Unsafety

In a discussion forum about classic Volkswagen Beetles a couple of years ago, someone asked if I would daily drive such a car, and I said yes. I mentioned how long I’ve had it, all the trips I’ve taken, how well the car has held up over the years, and how in some respects, it’s a safe car for me because everyone notices the car. Often, predators go after those who are so unnoticeable that they are easily culled from the herd and that doesn’t hold true for me.

There’s always someone who has to get testy, although it took two years for any testiness to surface. As this particular fellow just said, “You have no worries for your own safety? Admittedly, a classic VW Beetle tends to stand out from regular traffic, but in the age of young testosterone-overloaded guys driving 400 hp diesel trucks with 40″ tires, I am surprised that being safe in an accident doesn’t seem to register with you.”

My response, “Maybe driving defensively and staying out of accidents is more important that being safe in an accident,” only ramped up his disgust with my lack of safety.

In a rather ironic twist of fate, a book I read yesterday happened to be about a teenager who was driving his rebuilt classic VW and was hit head-on by a drunk driver. Eek.

I understand that accidents happen even to safe drivers, but I’ve noticed that all the safety features in a car, while saving lives, also seem to encourage rash behavior behind the wheel. In an old car, there is no doubt one is driving — the noise, uncomfortable seat, and non-power steering tell you that. In today’s relatively silent cars with plush seats, people act as if they are sitting in their living room rather than behind the wheel of a lethal weapon. They rely too much on those vaunted safety features to save their life, but seem to have no concern for other lives they might be endangering.

I understand that the old VW bugs are dangerous, which is why there are so few on the road today — so many of them were wrecked in various accidents. Even I have been in accidents, mostly fender benders, never one where I was seriously injured. The truth is, though, that cars other than old VWs are those mostly involved in accidents nowadays.

Since it’s possible for anyone to get in an accident at any time, I never take driving for granted and am particularly careful to drive only when conditions are good. I don’t drive at night when visibility is limited. I don’t drive during rain or snow storms. (As you can see, I’d never make it as a mail deliverer because snow and rain and heat and gloom of night all stay me from completing any appointed rounds.) I don’t drive during rush hour. And I don’t drive in city traffic. I’d take these same precautions even if I were driving a tank with every imaginable safety feature because I understand that any car can be a weapon. (Most statistics just show fatal accident statistics, but non-fatal accidents are problematic, too. Approximately 1.35 million people die in vehicle accidents each year, but 20-50 million additional people sustain non-fatal injuries, often resulting in long-term disabilities.)

I could be wrong, but I tend to think that if everyone who got behind the wheel realized they were in control of a dangerous weapon that demands their full attention, there would be fewer accidents.

Although at the time of the discussion, I said that I did drive my car every day, things have changed, and now I seldom drive. This year, of course, there have been issues, such as carburetors and distributors and other parts that don’t talk to one another as well as brake problems. (What takes all the time is getting the parts. This far from civilization, there are no specialty car part stores, so everything has to be ordered online.) Even before the car parts issue, I curtailed my driving. I can get almost everything I need within walking distance. Those other things can be ordered online or purchased on the rare occasions when I go to a bigger town with more stores.

What concerns me more than driving or not driving is why anyone I’ve never met would have any opinion whatsoever about the unsafety of my car.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Continuing Car Saga

Several years ago I had a hard time with my car because, as I found out later, the mechanic I went to at the time was a cheat and not only didn’t do what he was supposed to, he actually sabotaged the vehicle. In one case, instead of replacing the leaky brakes, he cut the rear brake line and blocked it with a bolt. I still don’t understand the reasoning behind that. And there was something about the points. Either he put in bad points or used cheap ones, or something, because the car kept breaking down.

I eventually found a mechanic who only dealt in air-cooled VW Beetles. He switched out the original ignition with an electronic ignition, which eliminated the points problem. Of course, things are never that easy. It turns out that the electronic ignition and the carburetor no longer “spoke” to each other, so he had to put in an older carburetor, which entailed reworking various connections.

Fast forward to today. The carburetor he put in no longer works, so my current mechanic ordered and installed a new carburetor. And no surprise, it doesn’t speak the language of the electronic ignition. The mechanic spent all day yesterday trying to get everything meshed, without much luck. (I felt bad that he had to do all that work, but he seemed happy enough to have something different to do since it’s a far cry from what he normally does.) He’s trying one more thing today, replacing some connectors, but he doesn’t think it will work. While researching the problem, he found site after site that categorically said not to put an electronic ignition in this particular model and year because of the very problem he encountered.

So now the best option seems to be to order a new ignition of the non-electronic variety and install that. I had no problem with the original-style ignition until the days of the cheating mechanic, so I’m okay with that, and in a way I prefer it since it restores the car to its original condition. Although I had no objection to the electronic ignition, I never really liked the idea of a non-regulation carburetor.

I do like that this new mechanic seems to be invested in my car. I think he gets as much a kick out of people commenting on the vehicle when it’s in his care and listening to their reminiscences of their experience with a VW bug as I do.

Even though some people think I need to get a new car (and as I get older and have a harder time clambering in and out, I sometimes agree), I’ll stick with this one to the end — either my end or the car’s end. The money I put into the car each year is a lot less than a monthly car payment would be. Besides, it’s to the point that I almost have to keep it. I mean, how many people have bought but a single vehicle in their entire life, and are still driving that vehicle? It gives me a weird sort of prestige. And makes almost everyone I meet an instant friend.

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A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

The Mature Adult and Hiking

I received an early Christmas present yesterday. Well, technically, it wasn’t early, I just opened it early. I figured since I was grown up, I could either act like a mature adult and save the present until Christmas or act like a mature adult and do whatever the heck I wanted, and I opted for the latter. And it was the perfect time to open the gift and the perfect time to enjoy the book. (Since I love this particular gift giver’s wrapping, I wrapped another book in its stead, a perfect example of having one’s gift and reading it too.)

The gift? The Creaky Knees Guide to the 100 Best Easy Hikes in Washington. Isn’t that a perfect gift to prepare for my May adventure to the Pacific Northwest? Most of the hikes listed do seem easy enough for these creaky knees, but some seem difficult even for the pre-creak set. Eight miles round trip with a 2,880 elevation gain? Yikes!! Not a beginner slope for sure.

Just because a hike is easy, it doesn’t mean getting to the hike is easy. In one case, the directions call for a drive of 14 miles on a washboard road, and then another 3 or so on what sounded like a barely navigable dirt track. That is simply not an option for my poor ancient VW. The bug looks pretty and runs well, but the welds holding it together are 46 years old. Yikes, again.

And then there is the little tidbit I found in the book about a private hiking club in Washington with $5,000 a year dues and a mere 63 members. The sole purpose of the club? To stealthily grade, or rather de-grade the roads to their favorite trails, making the roads all but impassable, in order to keep the trails to themselves. More yikes.

The most daunting part of the book is the admonition against solo hiking. This isn’t the first time I have encountered that rule — every single tip sheet for hikers talks about the dangers of solo hiking. Apparently, “do not hike alone” is the number one rule. For everyone, of course, except solo hikers, who love being out by themselves. Yes, things do happen to solo hikers. Bad things. But bad things also happen to people walking in the city, solo or otherwise. (It was in the city, in a parking lot, that I fell and had to endure the absolute worst injury I ever suffered.)

I’ve already broken the solo hiking rule (being the aforesaid mature adult and doing whatever the heck I want) — I’ve hiked a couple of hundred solo miles (not all at once, of course) in various wild places, and many hundreds more walking in the Mojave Desert — the rather tame part close to town, though rattlesnakes and coyotes and jackrabbits carrying jackknives do abound.

I won’t give up solo hiking, no matter what the rule, nor will I give up my absurdly impossible dream of a solo backpacking trip on one of the iconic trails. Hiking in a group is too dangerous, at least for me. As a straggler who hikes my own hike, stopping frequently to drink in the ambiance or to take photos of nature’s artistry, I often have to hurry to catch up to the group, and so end up going much faster than I feel that either I or the trail can handle. And there are too many times groups cross creeks or rivers that are more than I want to attempt, and usually some well-meaning folk end up trying to help and merely land me in the drink. And if I hike in a group, I have to hike when and where they choose, regardless of what I might want. There is definitely a place for companionable hiking — I have done many hikes with others that were enjoyable — but that is not the same as being alone with the world, feeling connected to the world, breathing in the essence of the world. Of course, the first time I meet a cougar, I’m sure I will rethink this lofty position.

Meantime, like any mature adult should be, I am safe inside, comfortably ensconced in my armchair, reading about hiking in far-flung places and dreaming of being out in the wilds.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.