Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

“It’s Not the Years, It’s the Mileage”, Redux

The day after New Year’s, in 2004, I went to visit my sister and brother-in-law, driving through central Massachusetts on a wintry day. The snow squalls sweeping through the area were (to this seasoned New Englander’s eye) not enough to get overly worked up about, certainly nothing to keep one from having a Grand Day Out.

I took a turn that caused me to head for the church where I’m a church musician, instead of to my sister’s house. “Sheee!” I thought, “I really am on autopilot.” I had travelled far enough after making that turn that it wouldn’t have been worth turning around and taking the proper turn; I just kept going, knowing I could pick up another road further on, and get to the house from another angle.

As I topped a rise, I noted that the snowflakes were getting a bit less fluffy, about which I was perfectly happy. Nonetheless, I continued at a quite conservative clip, probably only about 25 miles an hour. Seemed wise. Coming down the other side of the little hill, I noted that a pickup truck traveling in the other direction had hit a slightly-slick patch of road, slipped, and was coming toward me. It corrected and swerved away from the center line … then corrected again and clearly was not going to be able to avoid hitting my little car and me.

In the next two seconds, in slow motion, I said several words that would have been inappropriate at my church gig; wondered if I could steer clear of the pickup truck; noted that the truck was not actually that large and might not exactly destroy my car; wondered if the fact that the truck also was doing only about 25 miles an hour or so might have some mitigating effect on the event that was clearly inevitable–




Ah, crud.”

Everything was blurry. Shortly I figured out that this was because my glasses were on the floor next to the brake. Still intact, happily, but that demonstrated to me just how hard a hit “25 mph to dead stop in half a second” really is. I put my glasses on and looked around.

My seatbelt was still engaged; so it had worked. My head had not tried to interfere with the windshield, so that was good. No cars had rear-ended me, or the truck, so no more wreckage than necessary. I could still utter both adverbs and gentle expletives, so my brain was still working. I was suspicious of the fact that I felt perfectly lucid – wasn’t it true that when you go into shock, you don’t feel pain? I hadn’t felt pain from the beginning. Good or bad?

I opened the car door and stood up. Good.

The driver of the truck got out of the truck, stood up, and did not attempt to accuse me of anything – rather, asked if I was OK. Good, good, and good so far.

While other drivers stopped and called for ambulances and such, she and I compared insurance information. Good (that I could find my insurance information at all!).

A police cruiser appeared, followed by an ambulance. The EMT hopped out, came over and asked the necessary questions, and asked if either of us wanted to be taken to a hospital. I don’t remember what the Lady Of The Truck said – whether she accepted the offer or not (although, to kill the suspense right away, I never heard from her again, so I assume that everything ended as well as it could have). I grasped each of my limbs in succession, shrugged and said to the EMT, “nope, everything’s accounted for!” and he looked at me like I might in fact be a loon, or at least need that lift to some version of the ER. But I convinced him and everyone standing around that I was fine. But I probably wasn’t going to be driving away.


My little green 1992 Saturn four-door and the (Nissan? Subaru?) pickup truck had made their mutual acquaintance by hitting left-front-corner to left-front-corner. Bent metal everywhere; little bits of headlight cover shining prettily in the snowy light; and my Saturn’s frame was slightly but distinctly bent. My image of a totaled car previously had been “folded, spindled and mutilated, and barely recognizable as a car”. Now it was more like, “because the left front wheel doesn’t point exactly the same way as the right front wheel anymore, no chance of driving away in it.”

A closer examination of the Saturn revealed that the thing was constructed in such a way that it genuinely saved my life. If the truck had continued any further than the Saturn’s frame had allowed it to, items below my knees would have been crushed; driving a car any less sturdily-built, our hero’s story might have concluded several chapters early (“is the driver–? Oh never mind.”).

Poor thing. I had really liked that car. Looked great, ran great, only had the usual Saturn brake / front-end suspension issues. Now it had a big ol’ front-end issue.

I should have taken a picture of the thing and brought it to my Saturn dealership and said, “either post this on your bulletin board with a caption reading ‘And Yet, Driver Alive’ … or make a TV commercial about me!”

Instead, I went to the dealership and asked to buy another of their cars. I figured, if one could save my life, perhaps another could as well. They were happy to sell me one. The thing had a curious name: the Ion 2. But rather than buying a charged particle, I was buying a grey four-door car with a rather surprisingly large trunk, and more bells and whistles than I realized any car even had … well, I’d bought the ’92 Saturn used in about 1997, and for the ensuing seven years, tracking car manufacturers’ bell-and-whistle improvements hadn’t been my highest priority.

And the thing was new. All my previous cars had been previously-owned. Never thought I’d buy an utterly new car, but the financing deal was good enough to make this positively sensible. It, too, looked great, ran great, and had the usual Saturn brake / front-end suspension issues. As I’ve chronicled, I don’t mind forwarding my worthy mechanic a few bucks every so often – he’s got a family to feed, after all. On top of all that, the car proved to be able to achieve 36 miles to the gallon; so, short of buying a hybrid car, I was doing the best I could for our fragile environment, and for my wallet to boot.

So, the Saturn has gone back and forth from home to school, home to church gig, central Massachusetts to western Massachusetts, Massachusetts to New Hampshire and Pennsylvania and DC and Virginia … carrying bass drums and bicycles … taking snowy Worcester hills with admirable gallantry, driving in summer heat-wave conditions unflinchingly … and never leaving me standing next to it on the side of the road clutching a cellphone and trading sad looks with oncoming traffic.

I’d like to hope I’m not jinxing it by saying this, but … holy heck. The thing runs. And runs. American-made, no less. And this afternoon, as I drove home from a regular ol’ school day, the odometer (my first-ever digital odometer!) went from 199999 to …




Heck of a car.  And sadly, thanks to the discontinuation of the Saturn brand, it’s also a collector’s item. Ah well. Only 38,000 more miles and I’ll have made it to the moon.


December 1, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , ,

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