“Tragedy + Time = Comedy”
—Somebody smarter than me
When all this went down, I was devastated. I thought, “Never in a million years am I going to find this humorous”. I was wrong.
Funny thing happened on the way to our first show of the year–Coconut Grove in Miami. I’d been working my fingers to the bone–literally–all winter long, and I was itching to get to a show. Any show. The fact that the first one was in Miami, during a Raleigh winter that had been long, icy, and cold, and that Miami had been posting the same BORING forecast for weeks (74 and sunny, every frikkin’ day), made it a matter of LIFE AND DEATH that we get the hell outta town soon or something was gonna blow. So when yet another ice storm was scheduled to arrive on the day before we were supposed to leave for Florida, I was having none of it. Ice storms in Raleigh tend to bring traffic on most of the streets to a standstill. People abandon their cars, packs of wolves roam the deserted roads, there’s cannibalism…OK, just the first one. Anyway, I told Phil “Hop in the van, Sweetie, and let’s get out of here before the Storm of the Century of the Week hits”.
Coincidentally, this was Phil’s last day of work before retirement. The going away party had already been cancelled due to impending Snowmageddon, so he figured he’d just work on his laptop while I drove. We calculated that if we made it to the highway before the storm hit, we’d be golden. The highways in North Carolina are pretty well-maintained during ice storms, even if the side streets become Winter Olympic events.
At first, the plan seemed a good one. It was Wednesday. We’d get to warmer climates, maybe stop in Savannah for a mini-vacation, and get to Miami on Friday. We headed south, and missed the ice in North Carolina entirely.
Trouble is, we caught up with it in South Carolina. As the snow got heavier, we went slower and slower. Visibility was poor. And eventually, I ended up behind a huge semi, that was spitting even more slush up onto our windshield. Cautiously, I attempted to pass the rig on it’s left, and that’s when all hell broke loose. I must have caught a draft from the truck, and the van started fishtailing wildly. I hit the truck with the right rear end of the van, which spun it around so that I’d have the opportunity to hit it with the front end as well, sending us spinning like a top on the ice. After pirouetting gracefully around a mercifully empty highway a few times, we came to a halt in the fast lane, facing the wrong way. Fortunately, the van had enough spirit left to restart and drag its sorry carcass over to the median, where it breathed its last. Phil stopped working on his computer. Happy last day of work, honey!
(BTW, these photos were taken days later, after the storm blew over and the sun came out).
The police came quickly, and called a tow truck. The driver of the semi stopped his rig hundreds of yards away and came over to see if we were OK. As I sobbed “I’m so SORRY” to him, over and over, he just smiled and said, “Well, I THOUGHT I heard a thump!” Evidently, the truck had little or no damage. Not so our van–the passenger side was inoperable, chunks of the front end had been pulled off, and some red fluid was leaking from the engine. It looked like blood on the snow. But we were fine, as was everything in the van. No Fobots were harmed in the making of this adventure.
Enter Tommy Jr., our rescue angel and tow truck driver. Phil could not exit the demolished passenger door, and his double knee replacement in September had him even less mobile than usual. Tommy Jr.–all 5”4” and maybe 120 pounds of him–commenced to pull Phil backwards towards the driver side door and probably would have pulled him all the way out if Phil hadn’t stopped him in time. As we waited in the warm tow truck, Tommy Jr. finished things up with the Highway Patrol, and we called our insurance agent, who instructed us to bring the van to a collision center in Florence, SC. Tommy Jr. cut off some of the dangling bits from the van and we were on our way.
Trouble is, the storm had knocked out the power to most of Florence SC, and the collision center was closed. I started crying again, since all my work was in the van, which couldn’t be locked as the passenger side window was gone. And the collision center–as collision centers are wont to be–was not exactly in the ritzy part of town. No problem, says Tommy Jr.–I’ll bring it to my house, lock it in the yard, put a tarp over it, and my dog won’t let anyone near it. Good dog. Good dog.
Our luck continued to improve. We got one of the last two hotel rooms in Florence, in one of the only parts of town that had power. Tommy Jr. helped us bring as much as we could into the hotel, and after settling up with him, he asked us if there was ANYTHING else he could do for us. Anything at all. Phil, observing that I was still shaking like a leaf, jokingly asked if he knew where we could get a bottle of tequila. “I’m on it!”, says Tommy Jr. But even our resourceful tow truck driver could not find an open liquor store in a town that was almost completely closed. But that’s OK. The front desk informed us that the only two options for food were a convenience store across the highway from the hotel, or either Papa John’s or Domino’s could deliver. We called up Domino’s (I mean, we’re desperate, but we’re not monsters, right?) and they took our order, but apologized that there would be a 2 1/2 hour delay. Seemed reasonable.
And so we settled in for a day of pizza and Winter Olympics. Around 10pm, my cell phone rang. It was Tommy Jr. “You still want that bottle of tequila?” I’d stopped shaking by then, but I believe the response was still “OH HELL YEAH”. This dear man drove it to our hotel and met Phil downstairs. Phil asked him in wonderment, how he’d managed to find an open liquor store under these conditions. “Well, it’s like this”, replied Tommy. “I’d just given a guy a tow, and when we went inside to settle up, I noticed all these big bottles of liquor on his counter. I asked him how much he wanted for the Cuervo, and when he said forty bucks, I said, let me call someone…”
Thursday brought another day of pizza, tequila, Winter Olympics (I am now an expert on luge and curling, though the luge was difficult to watch after our incident) and hourly calls to the still unopened collision center and car rental places. The Miami weather reports continued to taunt us. Finally, around 6pm, the power came back on at Enterprise, long enough for them to leave a message on their answering machine that they would reopen Friday at 8am. I immediately booked a cargo van online, and arranged for Tommy Jr. to meet us there to transfer all our stuff from the wreck to the rental. Things are looking up. We may have to set up in Miami in the middle of the night, but we just might make it…
Not so fast. We arrived at Enterprise just before they opened, and were first in line to collect our reserved cargo van. The guy behind the counter looked stricken. “I’m sorry”, he said, “but there isn’t a cargo van to be had anywhere in the state”. HOW CAN THIS BE????!! Note to future self–do not attempt to rent a van on Valentine’s Day. Those greedy florists have booked every last one for extra deliveries. At this point, I uttered a sentence that has never before left my lips.
”OK. I’ll take two minivans”.
The collision center had also reopened that morning, and Tommy Jr. met us there with his son, who we will always think of as Tommy Jr. Jr.. They helped us transfer our cargo, and it miraculously all fit in one van. The Dodge Caravan with the Stow and Go seats is like Hermione’s handbag (Harry Potter reference, for all you geeks out there). We were able to return the spare van, and were finally on our way south by noon.
We weren’t the only ones setting up at midnight in Miami–others had been caught by the storm as well, though not as spectacularly as we’d been. The only other problem we encountered was trying to get everything out of the minivan, whose back door was too low to slide the display cases straight out. I don’t know how the Tommies did it, but when I attempted to do it in reverse, I tore the meniscus in my right knee trying to heave a seventy pound case sideways out the back. When the show opened the next morning, we were ready to go, and all the other artists, having heard of our adventure, thought I’d messed it up in the crash. Nope, just not as agile as the Tommies. I turned out to be a really good show for us (can you imagine how soul-crushing it would be to have a bad show after going through all that?) and we even won an award.
So there you have it. On the way back home, we got confirmation from the collision center that the van was, indeed, totaled (duh), so I got on the phone with some Ford dealers and informed them that whoever calls me with the best price on a 2013 Ford Transit Connect in the next few hours gets a cashier’s check the next morning and the easiest sale they’ve ever made. Sure enough, we pick up our new van, “The Botmobile”, the next morning, and are off to our next show in Baltimore that day.
PS–If you ever crash your car in Florence SC, call O’Dad’s Towing. Ask for Tommy Jr. Oh–and I made him a Fobot with angel wings, out of a tin that held sealant for cracked radiators. Seemed appropriate.