A smoking white car.

What an awesome day. September 1, 2007, was shaping up to be perfect.

My boys and I woke up and the sun was shining. Smoky out? A little, but pretty clear. A nice day for a drive to Missoula.

September 1 was the opening day of football season. Grizzly football, to be specific. A joy three generations of my family have shared since my family has had three generations.

To be sure, preseason football in Missoula in recent years is hardly heart stopping. 2007's first designated patsy: Southern Utah University. I expected to be disappointed, a slow start, and an eventual, inevitable, if unsatisfying, victory. But it also meant sunshine, friends, and the familiarity of our ritual trips to Washington-Griz.

We piled into the Mustang. I took it as a good omen that neither boy argued with my pre-emption of the shotgun system to announce that turns would be taken. Sure, I dumped coffee on my lap before I even got to Highway 200, but then again I always dump coffee on my lap before I get to 200.

As we drove west, the sky seemed to clear. Another good omen erasing my fears of a game enshrouded by smoke like some of the practice photos had been. Traffic was heavy, Labor Day weekend, but we made good time. As we passed long lines of slow traffic, dad said "Buh bye" to those passed as sons laughed along.

We pulled into Lincoln, did our business, and I disappointed my kids: "No drinks or food. Get back in the car, we're going to get to Missoula." Another sign of the good mood can be found in the complete lack of protest.

We passed Trixi's Antler Saloon in Ovando just before 11:00. With a 1:05 game time, we were cruising.

A few minutes later, we approached the dip in the road where the collector lives. If you've driven to Missoula, you've no doubt seen this guy's place. There are farm implements, old cars, and all sorts of things I have only noticed as 'junk' at 75 mph. This day, though, as I came over the rise, I saw all kinds of cars.

"A sale of some kind," I thought. As I slowed, I realized the cars weren't parked, but were lined up on the road. Stopped. "Construction?"

Then we saw a little white car in the road. It was completely smashed up, and was still pouring smoke from under the hood. The violence of the preceding 10 minutes was apparent.

As we pulled to a stop, we were about the fifth westbound car in the line. We were far enough away that we couldn't see in the white car, but we did notice other vehicles around and in the ditch. All were pretty banged up. A middle school kid in a Grizzly jersey looked uncomfortable in his pasted on smile while his dad tried to get 911 on his cell phone. Bright sunshine. There were a few guys out, clearly having taken charge; they were from an eastbound truck. They were forest firefighters, and apparently knew what they were doing.

At the center of it all, though, sat the white car. It was in a bad way and everyone knew it. Everyone around stared at it, but only one firefighter approached it. Several times. He looked in and moved over to another group to talk.

One of the eastbound vehicles had pulled off the road around the wreck and was approaching us. As it passed us going the other way, I started to follow it in my rear view mirror. Watching it, my eyes were caught by sudden movement as I noticed a newer model white Suburban barreling toward us.

"Shit," I said, to my sons I guess, "there's going to be another crash right there." I turned my head to look as the eastbound vehicle swerved back off the road to let the Suburban pass. It looked out of control to me and careened past us to the front of the line where it stopped, suddenly and cockeyed against the side of the road. As it passed, we heard a high, keening wail coming from someone inside of it.

Both front doors of the Suburban flew open. Then we heard her. The woman in the passenger side was the source of the earlier anguish, and now we could hear her desperate pleas as she raced toward the white car. None of us could make it out exactly, but we thought she said "that's my daughter in there." She did say, "Oh, please no." Fortunately for her, and for all of us really, I suppose, someone stopped her before she got very close.

We sat watching the scene for a few moments, listening to her uncontrollable grief. The smoking white car. The nervous glances and no one would go near that car. "This is not good," I said, probably for the tenth time. I made a split decision. I gave a command that was ignored, foreseeably so given that its recipients were teen-aged boys: "Don't look!" I started the Mustang, rolled up the windows, and drove past the wreck into the oncoming ditch. I ignored the stares of the other witnesses..."Put your heads down!"

We drove in silence for a while, and then the boys told me what they saw as a result of ignoring their dad's orders. My youngest boy made the astute and sickening observation that, had we chosen not to stop in Lincoln, an option I had actually considered, we probably would have been in this wreck, so soon thereafter was our arrival.

When we got to Missoula, I spoke with a fellow I knew who had been ten minutes behind us (in fact, he was still loading his kids into his minivan when we waved at him, smiling, on our way out of the parking lot in Lincoln). He told me that two people died that day, two people in the white car.

As my boy said, it "kinda sucked the joy out of the day." For a while. We eventually enjoyed the day. We drove home carefully, took our time. I am not in a hurry anymore. You know those traffic fatalities you read about all the time? They happen. They happen on nice days on the way to the Grizzly game.

So, when you're out on the highways, please drive carefully. But I implore you not as a mothering editorial writer might on the eve of a big holiday. No offense, but my sentiments are more callous than that. I don't want you to die but, in all honesty, all things considered, it's not you I am worried about.

No, I am worried about me and, especially, mine. Because while I am rocketing down the highway and you pass by me just a few feet away, a rolling steel rocket, I want you to drive very carefully. Call me selfish, but I don't ever want my kids to be in that white car. You drive carefully, and I'll do the same.


Anonymous said...

As a Bobcat -I usually have to wait until I get to the game before I have to tell my kids "don't look".

Anonymous said...

Condolences to the family of the "white car" -

Thanks for the reminder, GeeGuy.

Anonymous said...

A crash near Ovando killed a brother and sister from Kalispell.
Powell County authorities say 18-year-old Krystal Noble and her 13-year-old brother, Franklin, were killed in the Saturday afternoon crash.
Law enforcement officials say Krystal Noble drifted into the west bound lane of Highway 200 while coming around a corner and clipped an oncoming truck. Then her vehicle struck an oncoming SUV head-on.

Anonymous said...

Gee Guy, a nicely written piece. Were you an English major?


GeeGuy said...

Accounting, LK.

Come on, how many right-wing extremist English majors have you known?!? :)

Anonymous said...

True, but how many rightwing extremists put out an alternative newspaper and are AGAINST a polluting monster of a coal plant?? Methinks that you're not as rightwing extremist as you think. I prefer to think of you as "evolving".


craig said...

>how many right-wing extremist English majors have you known?

*raises hand*

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