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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Without The Foggiest Idea

I set out on my scooter towards work the other morning in a cold drizzle. Since the roadway was soaking wet, I was going pretty slowly to begin with. But as I crested a hill about half an hour into my commute, I saw that the valley in front of me was completely filled in with a thick fog bank.

I didn't have much choice (other than turning around and going home, of course), so I started slowly down the hill and soon found myself enveloped in fog so thick that I could barely see the road surface directly ahead of my front wheel!

I slowed down to a crawl, and hugged the right edge of the roadway as best I could... listening closely for the sound of traffic ahead and behind me.

A toyed with the idea of simply pulling over and waiting for the fog to burn off. But that could have been hours, and I had a few meetings scheduled at work (I know... pretty silly).

One of the few design flaws on my Vespa is that, like many scooters/motorcycles, there are no flashers/hazard lights. So, in order to increase my visibility in the pea soup fog, I was forced to constantly pump my brake levers (to make my front and rear brake lights flash on and off).

After maybe ten minutes of crawling along, the rear end of a late model SUV suddenly materialized out of the fog right in front of me. Inexplicably, it was stopped in the middle of the lane... with the engine and lights switched off. Not even the flashers were on!

It was only because I was moving so slowly, and because I was almost on the shoulder anyway, that I was able to avoid rear-ending the car. I jerked the scooter off the blacktop and barely avoided wiping out on the loose gravel shoulder.

When I stopped moving and had saved the scooter from falling over, I found myself next to a man who was apparently the owner of the car that I had almost run into. He seemed only mildly surprised to see a bright red Vespa skid/slide to a halt nearly touching his leg, and after looking me up and down for a moment, he continued talking in Arabic into his cell phone, periodically interrupting his discussion to take long drags on a cigarette and listen for a response from whoever was on the other end.

I don't speak Arabic, so I have no idea what he was talking about. But I've visited dozens of countries over the years, and can usually figure out a lot from the tone of an overheard conversation.

What I can tell you is that this guy was not in the least bit worried about his car standing in the middle of the road in a thick fog. There wasn't the smallest hint of concern in his voice. In fact, his conversation was punctuated by laughter, and had the sound of good-natured banter.

I put my scooter on its stand well away from the roadway, and went back over to have a word with the owner of the SUV.

In Hebrew I shouted, "Are you out of your mind? Why did you leave your car in the middle of the road? Someone is going to run into your car. Forget someone... I almost hit your car!"

He looked at me as though I was the one who was out of his mind, and went back to talking casually into his cell phone.

I decided to try a different tack:

Even though the car was parked pointing down a slope and couldn't possibly need a push, I said, "Listen, if there is something wrong with your car, maybe I can help you push it out of the roadway. Aren't you worried that someone will hit it?"

Nothing. Not even a shrug.

Finally, not sure if he was even understanding me, I yelled, "Fine... If you won't do anything, I'm calling the police!".

That elicited a heavily accented and laconic response: "Call them. Police won't drive in fog. They're afraid."

At that point I decided there was nothing to be gained from further attempts, so I walked back towards my scooter with the intention of getting as far from this lunatic as possible before the inevitable accident happened.

Sadly, I didn't leave soon enough.

Before I'd even gotten my helmet back on, I heard the sound of an approaching car engine coming from behind us. By the sound of it, the car was coming along at a pretty good clip.

Sure enough, within a few seconds there was the sound of tires skidding helplessly on wet pavement, followed almost instantly by the crunch of metal on metal. The fog swirled enough to reveal part of a light blue 1970's-era Peugeot station wagon slamming into the back of the SUV... and then both were again swallowed up by the cloud.

My first instinct was to run to see if the driver was injured. But before I could even move, the previously nonchalant owner of the SUV was running towards the roadway, yelling in Arabic. The driver of the other newly arrived car was apparently well enough to exit his crumpled vehicle, because within a few seconds the two of them were back on the shoulder yelling at each other in angry Arabic.

To my warped way of thinking, the two of them should really have been trying to figure out how to get their cars out of the roadway before someone else plowed into them, not wasting time yelling at each other... but what do I know?

I was done playing good citizen.

I strapped on my helmet and started up my scooter. But before pulling out onto the road again, I used the voice dialing feature on my helmet's bluetooth headset to call the police. Before the police operator even picked up, from behind me I heard the approaching sound of a truck roaring down the slope in low gear.

Just as the operator answered, there was the blast of a truck horn followed by another enormous crunching sound as the truck plowed into the two cars.

As I pulled away, I explained to the police operator where I was calling from and what had happened. She took the report and my contact information, and told me she'd send out police and an ambulance.

I wanted to tell her not to bother with the ambulance, since by now the two car drivers and the truck driver were probably standing on the side of the road screaming at one another. But as I climbed out of the fog on the other side of the valley, I figured, what the heck... by the time the ambulance actually shows up on the scene, there's no telling how many more vehicles will have been added to the pile-up.

I still don't have the foggiest idea what that original SUV driver was thinking of when he stopped his car in the middle of the road.

Posted by David Bogner on January 13, 2011 | Permalink

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I can only assume he was thinking he wanted an insurance payout, and so he positioned himself to be rear-ended, making the 'accident' legally the fault of the other party.

Posted by: Noah Roth | Jan 13, 2011 4:15:29 PM

Over the years,I`ve read of fog caused accidents on German autobahns involving over 100 cars. It has to start with a few cars,in this case one. If he didn`t care about the safety of others,he should at least have cared about damage to his own car.

Posted by: ED | Jan 13, 2011 5:19:03 PM

I agree with Noah. The only rational explanation, considering how easy it would have been to move to the side, is that he was well insured and looking to replace his car. Perfect setup for it, too. The potential for grievous injury or death of other people was, no doubt, a risk he was willing to take. You, however, naive and humanist Jew you are, didn't have a clue. He was probably angry that a low-mass scooter almost crashed into him, because that wouldn't have totaled his car. You, maybe.

Posted by: Barzilai | Jan 13, 2011 7:15:13 PM

Aravi. Rosh Balata!

Posted by: Allan | Jan 14, 2011 1:00:30 AM

I still don't have the foggiest idea what that original SUV driver was thinking of when he stopped his car in the middle of the road.

Um ... he wasn't!

Posted by: Mark | Jan 14, 2011 6:05:20 AM

I think Noah and Barzilai nailed it. Anyone who would stop his car in the middle of the road in a dense fog is either terminally stupid, looking for an insurance payout, or trying to murder random drivers. Pick the explanation that seems best to you: I think it's 3/4 insurance and 1/4 murder.

Posted by: Elisson | Jan 14, 2011 4:36:09 PM

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