If you've been driving for any length of time, no doubt you've experienced at least one frightful drive.
I am preparing for an eighteen hour road trip to visit family, and while I am knocking on wood for a safe, uneventful drive there and back, the thought of so many hours on the freeway has me reflecting about past drives.
There have been slightly humorous yet grotesque accidents I've witnessed, such as the one where a semi swerved out of control in the rain in Tacoma, thankfully escaping damage to the driver or any other cars on the road, but popped open the hatch and spilled out thousands of chickens on the road. Humorous sounds like a terrible adjective to describe the sight - grotesque and horrific may be more accurate, along with saddening since it showed just how many chickens are packed into a dark, cramped space during interstate travel - but at the time a chuckle slipped out unintended and unannounced. I think it was relief that the blood smeared on the road mixed with a visual of what looked to be the most massive pillow fight on record was just that - many dead chickens and several more escapees running for their little lives. It could have been so much worse, so what can you do when the road closes for thousands of chickens across the road? Stop the car, reflect on the sight of it all and let out a little laugh at the absurdity of the traffic jam.
There have been times on the road that I've felt my heart race or my body tense, times that I've felt I narrowly missed what fate may have meant for me. One day a couple of weeks ago I drove to visit my husband at work. On the way, the car directly in front of me rear-ended the car in front of them. On the way home, again, the car directly in front of me (different car, different light, same road) rear-ended the car in front of them. I figured something was telling me to stay off the road for the rest of the day and hurried home, quickly parking my car in the safety of my garage.
I talk about driving and near-accidents (and those accidents you have been in) today because I think that those moments are full of fear, excitement, confusion, relief, surprise, anxiety, tension, wonder, frustration, anger, divine intervention. These are all emotions that you want to tap into as a writer, and one of the best ways to do that is to close your eyes and relive a high-emotion moment from your own experience, then transfer that feeling into an emotion your character might feel.
writing exercise: Reflect on a car accident or a near miss that you experienced as a driver or passenger. Tap into the emotions and thoughts; remember the physical response if you are able.
Click "read more" for writercizer sample response about witnessing an accident in the rear-view mirror.writercizer response:
I was driving south on I-5 on one of my frequent weekend trips from Seattle to Portland to visit my family. It was college, and I generally left Seattle as soon as classes were done on Thursday or Friday and returned in the middle of the night Sunday. I liked to get there as early as possible, and drive home in no traffic. To college eyes and energy, a midnight departure for a three hour drive was nothing. Oddly enough, the most frightening incident in those five years of school did not occur on one of those midnight drives but during the late afternoon driving south.
I had just passed the capital building in Olympia, Washington when I noticed an impatient pick-up truck in my rear-view mirror. Traffic was heavy, but not stop and go. I would estimate it was traveling at around 40 mph. The truck came up right behind me, pulled over to pass me on the right, got stuck immediately next to me behind another car, slowed down to drive back in behind me and try to pass me on the left. The car in front of him slowed down slightly as he turned on his right blinker to get back behind me. I wanted to speed ahead slightly to make more distance between us, so I sped up slightly as that car slowed down, pulled in front of it into the far left lane and pulled forward. As I did so, I checked my rear-view mirror to see where the pick-up was.
I watched as he pulled to the right, passed the car right behind me on the right, and went to change lanes back into the left. As he did so, his impatience, jittery moves and large car got the better of him. I watched as he smashed into the car that had been following me, but immediately beside me moments before that, sending it into the median. His pick-up bounced off that car two lanes over into the car that had been beside me immediately to my right just moments before, the one who he got stuck behind trying to pass me on the right. It bounced back off of that car, after sending it careening into the next lanes beside it, causing a crash straight across the freeway, and bounced back into the median before rolling three times.
I went from driving in heavy rush-hour traffic to complete and utter silence around me. The cars in front of me hadn't seen what had happened in their rear-view mirrors; they hadn't been paying attention to the crazy pick-up driver. While I was watching in awe, I had slowed down as they rushed on ahead. The pick-up had bounced into both of the cars I had been driving in the middle of, sending one crashing into the median and the other crashing into all of the cars to its right, careening and skidding across the freeway. Somehow, they had been hit, hard, and I had not only survived the crash, I had escaped it completely. I was shaking as I picked up the phone and called 9-1-1, back in the day when it was legal to drive and dial. I was the last car driving on the freeway; his crash had caused every car beside me and behind me to come to a complete stop. He had closed the freeway, and somehow I had made it through.
Naturally, the calls were already flooding in, purportedly from those now stuck on a non-moving thoroughfare behind the accident, frustrated and impatient to get going again, so the call was short and sweet.
There weren't any freeway entrances for a good five miles after the incident, or at least it seemed that long if it wasn't, so I shook and breathed deeply and pinched myself to find out if I was really awake, if I really wasn't dreaming, if I had really just witnessed the biggest collision I'd ever seen out, in a film or otherwise, out of my rearview mirror.
I was awake. I was not dreaming. The accident was real.
When I arrived at my parents house, I remember being in a bit of a daze and looking down at white knuckles. I think I confused them by saying something along the lines of "I'm surprised I'm alive" when asked how the drive went. The feeling of luck and relief that I just missed the accident combined with confusion and wonder about what steered me towards safety that day will stay with me.
I have no idea what happened to the pick-up driver or the two drivers who had been driving alongside me. To my surprise, I could not find mention of it in the local newspaper, although it no doubt affected many motorists that evening. I expected to see an obituary or a story about a victim of a car accident, but I think that somehow that pick-up driver must have survived bouncing off other cars and rolling over three times. Lucky man. I hope he did make it through, and I hope he learned a little lesson about patience and driving in all of it.