“Hit the horn! Hit the horn,” yelled a student in the first seat behind me. “Use the hand brake!”
This was the only clear voice I remember hearing this afternoon in the 10 seconds it took for me to realize that the university van I was driving had no responsive brakes and for me to respond so that all 11 student passengers in the van with me were safe and no other vehicles were damaged in the malay.
Each week for Viticulture lab on Tuesdays there seems that some extraordinary events occur that tests my ability at patience, quick thinking, and humility.
Today, I left Bradford Research and Extension Center around 12:45 after jumping in the Sorghum pool, as Minsu Kim called it, and drove west on New Haven Rd. to the South Farm, a few miles closer to Columbia. Upon arriving at the farm office, I walked in to find out what we needed to get our hands on the two white vans sitting outside with keys in the ignitions. Inside was a young lady, working at scribbling in black marker on a sign that she alluded would be used for the South Farm Showcase this weekend. We chatted, I asked for the toilet, and then a few minutes later the professor for the class I T.A. for arrived. Missy walked in, chatted with the young lady, and then we walked to the vans.
The radio stations of both vans were set to a public radio station broadcasting “The Barber of Seville” followed by a piece by Brahms. I chose the older van, the ClubWagon, as it was labeled on the rear left door. It was bigger, but had the irritating Ting noise when the driver side door is open with the key in the ignition. The other van did not have this unnecessary option. In hindsight, I am thankful I chose this van instead of giving it to Missy to drive.
We drove the vans to campus and we both took up some of the time before students arrived around 2 pm to get some ice cream at Buck’s Icecream close by; her, a Chocolate Mocha cone, me, a Dark Chocolate-White Chocolate w/ Raspberry Swirl milkshake. (I know, I know…) The class then showed-up and we loaded into the vans and drove to Les Bourgeois winery in Rochport to check out some Norton grapes and learn how to sample them for quality with a guest lecturer. We even had a crew there from Plant Sciences videoing students for a new promotional video to be released.
While driving the van, a few times I noticed when I had to make sudden or quick stops that the brakes were shallow and not too responsive, but I ignored the warning signs. Upon leaving the wine-tasting room and having a quick look at the wine-making facility we boarded the vans and headed to Columbia.
Upon exiting the Interstate highway, the down-ramp flew-by and in a few seconds I was at the bottom at the traffic light. Still, ‘Soft, but not dangerous.” I thought. I yielded right behind Missy’s van onto Rangeline Rd. Later, Missy said that she thought she had better talk to me about my unsafe driving when she looked back and saw me take that turn in a hurried manner with little slowing and stopping. Still, the brakes worked, sort of and I was able to keep control of the van. The vehicle turned South on Rangeline and I peaked a hill at too fast of a speed. Towards the bottom of the hill is the intersection with Business 70, where Missy pulled her van into the left turn lane. I did the same.
But, the rear of her van was flying towards me! I pressed the brake pedal down to the floor. Nothing. I let up, hoping the brake pedal would harden. My foot voluntarily stomped on it again. Nothing.
The front van’s rear doors grew large in my view. ‘It is not stopping,’ I thought. (An understatement.)
To avoid the impending rear-end collision, I jacked the steering wheel to the right, crossing to the far outside lane. I did not look to see if there was any traffic coming up in those lanes. ‘Now where!’ Then I heard the shouts from the seat behind me quoted above. The cross traffic received a green light as our van flew to the intersection. A white truck sat in my path.
‘Turn,’ I thought. That was the only option. Into traffic and the white pick-up truck flashing before me.
I yanked the steering wheel 90 degrees to the right. The white truck moved over a few feet. The van’s right wheels jumped and rode the curb. The van veered, as if driven by Guardian Angels past the truck and right, into the parking lot a few yards past the intersection.
The van came to a stop, parallel to the street. Upon realizing that the van was intact and we had not touched another car, I began to remove my foot from the brake pedal and allow the van to inch forward. My helpful backseat drivers said for me to put the van in Park and not drive it anymore. I guess the actual realization of what happened had not reached me. I moved the gear shirt to ‘P’ and turned off the van. The students wailed, gasped, laughed, and we all joined in a cacophony of: “What!” “Shew!” “Hahaha!” “We are alive!” “What happened?!!”, etc.
I sat. Quiet. My helpful backseat drivers quickly told the story to the other students, as witnesses to all my attempts to stop the van from careening into any other vehicles! My heart was calm. Shock started to set in after about 30 seconds, to the point that I finally realized that all was fine, except for a brake-less van.
I put my foot on the brake pedal- It was hard and responsive. Now. Not before. So much downhill use of the brake had made it totally unresponsive to any taps or pounding.
Across the parking lot in front of the van the white truck that hardly missed our van pulled into view and saddled up next to my driver side window. The driver was a late middle-aged man, missing a few teeth with a small dog next to his lap on the bucket seat. His truck was maybe as old as him, with a pushed-in front end. Some of the students remarked at the truck, out loud asking if we damaged his truck. ‘No,” another said.” He is coming to check on us.”
I was not naive to think that I had to mentally prepare myself for the coming conversation. I pulled off my blue visor to give me more of a respectable look and rolled down my door window.
“You ought-a have your license revoked,” the man sternly said.”
“I am so sorry,” I said. “Our brakes went out.” I laid my hand down the outside of the door pointing to the University logo as I spoke.
He shared several more objections to my actions and I did my best to assuage any anger he felt.
“I’m going to call the law.”
I told him that this was a University vehicle and there was nothing more we could do. I thanked him several times for his awareness that he saw us and was able to avoid collision. After a few more seconds of back and forth, he seemed satisfied and drove away with his little terrier looking directly at me. I sighed relief.
Several of the students and even me joined in a bit of mocking of the older man. A few minutes later I turned around to the students and told them that we have to be thankful to him for seeing us and moving over.
A girl called a student in the other van and reported our situation. Missy came to our rescue several minutes later with her empty van after dropping off the other class members. She nervously laughed for the next 20 minutes we were together and gave me undue praise. All the students were openly thankful. I thanked my backseat drivers. I thanked God, several times in front of Missy and some of the students.
After the students were on their merry way, Missy and I brainstormed what was to be done with the stranded van in an abandoned parking lot at the corner of Business 70 and Rangeline Rd. As we discussed, the event soaked into me. The stress settled into my mind and body.
I had planned on making this a night of office work, but I decided that I needed some stress relief.
1. I found the first episode of this season’s NCIS on the Yoder’s t.v. and watched the movie Office Space for the first time.
2. Upon arrive home tonight after watering a plant, munching on Yoder goodies and using the t.v., I found that Josh had posted a link to the new Switchfoot album:http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/thelife/music/news/story?id=6944961
3. Now, I am writing my story out. In my heart, I am thankful, so thankful to God for him protecting the students and giving me the ability to quickly react to the situation, with only Divine guidance.
Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
How do you relieve stress?