going poorly with my girlfriend but I thought a trip to the coast to munch on prawns by the braai and wander the wild beaches might be a good memory to have for all.

A rapid front tire decompression on a truck with a high axel going 110 kph is different from the annoyance of getting a flat. You can die. There were five of us in that truck: two Swedes, a Dane, a Namibian and your correspondent. An international incident was in play. Tina did her best to right the truck and we wove a ever widening sine wave across the black top. Her husband gave corrective advice. We rolled, twice maybe three times. The tiny glass cubes from the windshield, the bits of chrome & shiny plastic glinted in the African sun in ever thinning concentric circles and covered the highway. The shock of being relatively aware of what had just happened where thirty seconds earlier I swear I was being really witty to some cool traveller types, still leaves a tang in my mouth. We are soft bits with a lot of bluster but it takes just an instant.

South Africans are quite friendly in general ('stay at my house’ ‘come to the braai’ ‘have a Windhoek on me’ etc). In sixty seconds we had several smiling assistants. Africans are not rubber necking or looking for gore, they are just a little closer to death than the average American commuter. They helped extract all who were not exiting the vehicle voluntarily. This was mostly me. The truck, now a fabled high school image for the importance of safety belts lay upside down. A liquid dripped ominously somewhere and at a pace. My right arm refused to move and I could not reach the seatbelt latch with my left arm. I waited quite patiently upside down listening to the liquid collect.

“Are you ok?” came a man’s voice in a thick Boer accent.
“Oh sure. Can’t get the seat belt off tho.”
“I’ll help you. It’ll be all right.”
“Sure. Thanks.”
Out came an enormous knife heading toward my lower abdomen.
“Brace yourself so you don’t fall,” he warned.
“Wait.” I said sternly. I had keenly noted the knife was meant to cut the seatbelt, “Did you ask Tina if that’s ok. I mean, that seat belt will never work right again.”
The Boer looked at me for a moment sort of assessing my concerns silently. Drip, drip, drip.
“Yeah, sure. She said it’s fine.”
“Ok then as long as you asked. My arm won’t behave. Otherwise, I’d be out already.”
Drip, drip, puddle.

Fortunately Saint Christopher watched over us that day. The drip was water we had brought with us. Can’t drink water just anywhere in Mozambique, just the lager.

One open shoulder reduction later. (Not to be missed kids!) I drive the speed limit or less. Driving the speed limit has at times been a challenge to my manliness but as Boomers age, the allure of the car or more importantly ‘the allure of driving’ has receded into a haze of traffic, road rage & global warming. I hear ironic or nostalgic music about cars & trucks but nothing much genuine. Macklemore tells me he drives his Caddie real slow when he’s looking to pick up the ladies. I’d say 100 million YouTube hits can’t be wrong.

So the rig goes at 55 mph. In the American Big West that is a laughably slow speed. It isn’t so much a speed in our motor home as an accounting of RPM. You can feel the momentum is such a heavy, top loaded beast. I’ve never driven anything with six wheels before or more than four cylinders before. At 1900rpm we are confidently cruising at 57mph & feeling frisky on a level straightaway with a bumping tailwind. At 2000 rpm we are doing 38mph with the hazards on looking like *that guy* in the RV that you often get stuck behind on a drive to the gorge or something. Jess & I have embraced the mantle of *that guy* and we hump along at 55 across the amber waves of grain. We are looking to cross the continental divide so I can know where America parts her hair.

As a first step towards a new spiritualization or at least animism, I have begun to exhort the rig (nameless tho she may be) to maintain an unstrained RPM. As pilot of the rig, one begins to note more of the nuances because one needs to be more in attendance behind this wheel. Pumping the beats & texting is more likely to go poorly for you & your new home. Every bump in the road is chance to knock all the spices out of the spice rack. We discuss road conditions with a new seriosity. I tell her not to care about the impatience of society and the line vehicles accumulating in my rearview. We are not those sort of people anymore, we are artists. We live here. We drive differently. They can pass if they so choose.

There is a strange dance I watch each time we get on a small highway with speeds posted at 55mph. It is always the same. Young dudes in trucks - no problem. They blow by like you’re standing still. Families in minivan - they can be a problem. They don’t want to appear aggressive so they tailgate with an NPR stare. (Christ, I’m back in Portland!!!) So, sometimes to be merciful I put on the hazards to pretend like we blew a head gasket or something. I wish I had some fake smoke to puff out of the engine. Then we’d get better looks on the drive by. I figured, we’ll find our drivers out there maybe in Florida, maybe in Canada. St. Christopher leads us, St. Jude assures us.