Friday, February 29, 2008

Part II: Life with a PT Cruiser and how life comes at you fast


I have to be honest with you.

I did not like the PT Cruiser.

At all.

I felt very uncomfortable driving it.

It seemed so big, for one thing. And certain features were located in obscure places. For example, the automatic window controls were NOT on the driver’s side door, as they are on every other car I have ever driven or seen. They were… on the dashboard, in the center, by the radio/CD player! Go figure.

The passenger side dashboard was all shiny and reflected everything I was passing. This was distracting and unnerving, as I was already jumpy from having just been hit.

The car is not AWD, like my beloved Subaru. And we are in the dead of winter here. A completely awful, snow, rain, sleet, ice-covered winter. The very next day after I got my PT Cruiser, it snowed a ton and the boys’ school was canceled. I spent hours shoveling the driveway, and the snow just kept a-coming. The roads were terrible, and I decided there was no way I was going to risk my life driving in to work with this new rental car that I had had less than a day and which did not have AWD. The place where I work ended up closing down at 3 anyway and sending everyone home, so I felt pretty righteous about my decision to call off.

I just could not stomach the thought of another accident.

Oh, and did I mention that the PT Cruiser reeked of cigarettes? My younger son commented: “Gee, this car smells just like a hotel room.” Well, the hotel rooms HE might ever stay in. Not me. But I knew what he meant. It was disgusting. So bad, in fact, that when I picked up Valentine cookies and candy on my way to work, I ended up dropping them off at home first because I was afraid if I left them in my car all day they would smell and taste just like cigarettes. Ugh.

I know, I know, you are thinking I am just a whiny baby. But I have to tell ya, the karma just was not right with that car.

I was ill at ease driving it, and it was not a fun car to drive. Plus, I was totally stressed out about my first accident, and I was very jumpy as I drove. I kept seeing people going through stop signs and stop lights and swerving and slipping and plowing into my car. I was a nervous wreck making my commute to and from work every day.

Then on the Sunday after I got the PT Cruiser, as I was just starting to come to terms with my new rental vehicle, life came at me fast.

My one son and I had just dropped off a gift at his friend’s house, and we were on our way to pick up my other son from a sleep over. We were driving through a residential area, that, granted, was in the woods. We were just driving along, minding our own business when – WHAM!!! – I head a loud crash sound.

I immediately imagined that a car must have hit me (as I had flashbacks to accident day), but I couldn’t imagine how as there weren’t any cars near me. My son later said he saw a flash of black to his right (he was in the front passenger seat), and he imagined it to be a person running into our car!

I turned to my right rear, where the noise had come from, and I saw a deer running off into the snow and woods.

I could not believe it! Where had this deer come from? I had not even seen a deer!

Another car was coming from the other direction, toward us, and the driver momentarily stopped. As I was getting out of the car, he drove on. Apparently, he didn’t think it was anything too serious.

I walked around the back of the PT Cruiser to see what the car looked like and was stunned to find the right rear passenger window completely shattered and the passenger door dented. There was deer hair all over the place.

I simply could not believe this had happened.

A deer had come running out of the woods and right into the rear of my PT Cruiser RENTAL car and then run off again.

My son got out to look for the deer. It had not been a large deer and it had no antlers, so it was either a female deer or a really young male deer. I could not imagine, given the extent of the damage, how the deer could possibly be all right. And I am sure that it wasn’t. But my son couldn’t find signs of it anywhere.

I wrote down all of the details of the accident in my little notebook. (I was fast becoming an expert on writing accident reports!)

I was so thankful that neither my son nor I had been hurt. I had barely even felt the crash as we were not driving all that fast. I was particularly glad that my son had been sitting up front with me. Usually, I make him ride in the backseat, but I had let him sit up front with me that day. Can you imagine if he had been in the backseat and the deer had come crashing through the window right on top of him?

As it was, he said he saw that flash of black to his right and then turned to see what it was. That was right when the deer hit the car behind him and the window shattered. He said he instinctively turned away from all of the shattering glass (thank God!) and when he turned around again he saw the deer running off, just as I had.

I was left somewhat in a state of shock by this whole episode.

I consider myself to be a very cautious, safety-conscious driver, and now all of a sudden, out of the blue, I had been involved in two car accidents in less than one week!

Of course, it was cold and rainy out, too, so now I had rain coming into my car through the open window. Glass shards and pieces were everywhere. And all that deer hair!

Since it was a Sunday, I couldn’t get a hold of anyone at either my car insurance company or the rental office where I had gotten the car.

I would just have to wait until Monday morning and drive the car back to the rental place and see what they said. I wasn’t sure if they would give me another car or not, but my Subaru was to be in the shop for at least sixteen more days.

In the end, both my insurance company and the rental car place were more than gracious. The representative at my insurance company reassured me that this type of thing happened more than you would think. The rental car place was fine with it, too; they had me in a new rental car that same day.

Luckily, I had taken out the extra insurance. My car insurance company had told me not to, that my auto insurance covered rentals in the same way it covered my own car. The rental place told me that the extra insurance meant I was totally covered. In the event of an accident, I would not have to pay the deductible from my car insurance. Given that the additional insurance was only $10 a day, that was a LOT cheaper than my deductible! Which I may well still have to pay for the FIRST accident. Even though that was not my fault.

I realize that deer don’t have insurance (unless they go through Hartford!), so I could see how I might have to pay for the freak deer accident as no one else would. But the rental company assured me I was totally covered, and they weren't even going to report the accident to my car insurance company.

At first the representative at the rental company wanted to give me a mini van.

I balked.

I was so spooked now; I wanted a small car, something more like my Subaru. I have never driven a mini van in my life, and the thought of driving one in the snow and ice did nothing for me. Hell, I wanted to be invisible!

Never mind that I have driven tanks and deuce and half trucks before.

A mini van is not a tank.

To me, it was just a giant target on the road.

In the end, the rental car place gave me a red Dodge Caliber. I had never heard of such a vehicle before, but then again I am pretty ignorant as far as car models go. As far as I was concerned, it was a “red car.” And it was similar in shape and size to my Subaru.

I instantly felt way more at ease driving this Caliber.

And it didn’t smell like cigarettes.

I am embarrassed to admit that I am somewhat traumatized by these two accidents, back to back.

I am extremely nervous and jumpy as I drive. That fight or flight adrenaline is just a-pumping away as I make my daily commute. But I go the same route I always do, and I pass the scene of the first accident every single day. I notice every driving infraction anyone ever makes; I allow boneheads to cut in front of me, pass me, do whatever they want to as long as they don’t crash into me. I actually had a tailgater honk at me when I stopped for a red light the other day. Apparently, he wanted me to gun it at the yellow light and cross two lanes of highway traffic in icy conditions during rush hour with snow falling pell mell.

No thank you, sir!

Honk away.

Once the light turned green and we turned onto the two-lane highway, he gunned around me and zoomed down the highway. Yeah, a real man.

Or an idiot.

Take your pick.

I even have dreams about getting hit. This is almost like PTSD. (Which makes me wonder how people who REALLY have gone through trauma must feel!)

I was just in two little stupid fender bender-type accidents.

The other night I dreamed that everywhere I drove I had to swerve out of the way of cars in order to avoid an accident. Trucks were backing up into traffic, cars were drifting over into my lane, people were ignoring stop signs and lights right and left. My mom was in the car nagging me, my kids were in the back seat bickering. All of a sudden a pack of wild dogs ran across the road right in front of me. I braked, but I hit one of the dogs and I can still hear its howl of pain and distress.

The dream just kept going on and on like this, seemingly all night long. Finally, I said, “Screw it!” and I got out of the car and just started to walk.

Only then, the pack of wild dogs came back and started chasing me down.

And then my alarm went off.

Oh, joy!

Time to get up and drive to work.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


My first car was gray. A gray Honda Accord hatchback. I loved it!

Sporty yet economical.

Not sure why I opted for gray as I had just spent three years wearing nothing but gray. And gray can be so… depressing.

Especially in winter.

To cadets, West Point was infamous for its “Gloom Period,” when the weather was cold and blustery and… gray.

So why would I pick a gray car?

I’m not sure. I honestly don’t remember. Except that I liked the dark metallic gray color on the car. It seemed sleek and sexy to me at the time.

I don’t think I would ever pick a gray car now.

My most recent purchase was a dark green Subaru Outback Sport. I liked the look and feel of Subarus and the fact they have AWD -- and I really needed a new car fast. My previous vehicle had been totaled in a parking lot in Alaska when a pickup truck slid across the ice and into my car.

Green was the only color the Subaru dealer in Fairbanks had for Outback Sports at the time. So I took it.

I mentioned to several people that while I had picked the car, I had not picked the color. One friend asked me: “Well, what color would you have picked?” Huh. I was stumped. I couldn’t answer. There was no particular color I was looking for. And in the end, I fell in love with my green Subaru.

My poor little green Subaru.

Which was slammed into by a GRAY – well, OK, technically it was silver – car just over a week ago as I was driving to work. It was relatively late in the rush hour scheme of things, but the day had included a two hour delay for most school districts in the area so there was probably more traffic then than usual. The two hour delay was not due to snow or ice, but rather to ungodly frigid arctic temperatures. It was about ten degrees but felt like negative ten or fifteen.

I was almost at work. Only a few blocks from my final destination. I was stopped at a red light, first in line. The light turned green, so I started driving. Which I had been taught was what you were supposed to do when a light turned green.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a car approaching on my left where one street intersected with mine, but silly me, I assumed it was going to stop at its RED LIGHT. Only it didn’t. It was one of those incredulous moments where all in a flash you see something happening that you know is not right and should not be happening yet there is really nothing you can do about it.

The car plowed into the left rear of my Subaru. I pulled over to the side of the road so all of the “witnesses” could rush by on their way to work and got out of my car.

I could see that the other car had hit the left rear wheel of my Subaru. The hubcap was all scraped and dented, and the rear bumper was kind of askew. I turned to see the other car. The driver was emerging, shaking his head in disgust. I couldn’t tell if it was disgust at me, disgust with himself, disgust with the situation in general, or the fact that his car was now missing its entire front bumper as well as other metal and plastic detritus which was littering the busy street.

One never knows what to expect in this day and age of road rage, and I was afraid of pissing off the guy who had hit me. I didn’t yell: “What the fuck were you doing???!!! You just ran a red light and hit me!!!” Instead I said something lame like, “You know, I had a green light there.” He was rather noncommittal; I don’t remember if he said anything in reply. He might have grunted. He definitely did not say: “Oh, I am so sorry. I just ran that red light and hit you. It was all my fault.”

Which apparently was what my insurance company was hoping he would say.


To the other driver’s credit, he was very calm and matter-of-fact. He asked me if I was OK. And he already had his insurance card and driver’s license out in his hand. That made me think: “Oh, I should have my insurance card and driver’s license out so we can exchange information.” I actually had a vinyl packet with the requisite forms and paperwork in my glove box – thanks to my insurance company. I dug a pen out of my purse. The other driver didn’t have a pen, so I dug another one out of my purse for him. And we started exchanging information. I had a little notebook in my purse, too, and that’s where I was jotting down information.

It ended up that the other driver was driving a rental car. He showed me proof of insurance and his driver’s license, as well as his rental car agreement.

The road we were on was right along the river, and the wind was whipping off the water. The temperature there must have been about twenty below. It was so cold the ink in the pens kept freezing up. And I couldn’t write with my gloves on, so I had to take them off.

I was shaking it was so cold and I was so stunned by what had happened.

A policeman – well, what I thought was a policeman (it ended up being a paramedic) – stopped to see if we were all right. He took one look at my car and said it would have to be towed, that the wheel looked bent. So, I went to call my insurance company to report the accident and inquire about getting a tow truck. Of course, that was when the real policeman showed up, and he wanted to talk with me right when I finally got a live person on the line at my insurance company.

He ascertained that there were no injuries. Two tow trucks showed up on the scene (apparently they monitor police frequencies for incidents just like this), but he told them to leave. He looked at my car, then had me pull up a few feet. He asked me where I was going and when I told him, he said he thought I could drive the few blocks and then decide if I thought I needed a tow truck.

I tend to be extremely trusting of authority figures, like policemen, and I was freezing and shaken up, so I followed his directions without much question. I drove very gingerly to my place of work and then noticed that the left rear wheel was tilted at an angle that was decidedly unnatural. It made me wonder – could the car have some kind of “internal damage”? Cracked axle, twisted frame, who knew?

It was one thing to limp a few blocks through the city, quite another to contemplate driving home on the highways at rush hour in ten degree weather!

I told my insurance company I did not feel safe driving the car and that I thought it should be towed. They tried to encourage me to drive it to a pre-approved garage so one of their appraisers could look at it. They said if I left it in my work parking garage, an appraiser might not get there to look at it for one to three days. I asked to have it towed, even if I ended up having to pay for it.

Plus, I needed a rental car in order to drive to and from work. Luckily, this was part of my insurance – I learned that the hard way up in Alaska when our coverage did not include a rental car and I ended up having to pay over $1,000 out of pocket after my vehicle was totaled in a parking lot!

I got a rental from an agency approved by my insurance company; it was only about two blocks away from where I work. I was not very happy that I ended up with a PT Cruiser, which is a hideous vehicle. I kept seeing those old commercials of Celine Dion driving down the road in a PT Cruiser singing. Plus, the vehicle reeked of cigarettes. Ugh.

But whatever.

This was the only vehicle they had left by that point in the day, other than huge vans, SUVs, or sports cars. Bottom line: it would get me from Point A to Point B.

At least for a while.

Around five o’clock, a tow truck finally came for my Subaru. Since my car is AWD, the driver had to bring a flatbed truck. As he was setting things up, he turned to me and said, “This happened this morning, didn’t it?”

“Yes,” I replied, not thinking much of this observation.

“At the intersection of Fort Pitt Boulevard and Wood Street, right? I was there.”

It ended up he was driving one of the two tow trucks that had shown up on the scene. He said he could tell right away that my vehicle needed to be towed, but the policeman told him to leave.

The tow truck driver said that if there are no injuries and no vehicles have to be towed from the scene, the policeman does not have to write up a report.

My trust in policemen immediately went out the window.

All the policeman had wanted to do was clear the scene and avoid having to write a report. I can see how maybe he has to deal with lots of incidents like this, and he needs to keep the flow of traffic moving. But the tow trucks were right there! The guy just didn’t want to have to write up a report.

I realize that the tow truck driver sees things from his perspective, too, and that, of course, he wanted to tow a vehicle away from the scene. That’s his job. But isn’t it the policeman’s job to ensure safety? What if my car had not made it from the scene of the accident to my place of work? Or I had been involved in another accident along the way?

Live and learn, I guess.

At any rate, at the end of the day, I was glad that no one had been injured in any way; my car was taken to a place where it could be appraised and hopefully fixed; I had a rental car to drive temporarily; and my insurance company was handling all of the details of the accident and insurance coverage.

I was safe. I was shaken up, yes, and I was now nervous about driving. But I was fine.

Next installment:

Part II: Life with a PT Cruiser and how life comes at you fast….

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Loving Frank

I was very moved by the novel Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.

[If you have not read it yet and are thinking about doing so, you may not want to read the rest of this as I will reveal the “shocking ending.” Caveat! The shocking ending, as with the love story itself, however, is true. So if you know the history of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life, you will probably already know this story. Or not.]

I was actually shocked that such a horrible event involving such a famous person could have occurred and I had never heard about it before! That may have shocked me more than the event itself.

Although the event itself was positively gruesome.

Loving Frank is the fictionalized account of the actual love affair between famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney (wife/mother, intellectual, and feminist). The duo caused a huge scandal in the early 20th century when Wright (married and with six children) and Cheney (married and with two children) forsook their respective families and went off to Europe together. They had been carrying on an affair for several years prior to that. Wright had designed the Cheneys’ home in suburban Oak Park, Illinois, and that is when he met Mamah.

Newspapers had a field day with their relationship, which was considered scandalous, illicit, and positively evil. While the scandal severely impacted Wright’s career, Mamah was the one who took the brunt of the criticism, for it was considered far worse for a mother to leave her young children.

Upon returning to the States, Wright designed a house specifically for Mamah in Wisconsin, where he had grown up. Taliesin was a very modern Prairie School house and had been influenced by their travels to Germany, Italy, and Japan. Mamah lived there with Wright “in sin” until the shocking, horrible event that ended her life in 1914.

To be perfectly honest, the dust jacket on the book did allude to a “shocking turn of events.” I interpreted that phrase very differently, though, than how it had been intended. As I was reading, I kept expecting to find out (in a narrative written largely from Mamah’s point of view) that Frank Lloyd Wright (a renowned womanizer) was actually having an affair with someone else (or multiple someone elses) and this was going to break Mamah’s heart. That would have been shocking enough for me. The truth caught me completely off guard and seemed almost surreal.

The surprise axe murder of Mamah and her two children from her marriage to Edwin Cheney, as well as several other workmen, by a servant at Taliesin while Wright was in Chicago putting the finishing touches on his latest architecture project, Midway Gardens, was a lot more than “shocking.” The fact that this event was real, true, historical – i.e., it really happened! – left me stunned. Not only did Julian Carlton murder seven people with an axe on a sunny summer afternoon, he also tried to burn Taliesin to the ground!

How could I never have heard of this before? I live near Pittsburgh and have visited Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob several times in my life. I know that Wright lived to be a very old man – heck, I think he was in his mid-eighties when he designed Kentuck Knob. He was only in his mid to late forties when Mamah was murdered and Taliesin burned. It made me wonder how someone who suffered such a horrific, devastating loss could go on with his life and continue to create such amazing wonders of architecture.

But he did. He rebuilt Taliesin. In fact, he rebuilt it twice, because Taliesin II burned down in 1925. And what is standing now for tourists to visit is Taliesin III. And within a year after the grisly murders and loss of his true love, he was involved with Miriam Noel, a beautiful, flamboyant whacko woman, who eventually became his next wife after his first wife Catherine finally granted him a divorce in 1923 (she had refused to divorce him while he was with Mamah). His marriage to the unstable, morphine-addicted Noel did not last very long, and he then became involved with yet another woman, Olgivanna Lazovich Hinzenburg, who eventually became his third and final wife. He also went on to design some of his most famous structures, like Fallingwater.

I know, I know. It sounds like a soap opera or Aaron Spelling mini series.

What struck me most about the relationship between Wright and Mamah, though, was her love for this obvious genius who was also an incredibly selfish, self-absorbed ass. I think he genuinely loved her and found a true intellectual soul mate in her, someone he could talk with openly and in depth. And she the same in him. And I think that physically they were passionate about each other as well. The fact that they actually did what they did, especially Mamah, given the timeframe of events, was astounding to me. The infusion of Ellen Key, a radical (for her time) Swedish feminist for whom Mamah was a translator, and her influence upon the couple (or at least upon Mamah) were fascinating.

Mamah was clearly head over heels in love with Frank Lloyd Wright. The fact that it took her so long to come to see the man he really was – or the side of him that was “less nice” – or at least the fact that it took her so long to take umbrage with the man he really was was eye-opening. Although Wright was clearly a genius, he was also pompous, arrogant, and had little regard for “details.” Like paying bills on time. He felt he was above all that and that he should be held to a different standard. He often did not even pay the people who worked for him on time. Yet he was a man who liked luxuries and amenities and extravagance. And felt he deserved them all, no questions asked. Even if he had no way of paying for them.

Although she eventually called him to task for his extravagances and irresponsible behavior and threatened to leave him, she was still very, very much in love with him. And he in love with her.

I was so fascinated by the fictionalized account of the relationship between Wright and Mamah, as well as the grisly ending, I wanted to find out more. And so I stumbled upon a book called Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders by William R. Drennan and published in 2007 by the University of Wisconsin Press. It seems Drennan, a Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, became fascinated with this story while touring the nearby Taliesin with visiting friends and the 1914 murders were mentioned. He had never heard about them before, either.

While Drennan’s book is fascinating in its historical details, Horan’s book intrigued me because she told most of the story through Mamah’s point of view. Granted, one of the criticisms I have read of the book is that Horan suddenly changed the point of view – upon Mamah’s death by axe and fire – to that of Wright’s. I think Horan’s intent was to bring to life the little known woman, Mamah Borthwick Cheney, and in that I think she succeeded. Wright was larger than life already; his perspective in the final part of the book actually served to make him seem more human and less of an ass. Truthfully, the unexpected axe murders at the end seemed like a total deus ex machina, except for the fact that that is what really happened.

I still have to wonder: if the murders had never happened, how long would Mamah and Wright have remained together? Would his lusty eye have been caught by someone else, as I so feared the entire time I was reading the book? Or multiple someone elses? And would this have severed their relationship?

Would Mamah have turned a blind, tolerant eye to his physical indiscretions as long as he was faithful to her “intellectually”? Wright’s first wife certainly held on for a very long time, thinking Wright would eventually come home to hearth and family.

Or would Mamah have come to the stark realization that Wright was far too irresponsible and arrogant for her to remain with? He had already pushed her to the brink once with his financial irresponsibilities.

Or would he have changed for her? For the woman he loved so?

We shall never know.

And in the end, are any of us really capable of changing who we are?

I thought Loving Frank was well worth the read, and I am enjoying the totally different, yet highly informative Death in a Prairie House.