That Time We Were Run Off the Road in Tennessee

 RIP Ford Focus

RIP Ford Focus

In my short 23 years on this earth, I've had the pleasure of being involved in three major-ish traffic accidents, not to mention some other vehicular kerfuffles while out on the road.

Getting rear-ended in Florida; sort of, maybe causing a family of five to ram into a concrete median in Chicago; literally blowing a gasket on the way back from Windsor, Ontario — you must admit, I have a gift.

And then there was that one time outside of Loudon, Tennessee, when the driver of a banged-up, white something-or-other decided they were going to run us off I-75.

Four friends and I had packed ourselves into my tiny 2001 Ford Focus and set off very early in the morning from Michigan for Atlanta; we had tickets for the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four, which was being held in the Georgia Dome that year.

Undoubtedly among other basketball fans out on the road on that sunny Saturday morning, we traveled through Ohio and Kentucky without a hitch and then stopped in some rinky-dink town in I-don't-remember-where for breakfast and to fill up on gas.

Little did we know — please shoot me for typing that — that our full gas tank would not carry us much further. I had done all the driving during that first leg of the trip, and so, after we ate, I turned the wheel over to one of my compatriots, who, let's just say, has a penchant for driving a little erratically.

Whilst definitely adhering to the posted speed limits of the great state of Tennessee, we inevitably hit a bit of traffic, and our new driver began pulling some graceful maneuvers, weaving in and out and that sort of thing. I think, perhaps, that he angered a fellow driver by doing so — which is the only rationale I have for what happened next.

Having just sung the final lyrics of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" — as a gang of five college students are apt to do, apparently (or was that just us?) — the front of another vehicle collided with the rear passenger door of the Ford Focus, sending us flying off into the ditch. We cruised past several skinny trees before completing a one-eighty turnaround and coming to rest in the lowest section of the depressed ground, the air bags and the front windshield exploding in our faces and ears.

There we were, my Ford Focus totaled in the ditch, stranded halfway between Michigan and Atlanta.

Amazingly, astoundingly, remarkably, and some other synonymous adverbs-ly, the worst injuries sustained by any of the five of us were just a few small scratches. Oh, and I couldn't hear out of one of my ears for the rest of the day — an air bag going off in your face will do that sometimes.

We climbed up the short embankment back onto the shoulder of the freeway and spotted our dear old friend, the crappy compact white vehicle that had hit us, idling on the other side of the road. They didn't stay for long though.

After seeing all five of us, basically unharmed, walk up to the shoulder of the road — and again, this is only a guess because we will never really know — the driver of the white car decided it was time to high tail it out of there. Had any of us been thinking of this possibility, we would have taken a photo of their license plate.

Alas, I guess we were tricked into believing in the good nature of other human beings, only to see that belief spite us. White-car driver spun his or her wheels and zoomed off. And the worst of it? The cops never caught up with them.

So there we were, my Ford Focus totaled in the ditch, stranded halfway between Michigan and Atlanta, when whom should come rolling up but a couple of good Samaritans in a nearly empty RV, who also happened to be on their way to the national semifinals.

Ken and Rick, we shall call them (because those are their actual first names), stopped along the opposite shoulder, saw us clad in our University of Michigan apparel, and without hesitation asked us if we needed a lift. Of course, we did.

The police came, we gave them the details, my poor car was towed away, never to see the light of day again (until the repair shop it went to fixed it up and sold it, that is — again, a guess), and we piled into Ken and Rick's RV to continue on to Atlanta.

 Arriving in Atlanta

Arriving in Atlanta

Now, I cannot say that accepting rides from strangers is the best practice, but in this case it could not have worked out more perfectly.

Ken and Rick had expected more friends of theirs to come along to the Final Four, but for one reason or another, they had had to cancel or just generally couldn't make it. Which meant there was plenty of room in the RV for five kids who'd been stranded in the middle of Tennessee after some jag off pulled a hit and run on them.

We even ended up canceling our hotel reservation and staying with Ken and Rick the rest of the weekend, where after they drove us all the way back to Michigan (and we gave them what amounted to the rest of our combined cash as thanks).

It was sort of a surreal experience all around, which could only have been made better had Michigan come back to beat Louisville in the title game on Monday (they lost by 6).

Oh, and being out a few thousand dollars in the form of a Ford Focus was kind of a bummer, too.

-LTH