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Water Tempo

I was 19 before I got my driving license. I wasn't allowed to get one when I was still living at home, and when I turned 18 and moved away, I didn't have the time or the money to get it done. Instead I walked everywhere I went. I was married before I took the test and even got a permit.

My very first car was a 1993 Ford Tempo, manual transmittion with 4 speeds. I couldn't drive it. I just couldn't seem to understand how to shift and clutch and break and gas all at the same time. I was a miserable, frustrated failure when it came to learning how to drive a stick shift. There was just no way I was going to learn how to drive a stick shift well enough to take my driving test. One day, while trying to drive through town I stalled out at a stop sign in a jack rabbit formation in front of a police officer who immediately lit up the bubble gum roof topper and suspected me of drunk driving. I cried like a baby.

Finally, we sold the car and got a 1994 Ford Tempo with an automatic transmittion. I was much happier. It was a breeze, so easy to drive.

I couldn't get a job until I got my license, so I got out on the back country roads and practiced all the time, trying to master all of the rules of the road - except parallel parking. It wasn't required out in the country, and I really had nowhere to practice. I would beg to go into town just so I would have more chances to practice. When the day came and I took my test, I was so incredibly proud of myself. I got that slip of paper that said I was OK to get my license, and the very next day after I got it I started looking for a job.

I was hired on at a Shoney's in the neighboring town of Searcy (Pronounced Sir-see), Arkansas. It was a good 45 minute drive, but unless I wanted to work at the one gas station or the Rosebud Cafe, I was going to have to drive. I had been on the job a total of about 3 days when something happened that would forever change the pace of my heart beat when driving in the rain.

I was on my way in to work for my fourth day when it began raining gently. The dirt roads started to get thick and the dust wasn't flying up all over anymore. It was a rather welcome rain, since things had been so dry lately. White spots showed up on the hood of my white car, washing away the layers of dust one speck at a time. It took on the appearance of a tan and white dalmatian after a few minutes. I got out onto the paved road and started increasing my speed.

By the time I reached the Cleburne County / White County border, rain was coming down pretty steadily. I slowed my car a bit before driving down the hill with winding turns. I vividly remember looking at my speedometer and noticing I was down to only 35mph. I was fine with that... fog had begun to roll in. The back end of my car scooted to the left as I made a gradual right hand turn and I grimaced. I didn't know what to expect. I straightened it out and coasted down the hill a little more. As I went, the car gained speed. Worried about taking the turns too fast as a beginning driver, I tried to slow down a bit more. Cliffs plummeted to my left while a sheer rock cliff face loomed above me on the right. I felt like I was trapped. Suddenly my breathing became shallow. My car jumped again, this time to the right as I coasted toward the left, following the curve of the road.

I hadn't been driving very long. I'm not sure if I panicked or not, but I'm pretty sure I stayed fairly calm. I tried to do what I thought back then was right - I applied the breaks to slow down a bit. Suddenly my back tires began flipping me from one side to the next, the back of my car slapping like a fishes tail when being pursued by a shark. I felt helpless just then. All I could do was pray not to drive off the cliff on the left or to hit anyone in incoming traffic. I was terrified, but I held fast to the wheel and tried to guide it down the mountain.

The passenger side front bumper slammed into the mountainside to my right and the car stopped solid. Then, with the slick surface of the road coupled with the mud that had begun to wash down, the back end of my car pulled me backwards on the road as it swung wildly along side the cliff. Both of the wheels on the drivers side of my car slid up the side of the mountain with a little help from the mud and the whole car flipped over on the lid. From there I slid backward down a back country road in the middle of nowhere. I stopped after about 25 yards of praying like mad not to go off the cliff on the other side of the road.

The car slid to a stop and I reached up to turn off the engine. I had automatic windows though, and I thought clearly to myself that I needed to keep the car on at least until I rolled down the windows so I could shout for help. Once I got the windows down, I turned off the car, turned on my 4 way hazard lights, and tried to remove the keys from the motor. They wouldn't budge and no matter what I tried they wouldn't come out. All I could do was turn the motor off. That being accomplished, there was really nothing more I could do.

I hung upside down from the seat belt and tried to unbuckle the latch. I couldn't get it to release, so I decided to survey the damage instead. It was hard to see everything from my upside down position, and the longer I hung there the more I slid up the back of the seat. It was a slow process, thankfully. I had plenty of time to grab my apron from work and sweep the broken glass away from where my head would eventually end up on the ceiling.

A car pulled up and quickly found a spot to pull off the road not far away. They flagged down the next car and asked them to call 911, they weren't sure if I was injured and there was no cell phone coverage on that mountain. I shouted that I was fine, but my neck was starting to get a bit of a cramp. I asked if they had any scissors or toe nail clippers I could cut the seat belt off with, and they said that I should wait for the paramedics. I knew I was fine, I didn't need them - I just needed to get out of the car. I sighed, let my neck crane just a bit more until my ear was against the roof liner, and settled in to wait.

The passenger side window was shattered. That was where the majority of glass had come from on the roof of the car. The windshield was busted up pretty good too, but there was only a hole the size of a baseball in it. My glove box had popped open, but everything had stayed inside until the car had completely flipped. All of the contents had stayed neatly piled up in front of me, resting not far from my head. It was eerie, seeing my keys hanging upside down in front of me. Flipping a car was nothing like they had showed in the movies when I was growing up.

After about 45 minutes, the paramedics showed up. I really was out in the middle of nowhere. I had remained calm the entire time, but I was beginning to feel irritated. I wanted to get out of the car and my neck was getting very sore from the position it was craned in with my weight resting on it. When one reached in over me and couldn't get the seat belt undone, my instant internal reaction was "well duh, I've been here for 45 minutes, what do you think I've been trying to do all this time," but never said it. When another climbed in through the back seat to help, I started to feel relief. Finally help had arrived and I could get out of that horrible position. When the two of them couldn't get me out of the seat belt and I didn't see anyone else close by qualified or able to help, panic finally set in.

I didn't let it show, but claustrophobia suddenly grabbed hold of my guts deep inside and refused to lessen their grip. My breathing grew shallow and panicked. My hands grew sweaty. I closed my eyes, not wanting to see how confined I was just then with a strangers knees only inches from my nose as the rescuer reached across my body. Finally a third paramedic showed up from the back of the ambulance and went around to the passenger side of the car. He threw a jacket down on the glass and knelt down to help. The guy kneeling in front of me started to push my legs as hard as he could against the seat above me. The guy behind me did the same with my shoulders. The pressure on my neck eased, but I didn't go up at all. I desperately strained to turn my head, but the glass ground into my scalp and bit painfully into my flesh. My neck was driving me further into claustrophobic panic, and I held my breath. Finally, the paramedic reaching over from the passenger seat produced surgical scissors and began sawing away at the lap belt.

Everything happened fairly quickly then. I was lowered to my knees on top of a large blanket. I crawled out on my hands and knees and hugged the first neck I saw - the first paramedic to try assisting me. He was an elderly gentleman, I remember. He threw his arms around me and hugged me right back. Cheers went up, and that's when I realized there was an audience of no fewer than 100 people watching the rescue on the side of the mountain down a back country road.

When the police came to investigate the crash later, they told me how lucky I was. They told me that there was no way I would have crashed unless I was doing over 100 miles an hour. I told them they were full of $#!& but they didn't like that too much. By the time everything was said and done, they gave me a ticket for driving off the road.

I totaled the car and had to quit my job until I got another mode of transportation. Still, I refused to go anywhere with anyone until I went in to Shoney's to explain what had happened. I was dedicated.

To this day I get nervous driving in the rain. I mainly drive small cars, and they all fishtail easily on slick roads, but living in California I normally don't have to worry about that.


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