Sunday, April 10, 2005

Whatcha Doin'?

"Whatcha doin?"
"Nothing much."
"Any plans?"
"Not really. Just gonna hang around, see how things go, take it easy. You know, Saturday."

It was a Saturday, like any other Saturday. Or so we thought. We didn't have any plans scheduled for the day; it was just going to be an run-errands/let's-just-see-how-things-go-before-we-make-any-plans kind of day. The only plan we had for sure was to take Linda's and Cim's cars down to the Ford dealership to get a recall taken care of. We did that, then went back to get the cars, then did a little shopping, then....

Ah, yes. "Then." Cim and I were in my living room chatting about getting something to eat and what we were going to make for dinner, waiting for Linda to come home, when we heard it. A bumper-to-bumper collision. We live about 10 feet from a major freeway onramp/offramp, so noises like that are not uncommon. Generally, you can ignore it because seriously. You can't expect us to go running across 8 lanes of traffic everytime there's an accident or a police chase or news helicopters flying overhead.

This time though, I could actually see the car that had just gotten hit right outside our window. It looked pretty bad -- a crumpled car sitting in the middle of a two-lane offramp. Cim and I looked at each other and decided to go see if there was anything we could do to help. Cim grabbed the phone and started calling 911, I grabbed my cell phone, and off we went.

We made our way over there, which comprised of negotiating our way through the ditch and plumbers in our front yard. Oh, and the plumbers' wives and children. (Don't ask. That's a story for another day.) Crossed through one crosswalk (onramp side of the street), then I started jogging up the offramp. I know. Not a good idea on an ordinary day, but freeway traffic is lighter on a Saturday, plus the crushed car was impeding any traffic actually getting off the exit, so I figured it was pretty safe.

At first it just looked like a hit and run. It obviously wasn't a one-car accident because the car was too damaged, especially the back end, to have just gotten that way by itself. But it wasn't immediately obvious how it had gotten that way. The driver was holding a rag up to his arm that was already bleeding through. He asked me to put pressure on the wound in his other arm. I rummaged through his car and found another rag for his other arm. Started putting pressure on that, and that's about when Cim caught up (she was barefoot so jogging up the freeway wasn't really an option for her).

We started looking around to see if the other car was around or if it was a hit and run. We saw an SUV up the incline parked on the shoulder. Its front bumper was mooshed a little, and two Hispanic young men were wandering around talking on cell phones. They looked okay; certainly not in as bad as shape as the offramp guy.

A Cal-Trans worker came up to let us know that they had just radioed CHP, which was nice since it had taken forever for Cim to get through the 911 way. I asked offramp guy (Fine. His name was Ernie. I'll stop calling him "offramp guy.") if there was anyone he wanted me to call for him. He gave me his wife's phone number; I couldn't get through and left a message. Cim suggested we get him off the street, thinking he was probably going into shock.

Oh, except it was just about then that the two Hispanic SUV guys decided to come check things out. They strolled down and asked Ernie if he was okay. He said, "Yes. Well, no, not really. (pause) What were you guys doing? Look at this! You really slammed into me!"

The SUV Guys, seeing that he was okay (mostly), started puffing out their chests and invading personal space a little bit. Not just Ernie's, either, but mine too, since I was still holding the rag on the guy's arm. "Dude! Whaddya mean US! You! were the one that swerved into our lane! You cut across like three lanes of traffic!"

The boys all started moving closer to each other talking at the same time, over each other, blaming each other. It was getting a little heated. I moved between them and put my non-compress holding hand up and said, "Guys. Guys! Calm down! Everyone's a little shook up right now. Just calm down. The cops will be here soon, and we get everything straightened out then." They stopped, and I thought, "Wow. Check me out. Master negotiator, that's me." Cim told me later though that she had started to walk away then turned around and saw the boys all swaggering towards each other and me putting my hand up and calming everyone down. She ran back up and inserted herself between the two sides, and that's when they backed down. After all, who's going to hit a little person? She has the ability to look so very young and innocent. No one's going to hit her.

We got Ernie over to the guard rail. I kept trying to get ahold of his wife, then I called his brother who lives closer and told him that was going on. Ernie asked me if he could talk to his brother, and I said, "Um, no. Sorry, but I don't want your blood on my phone." Because seriously. This guy had blood on his face, his hands -- I didn't want to try to figure out how to disinfect my phone. So he asked me to tell Carlos, the brother, to keep trying to get ahold of his wife, and to please come get his tools out of his car.

Linda showed up about then and started picking up debris out of the road, some of which was part of Ernie's very expensive tool collection.

Oh, the car. This would be a good time to describe what it looked like. I'm only sorry I didn't have my camera with me. Maroon Saturn, rear bumper was hanging on by one car-thread, but mostly just hanging on the ground. The rear window was missing, apparently from when the trunk had flown open and completely shattered it. The driver's seat was completely reclined. Ernie said it collapsed when he got hit and he almost rolled out the back window. There was blood on the passenger's side seat and doorframe, probably from him rummaging around to get a rag for his one arm wound, and blood drops, splatters, really, all the way from the car up to where we currently were standing with him. Overall, it was not a pretty sight.

Okay, so Linda's there, then a guy in a brown shirt (I never got his name, so I'll just call him Brownie, since that's what I called him when the CHP guys asked me who everyone was) showed up because he had witnessed the whole thing, gotten off the next exit and circled back to give his eyewitness account about what had happened. Good thing he did too, because just based off the physical evidence, it would be very easy to believe that it was all SUV Guys' fault. Turned out though, that Ernie was actually in the 2nd lane, realized he needed to get off that exit and swerved over the two lanes, headed into the exit lane, and the SUV Guys didn't have time to react; it was that sudden. Brownie said it looked as though Ernie made a 90* right turn.

The cops and paramedics showed up at about the same time. Ernie started getting the attention he needed. They started with the arm that he had been putting pressure on first, so I continued putting pressure on the other one while the dressed and bandaged that one. It was nasty looking. It was like a Discovery Channel health or surgery special on what all the layers of muscle look like. It was terribly gross, but I managed to remain fairly clinical and calm about it. Mostly because I was curious about how he had gotten it, because to be blunt, a huge chunk of his arm was missing, and I couldn't figure out how it had gotten that way. The upside was that being that close to the action allowed me a perfect vantage point to observe (read: stare at) all the (very beautiful) Burbank fire department paramedics. They are not ugly. What is it about yellow pants, blue shirts and red suspenders? Primary-school colors should not logically be able to combine in a way to make men look that good.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Ernie. He asked me to wait for his brother to come to get the tools and make sure everything got out of the car okay. The EMTs finally got around to dressing the other wound, so that gave the three of us a chance to step back and see what else was going on. We leaned against the guard rail and relaxed for a minute. Cim was standing on my left side (the same hand that had been putting pressure on Ernie's wound). She said to me, "Ooh. I'm feeling a little woozy. Do you mind if I just hang onto your arm for a minute?" I said, "Probably better not with that hand -- that's the same one that's been touching Ernie." Linda overheard the conversation and said, "You can hang onto my arm." I turned away for one second, and Linda started going, "Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Hey! Hey! Hey!" I turned back around and saw that she was trying to support Cim, who had apparently picked just that moment to pass out. I tried to catch her, but when someone's fainting, it's like trying to hold a wet noodle upright. Nearly impossible. I was mostly concerned about her right leg that was getting bent underneath her, so I was trying to get that straigtened out while making sure she didn't hit the ground very hard.

The good news is, is that if you're going to pick a time to pass out, it might as well be on a freeway offramp where an accident has just occurred and the EMTs are already on site. About five of them came immediately over (abandoning Ernie. Cool!) and surrounded Cim. She opened her eyes and said, "What? Why is everyone looking at me?" Linda said, "Um, 'cause you just fainted." "I did?"

One of the hottie EMTs started taking her blood pressure while another one started taking her medical history to see if this had ever happened before, etc. He started by asking what her name was, to get an idea of if she was fully conscious yet or not. She said, "Cinnamon." He thought for sure she wasn't all there yet. He had a look on his face like, Yeah, right. He said again, "What's your name?" "Cinnamon," she said again, this time more firmly and emphatic. He looked up at us like, really? Yes, we nodded. Really. She got checked out while I contemplated stopping breathing so I could get some mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. They told her it would probably be a good idea to go home and get something to eat and drink and lie down.

(For Cinnamon's version of the day's events, go here.)

Long story a bit longer, they drove the car down the offramp to get it out of the way and wait for the tow truck. I went down there with it because I was still waiting for Carlos, the brother, to come get the tools. I chatted with Linda and one of the CHP guys for awhile, then the tow truck guy showed up, but still no Carlos. Then it turned out the tow truck wasn't the right kind, so they had to call for another one. Actually, the tow truck guy confessed that he had the right part, but he was on light duty because of "this," he said, pointing to his arm. Embroidered across his much-tattooed arm was about 30 stitches in a lovely zig-zag pattern that looked like it had been put there by his pirate captain friend who had nothing but a hook needle and sail thread and used his teeth to cut the thread. It was fairly gruesome in its own right. "Dude," I said, "How'd you get that?" "Motorcyle accident," he replied. More proudly than he should have, if you ask me.

Carlos finally showed up, sporting the longest mullett I've seen in quite a long time and a tai chi outfit complete with neon-green boxers. I left him to do what he needed to do and went back to my house to wash up and check on Cim. Washing up was another adventure because I had to use the outside hose due to the aforementioned plumbing issue, but all is right with the world.

The moral of this story boys and girls, is to please, please be very very careful. Wear your seatbelts, don't drink or do drugs (ever, but especially during or just before driving), and don't be stupid, because it's not just your life; I'm out there too and I don't want a chunk of my arm taken out or my bumper laying in the fast lane just because you had to get off the freeway NOW!

"Be wise, oh what can I say more?"

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