Growing up in in the ‘80’s in southern California, I had the itch to drive. I wanted to drive as soon as they would let me.
On my sixteenth birthday I was ready to take my drivers test, only to find out that the DMV had somehow misscheduled the appointment. I was heartbroken, literally, almost to tears. My mom got on the phone and begged them to slide me in the next day. I don’t know how she did it, but she got me in. She let me skip school and everything. After I passed I drove back to school all by myself. Me and my 1979 white VW Rabbit with gold wheels. Awesome.
The nickname I was given that summer, ‘Crash Chatham.’
We lived in Walnut and my father’s business was located in La Crescenta, an hour away. My father owned a home furnishing’s store, very similar to today’s Best Buy. 50,000 square feet of electronics and appliances. That was just to top floor. The bottom floor was 50,000 square feet of furniture and mattresses.
I started my 16th year as a warehouse boy. I swept the floors, staged the delivery trucks and helped people out to their cars with their large purchases. But I had to get to the store first.
Within the first month I was driving on the 210 freeway in rush hour traffic. For most people, rush hour traffic is nerve racking. For a 16 year old, it was nearly impossible. On this particular day I pulled into the fast lane just as the lane stopped in front of me. I guess I pulled in a little fast, as the guy who was behind me didn’t have enough time to stop, and he rear ended me. It was an Asian guy in a white van. I pulled into the number 3 lane, expecting that we would pull to the shoulder, off to the right.
He just kept on going.
I eventually made it to the shoulder. My dad was actually following me that day. He pulled over to see what had happened, he didn’t actually see the incident. Lucky for me though, another motorist did see what happened and decided to pull over to yell at me about it. I sat in my car and saw my dad and this guy have it out.
“It was all that kids fault, I saw the whole thing!” he said. My dad nodded, explained I was his son and waved for me to just keep sitting in the car. I still wonder what made that guy feel like he needed to stop his car and yell? After he left my dad came over. I got out and looked at the car. The rear tail light was broken, it could be fixed. Depressed, I got in the car and we drove to work.
A couple weeks later my mom and I went to pick up the car from the repair shop. The tail light had been fixed and was ready to go. My mom handled paying for it – I was getting deeper and deeper into debt for this car. The man handed me the keys and we left. My mom left in her car to go home, I was planning to drive all the way to work.
I pulled out of their driveway onto the street. It was a busy city street. Traffic had two lanes going in each direction, with a merge lane in the center that allowed traffic going both directions. I needed to cross traffic that was going to the right, and enter the merge lane so I would be able to eventually merge with traffic going to my left. I did so, and then sat in the merge lane, looking over my right shoulder waiting for traffic to pass so I could merge and go on my way.
As it was the morning, traffic was pretty heavy. I sat and waited. I saw that there was a hole in traffic coming my way, so I looked forward thinking I would start to merge as the opening came toward me. As I looked forward a DHL van entered the merge lane – heading straight for me. He was driving forward, looking over his right shoulder at traffic so that he would be able to merge.
Remember, I was sitting in the center merge lane, completely stopped. I’d been there for at least a complete minute, if not two. Well, I watched as he came closer, closer and eventually I honked my horn as he rammed me. Ugh.
No one was hurt, but he was sure surprised. I was deflated as I walked to the mechanic’s and asked if I could use their phone. ‘Sure he said.’ I got my mom on the phone and told her what happened. And as you can imagine, she thought I was joking. Unfortunately, I was not. The front end of the car was now completely bashed in. We’d taken my car in for a $250 fix and ended up pushing it back to the mechanics for a $1,000 fix.
The mechanic said it was a first for him as well. Never in his experience, had anyone wrecked their car within only 10 minutes of leaving his business. Lucky me.
When I finally got to work a few hours later, they were having a meeting for all the sales people. My reputation preceded me and everyone broke into applause as I walked into the building. ‘Crash Chatham’ was born.
To this day, no matter what I say, everyone in my family believes this accident was completely my fault.
My mom’s van and shaking leg syndrome
Years later I was dating Jodi and we were down in LA. I was driving my mom’s van. It had 3 bench seats in it. Two of them were back to back, so there was an area a child could climb in and hide. Loved taking that thing on trips.
I was driving around Los Angeles showing Jodi the sites when this beautiful jacked up 4×4 came up right next to us. The truck was so good looking that I was paying attention to it and not to traffic. We were on surface city streets and as traffic does, it came to a dead stop. That nice 4×4 was right in front of us, so close that I wasn’t able to stop in time and I dented their fender.
They were a super nice couple and said it wasn’t a problem. They owned an autobody shop and would take care of it. Nothing was wrong with my mom’s car, it was bullet proof.
I remember afterward that my leg wouldn’t stop shaking, I was so amped with adrenaline.
Renter in the snow
Jodi and I were living in Provo, UT going to BYU. We were at Jodi’s sister’s house. We’d pulled into the driveway behind the people who rented the basement apartment from her sister. A few hours went by and the renters came up and asked if we could move our car. I ran out, got in the car and let it sit for a minute to warm up. There was snow on the ground, and it was pretty cold. Apparently they thought I already moved the car because they pulled right back into my car, putting a nice dent in the hood.
My first bad experience with dogs
Jodi and I were in LA visiting my mom. We went out for the night, and left my relatively new Nissan Sentra at my mom’s house.
As we came back to my mom’s house, late that night, we were greeted by her 100 plus pound, white labrador. It was perched atop my car, on the roof.
Apparently the dog had taken a liking to getting up on people’s cars and sitting on top. There were scratch marks all up and down the hood of the car where the dog had scratched its way up on the car, then onto the roof of the car.
I was furious and yelled at the dog, threatening to kill it. Then yelled at my mother, who tried to defend the dog. Unbelievable.
Then had to apologize to my mom for being a jerk.
We submitted it to our insurance, and later they raised our rates. We learned the hard way that claiming anything on your insurance is just another way to finance the repair, just through an increase in your premiums.
Stop and Bump
I work in downtown San Jose. I have an hour commute to work. I was sitting in traffic less than a mile from my office, and as usual, my music was blaring.
I inched forward at the light, and that’s when I felt the bump. It was one of those where I couldn’t tell if I’d been hot or not. If the guy behind me actually hit me, he was going less than 5 miles per hour, probably less than 3 miles per hour. Also, I live in NorCal, earthquake capital. It seriously could have been an earthquake.
Regardless, I felt like I needed to check so I got out of the car. I walked around and looked at my bumper, I was driving my wife’s Acura Integra. The bumper was dirty, so I wiped the dirt away to see if there really was a scratch there, or if it was just dirt smudged.
By now the guy had gotten out of his car and asked if he’d hit me. I said yes, but after looking at it I made a judgement call, “Don’t worry about it. There’s no real damage.” And I got in my car and drove to work. I figured I’d been given a pass before, might as well hand one out now.
The wrong side of the border
I was driving along a back country road in our community. There were intermittent stop signs. It was late afternoon.
I was following a totally beat up Saturn sedan. We came to a stop and he pulled forward, but then decided to stop. I pulled forward, but didn’t stop, and bumped him. I was going pretty slow, less than 3 MPH, but I still bumped him.
We both got out to see what happened. I was on my way home from work, so I stood there in a white shirt and tie. Our county is over 60% hispanic, due to it being so heavy in agriculture. We have a lot of field workers who live here. He was in a beat up pair of jeans, a T Shirt and dirty baseball cap. From the look of him and the mud on his tires, he was fresh out of working in the fields. We smiled at each other and I said I was sorry. We both looked at his bumper. There was a slight bump where my bumper touched his. I told him I’d be happy to get it repaired. I even started to take out my wallet. He smiled and stepped back. He said, ‘No, no. No is necessary.’ And then he said, ‘I have friend, he fix.’
I smiled again and said, ‘Great! I’ll pay for it.’
He stepped away, and started walking to his car door. ‘My friend, he fix.’ And he waved goodbye.
In the moment I smiled and thought, ‘Wow, what a nice guy.’ That night as I talked about it with my wife it became apparent, he was most likely an illegal and probably didn’t even have a license. Getting his license plate, and trying to work it out with my insurance would have just gotten him, or the car’s owner, into trouble. Better to just walk away and not stir the pot.
That day I was grateful he was a quick thinker, and took care of the problem for both of us.
My second bad experience with dogs
Jodi and I were driving home one night. We were in the Integra. I didn’t have a lot of luck in that car. Our two kids were asleep in car seats in the back. We were about 5 minutes from home on a backcountry road.
As we drove south on Union road, we were just coming to a hard left in the road before the bridge. There is a street light just before the turn, at the base of the street light there is a row of large bushes. As I think of myself as Mario Andretti I came into the corner going about 50, but slowing down.
Literally a fraction of a second before I was about to pass the street light, two large dogs came running out of the bushes ,into the road, directly in front of my car. I didn’t have time to even react. As they ran into the street I was on them.
I felt the car strike them and I was past. I slowed down to a stop and got out. I couldn’t believe the damage. Apparently I’d hit one dog on the right side of my car and the other on the left.
The right front fender was all bent. The front bumper was pushed downward and the hood was buckled. The left front fender too was bent and the driver side door was caved in. These were big dogs. Sadly the dogs lost the fight with the car.
The car ran fine, but because it had so many damaged panels the appraiser totaled it. We took the check to repair it and sold what remained to an auto body guy.
Totalling a car and parties
I had a fairly new SAAB 300. My family and I were coming north on 101 and had gotten off at the 156 exit. I’d come off the offramp and stopped so I could make a left hand turn. The oncoming traffic in the lane I hoped to turn into was about to get on the 101 going south, so traffic was quite fast. Traffic that was coming at me going north on 156 had just come over a bridge, and wasn’t typically fast.
The weather was wet and a slight drizzle had set in.
Sitting at the stop I looked left, then right and slowly started my way out as I looked left again. Yes, I know, I shouldn’t have started to ease my way out, but I did.
As I eased my way out, I realized – too late – that there was a truck coming at us. I had gone too far out and for some reason decided that I should turn hard left, in front of the truck, in hopes of getting back to the curb. Well, that didn’t work.
The truck struck us on the right front corner of the car. The car was undriveable. The truck was totalled. Fortunately no one was hurt. We all got out and pushed and scraped the cars over to the side of the road.
The police showed up and started taking notes on what happened. Asking them questions, asking me questions.
The cars were towed away. A month or so later the car was as good as new and we moved on.
My auto insurance dropped me, as the at fault accident and two other speeding tickets over the preceding 18 months was enough for them to say adios. No one would take me except a company with the name of Shifting Sands of Texas Insurance Co. I had to pay what ended up being about 10% of the cost of my car for one year’s worth of coverage. I was told that I had to be ticket and accident free for at least a year before any reputable company would consider me again. Those were painful insurance payments to make.
Eleven months and 21 days from the accident we were throwing a Christmas party at our house. A man showed up at the door who I knew. I figured he’d gotten wind of the party and was showing up to attend. Which would have been fine with me, everyone was invited. I told him to come on in and he said, ‘No, I can’t. I’m here to serve you.’ I asked him what he meant, and then he handed me a manilla envelope and said I was being sued.
My heart dropped.
I said alright, took the envelope and closed the door. Apparently we were just before the statute of limitations for the guy I hit to sue us. He claimed he was suffering from back pain from the accident.
Fortunately, the name brand insurance company I had been with at the time was willing to take the case and settled with the guy for a fraction of what he was asking. Remember those old commercials about how the big insurance companies lawyers are there to back you up? That paid off for me.
My third bad experience with dogs
My mom lives 330 miles away, she doesn’t have the opportunity to come to our house very often. So, when she does make her way up here, she usually stays for a few days. This time she decided to drive her own car. This would give her some autonomy while she was here, and allow her to make some other stops along the way.
She had been at our house for a couple days and things had been going well. My wife wasn’t at home, and we were to meet her at a restaurant. As usual, my mom was running a bit late, and I hate being late. So, my four kids, my mom and I got into the car as I was pushing everyone to go, go, go.
My driveway is a little different than the typical driveway. You have to drive around to the back of the house, and then you see three garage doors. There is enough room on the driveway to pull into each of the three garages, but just. The driveway is long and narrow, parallel to the house. We don’t use the farthest garage, as we only had two cars. We parked our boat in front of that door.
If you watch the first few seconds of this video, it’ll give you a good visual of what I’m talking about.
My wife parks in the middle garge.
Unfortunately, my mom chose to take up the least amount of space in our driveway and parked right in front of the boat, which put her car directly in front of the middle garage. With my wife’s car we always pull straight into the garage, so you have to back your way out.
I’m sure you can see what’s coming – too bad I didn’t. Here’s where the dog comes in.
Well, I was pulling out of the garage and our dog decided to get all excited. She’s a bird dog and runs, and runs, and runs, and runs all day long. She literally has paths through our grass and bushes all over the yard chasing squirrels from tree to tree. For some reason she was very excited about us leaving that day and decided to run around the car. I was looking over my shoulder and watched her run directly behind me. Her movement caught my eye and I didn’t see anything else, just her. So, I stomped on the breaks cursing the dumb dog for getting in the way. I saw her run back around to the front of the car so I continued going reverse.
That’s when I felt and heard the sickening sound of my bumper crumpling what I thought was my boat.
I loved my boat. I mean, I really, really loved my boat. The average person puts 35 hours on their boat a year. We put 100 hours on it each year for the first three years we had it. Than 50 hours every year thereafter. My heart sank as I imagined the hole I just put in the gelcoat.
As the crunch concluded and I stomped on the brakes, I couldn’t stop the emotion from boiling up in me. That’s when I said it. The first time (to my knowledge) that my children have ever heard an expletive come out of my mouth. Unfortunately immediately after I described what comes out of the back end of a cow, I realized what I’d just said and that I had just cussed in front of my kids. I honestly don’t know how I didn’t cuss a second time.
In my mind this time, I cursed the dog again for taking my mind off what I was doing, I cursed myself for allowing myself to become destracted by the dog and for letting loose in front of my kids – AND my mom.
I got out of the car, and realized I’d not hit my boat, but I’d hit my mom’s car. Plowed right into the driver side door. And I wanted to curse again.
She got out and was incredibly gracious. I HAD heard my mom cuss before : ) But today, she could see how upset I was. So, she let it go. Said it could be fixed. Said we’d work it out. Said she had a friend who could help her and give us a great deal on getting it fixed.
With my tail between my legs I got back in the car and we drove to the restaurant.
Thanks for being understanding mom.
He did it to me
I was driving to work, first thing in the morning with all the hustle and bustle of morning traffic. I was on a cross street that teed into the main drag heading out of town. We lived in a bedroom community of San Jose, there was a lot of traffic heading out of town.
I pulled up to a stop sign, and a full size black pickup pulled up right behind me. There was a lot of traffic in front of me. We had to wait a bit before there was an opening. The main drag had two lanes of traffic going each direction. I saw an opening in the closest lane, so I started to pull forward, but the opening quickly closed as an accelerating car changed lanes just before they got to us, so I stopped.
The full size truck behind me didn’t stop.
We got out and looked at each other, and looked at the bumpers. Trucks and Infiniti’s aren’t much of a match for each other. Nothing was wrong with the truck.
We exchanged information. He asked that I get a quote and call him before contacting my insurance. Unfortunately the paint for my car was on the order of $300 a gallon, so the repair was a couple thousand dollars. He chose to go the insurance route.
I did it to them
I had just finished a mountain biking ride at Fort Ord, just outside of Salinas. I was pulling into Salinas, about to make a turn. The Chevy Tahoe in front of me stopped at the light. They were turning right, just like I was. They pulled forward and stopped. I didn’t stop.
The hitch on a Chevy Tahoe and the light on an Infiniti aren’t much of a match for each other.
We both pulled over. I was incredibly upset at myself. Ugh! I’d done just what that guy had done to me the year before. My headlight was destroyed and I had buckled the hood just slightly. This wouldn’t be cheap. Their car wasn’t hurt at all.
Bike Rack vs Garage – 1
As I mentioned, I enjoy mountain biking. I enjoy it so much that I put a rack on top of my car.
I also mentioned that in my wife’s car, we typically pull straight into the garage. In my car, I like to back into the garage, so I can pull straight out in the morning. Less accidents, I tell myself.
Shortly after I put the rack on my car I was backing into the garage. I clicked the clicker at the top of the driveway like I typically do. I turned the car around and started backing into the garage. I could see into the garage, all looked like normal.
Then things weren’t normal, and there was a terrible screeching and wrenching as my car stopped.
I pulled forward and saw that the rack had been torn halfway off my car. It had left gouges in the top where the bike holder railing had scraped the roof.
The door had somehow started it’s way back down, so when I looked, I could see into the garage, but as I backed up, the door only partly down, wasn’t visible in my rear view mirror. But it was low enough for me to hit it, and tare the rack from the roof.
The damage to the roof was minimal, just a couple of scratches. I can’t say that about my pride.
Bike Rack vs Garage – 2
I was driving into the office early one morning. I scheduled a conference call with my brother and his CPA. I was playing interference and working to make sure they were on the same page. I was also presenting a couple concepts.
The conference call lasted about a half hour. It ended just as I was arriving at work. I sat outside my office and finished the call with my brother and the CPA. The CPA hung up so I decided to pull into the garage of our building as I finished talking to my brother.
The problem with the teleconference is that it caused me to completely forget that I had my bike on top of my car. The garage parking lot has a very low roof. I had taken the seat off my bike, because it added a few inches to the height of the bike while it was mounted on the bike rack. If I’d left the seat on, I wouldn’t have even been able to drive into the garage at all, it wouldn’t even make it through the door.
I made it about 20 yards into the parking lot and then all hell broke loose. As I passed a large cement rampart in the ceiling, it was low enough to catch my bike. The weakest link gave, and it was the four points where the rack attached to my car. The bike held firm, but the rack was yanked right off and the entire assembly came scraping off the top of my car, down the back windshield and off the trunk onto the ground.
I stopped and told my brother I had to go. Amazingly, I didn’t cuss. 🙂
I got out and saw the entire mess on the ground. Gratefully no one was around to see my shame.
The great thing was the bike was in perfect shape. The rack took all the beating. It was literally torn apart. I was able to fit my bike in the back seat of my car and meet my friends for a ride later that afternoon.
I decided after that, bike racks and I are not compatible.
The reality is, I drive a lot. At least double the national average, and I’ve done that for nearly twenty years. 30,000 – 35,000 miles a year.
Statistically, someone who drives a lot is bound to see more fender benders, right?
Man, I hope my kids never read this…