The officer made it to me and looked me up and down squarely. He asked me if I was hurt and I think he asked me what happened and for all of my license and registration info. I felt much more composed by the time he got there and I explained as calmly as I could how it all went down. I didn't try and shift any blame, just told him I had had my wheels on the shoulder and that I didn't see the car until the last minute.
"Okay," he said, "for your own safety now I need to you to get back in your car."
I looked back at my wreck of a car and thought for a moment about being in it again and smelling the smell of burning rubber and all the force that had just happened all so vivid to me in the form of bent doors, smashed glass, and all of my shit on the floor.
"Please don't make me. I won't get in it again."
"Well," he tried again, "you can't sit here out in the roadway...there's all of these drivers coming home from the Mariners game and it's dangerous. You have to fill out this paperwork."
"I won't do it," I said, and then, remembering that I was talking to a cop who was likely to write me a citation, softened my stance just a bit, "Respectfully, officer, please...I...I'm not going to get back in that car."
He thought for a moment and then sighed, "Okay, you can sit in the back of my car."
I was grateful, but knew I was going to have to walk by the white car. Oh well, it was better than sitting in my own car. They never even noticed me, but as I walked by I saw them messing with the passenger side door, and I saw the driver in a neck brace. Paramedics were preparing a stretcher.
I cringed a little bit, but I do know that if in such a car accident someone even mentions their neck is a little stiff, they slap a neckbrace on you and put you on a backboard. They do not fuck around. It was a little comfort, but not much. I pretty well felt horrible.
Luckily I had a nice dry form to focus on, and some worries went out the window as I began the process of doing the work to document and take care of the mess I had just created. I don't know what the fuck message the universe is trying to send me with all of this physical trauma, but I do certainly know my name and address and my birthdate. 05/09/75 I wrote in careful letters.
Then I had to write my description of the event. I wish I had a copy of what I wrote, but I don't. I just know that my last two sentences were something to the effect of, "Then I miraculously steered into the guardrail and avoided killing myself. I do not intend to drive a motor vehicle anymore."
While I was doing this, the tow-trucks arrived. The people in the white car had called AAA. They had been on the shoulder of the road because they had run out of gas, and now here was the AAA Tow Truck with a gas can for them. When he saw what had happened he clearly wanted no part of it. He came to the window and talked to the police officer while I sat in the back of the car.
"Hey, they called me to put some gas in their vehicle, but now I don't have a lot to tow them to. Can I go and have them call another tow truck?"
The cop thought that was kinda lame, but just rolled his eyes and said, "Hey, I don't really have anything to do with it. Do whatever you want."
The tow truck that the cops had called for my car showed up, and I asked the officer if I would be able to get a few important things out of my car. "Sure," he said, "are you done with that form?" I nodded and he let me out of the car. We stood there as he scanned my description with his finger sliding across each line.
When he had read it he just looked at me for a long time. "I think you're going to have to end up paying for this one buddy."
I nodded. I knew it was my fault.
"I'm not going to give you a ticket for 'negligent driving' which is a $500 ticket. How about just 'wheels off the roadway' which is just a $140 ticket?"
I sighed with relief...I knew that technically I could get nailed for something bad, especially if one of those people had been badly hurt. Some hundred dollar ticket didn't seem like too bad a deal for all the carnage and sirens that surrounded me.
"I'm happy with that, " I said, "Well, not...happy, but..."
"Go get your things. That guy over there is your tow truck driver. You're riding with him. Here's your citation number."
I limped over to my car and had a moment to assess what I absolutely needed in the next 48 hours or so, or just couldn't live without, and stuffed it all into a canvas bag that had been in my back seat.
As my car got cinched up, my cel phone rang. I looked at the time...it was 11:05pm and my shift at work had started five minutes ago. I had meant to call Corey, who I was supposed to be relieving, but it just never happened. I had given some thought to bussing to work or taking a cab, but as soon as I answered the phone I knew there was no way.
"Hi Corey. Ummm, yeah, I am on the freeway but not...not in my car. I'm not coming in. I just totalled my car on I-5 and I'm not going to drive anymore. Just page Stacy and tell her I won't be in today and I won't be in tomorrow. I'm sorry, thanks for covering, man."
The tow truck driver was nice, and I tried to make some attempt at bantering with him so I didn't make him feel uncomfortable with my misery, but I don't think I did such a good job. He got my car all loaded on his flatbed and I jumped in the cab.