My Horrible Morning

by Peter Lance, September 6, 2000

Peter, self portrait

Monday night I stripped all of the wood off of my utility trailer frame in preparation for work I intended to have done on it Tuesday. I also stripped off the wiring and lights, as they weren't all functioning anyway. This morning I flopped the bottom plank of wood back on the trailer and loaded Mrs. Wells' rototiller, her old aluminum extension ladder, and my four-foot fiberglass step ladder onto it. My plan was to drop the tiller for service, drop my ladders at my job site, and then take the trailer to the shop for rebuilding. I was a little cranky, as I have a mildly herniated disc from improper training a week ago, but the weather was nice. I tied down and left mid morning.

My load clanked and rattled like a wrecking yard in full operation, but that was standard for my hateful trailer. What was different this morning was a little shimmy and vibration at highway speed. I figured it was due to the absence of the side boards and so forth, and so I just kept my speed down to 50 on the freeway.

In my first half mile on the freeway I was watching the load in my mirror and I noticed slack had developed in the rope. Then I noticed my four foot ladder sliding off the back! (I'd roped through the rungs of the large ladder, but only over the smaller one.) I thought, Oh no, this is going to be terrible.

The car behind me saw it coming and had time to swerve. I immediately pulled over on the shoulder and got out. As I did, a white SUV with a rattling bit of metal pulled off in front of me. I thought, OK, they hit my ladder and they're pulling off to make sure I pay for their damage. Fair enough. Good thing I'm fully insured.

I went running back along the shoulder, totally embarrassed, to fetch my ladder. It was a good quarter mile back. Most people drop their ladders right across one or two lanes of traffic on the freeway. I had placed mine more strategically. It was in an area following an onramp, positioned such that the merging cars could still swing to the right of it as they were gaining speed coming up the onramp, and the main traffic had plenty of space to stay in their lane and clear it on the left. What concerned me was that it lay following a curve in the freeway, and I feared that the cars coming around the curve might not see it.

As I got near the ladder, there was a nice break in traffic, which was fairly light anyway, being late morning. I quickly grabbed it and got back on the shoulder. It was badly damaged, but still functional.

I walked back to my car, set the ladder down, got my license and insurance info and walked up to the SUV, a couple hundred yards further up. As I approached, an elderly lady emerged. She said, "I hit a ladder and it gave me a flat. Is that why you stopped too?"

I observed her flat front right tire and pointed out the loose trim on the right rear wheel well, which she hadn't seen herself. She said she'd heard it and thought the ladder was still hooked on her car.

It dawned on me that she wasn't aware that it was my ladder. She had come around the curve and thus hadn't seen it come off my vehicle. She was parked so far up from my own car that she may not have even seen me getting the ladder off the road. I sized her up, noting that she was quiet, timid, and unsure of herself in her predicament. Apparently, she was just sitting in her car, waiting for a trooper to come along and help her.

Thinking quickly, I said, "Yeah, I managed to swerve in time. I stopped to get the darn thing out of the road so that no one else would hit it. Some idiot out there probably doesn't even know he lost it. He could've killed someone. I just wanted to make sure that you were ok. Bummer about your tire."

Then I went back to my car, got in and left.

Just kidding. This is what actually happened.

Thinking quickly, I said, "Yeah, that was my ladder. It's a pretty expensive one and it's ruined. Listen, if I file an accident report and get your insurance company involved it's going to jack up your rates. Instead I'll do you a favor. You just pay me now for the damage to my ladder and I won't even contact your insurance company."

Her dark little eyes looked at me blankly. Her lips moved but she didn't speak. Then she pulled out her checkbook. I suggested three hundred bucks. She wrote it.

I went back to my car, drove directly to the bank and cashed it.

Not really. Actually I said, "Yeah, it's my ladder. It was my fault. Do you want me to put your spare on for you?"

We drove a little ways up to a better part of the shoulder where I could get my car off. We traded relevant information and I began to remove her jack and her spare. Then a trooper stopped, as I had anticipated. He was, surprisingly, extremely pleasant. I was expecting a lecture and a ticket for no lights on the trailer, et cetera. Instead, he called Triple A for the lady and offered to write an accident report if she wanted. He said it was really up to her. She declined, as she was comfortable with my insurance information and so forth, so he just left. He was barely there four minutes.

I offered to stay until Triple A came, but she said no need. I thanked her for her pleasant demeanor, tied down again and headed on up the freeway.

As I drove away I thought, all right now what's going to happen? I've been here before. When something this bad happens, something else terrible will probably happen right on the heels of it.

So I wasn't the least bit surprised when, a mile up the freeway with my speed less than 50 and the stupid trailer still vibrating, it came right off the hitch.

Fortunately I had the trailer chained to the bumper, as required by law. There was a horrible grinding sound as the trailer tongue went down on the pavement, and my car began fishtailing. I quickly slowed down and the trailer slammed into the back of my car. I stopped on the shoulder and got out.

The shoulder was narrower here. The rungs of Mrs. Wells' extension ladder were hooked around my bumper and one of the feet was imbedded into the rear of my car. (As is turned out it had only shoved down a plastic piece which I bent back into shape. Damage was minimal, thanks to my sturdy bumper.) This was on the left side, right next to traffic, naturally. The ladder was also firmly tied down to the trailer, along with the heavy rototiller and the smaller ladder.

I was fit to be tied. It's times like this that I think, What's this about? Why is God doing this? What, exactly, am I supposed to be learning here? What horrible things have I done to bring this on me?

I thought, man, that trooper is going to come back by and he's not going to be so nice this time. He had told the lady that Triple A might be thirty minutes and that he'd keep an eye on her as he passed back by. So I frantically yanked on the idiotic ladder, then resorted to untying the whole load, with cars rushing by me just feet away. I was desperate to get it all done before that trooper came.

Amazingly, I got the ladder off the bumper and everything tied down again before he came by. But now I was really worried. The hitch seemed secure, so I wasn't clear on how it had come off. My only choice was to continue, straddling the right lane and shoulder with my flashers on, going about 40. The shimmying continued.

I made it to the repair shop for the rototiller. I thought, OK, I'm due for one more. Now this stupid rototiller is going to fall when I try to roll it down the ramp off the trailer. I'm going to get hurt and the rototiller will be damaged.

Instead of rolling onto the ramp, the wheels of the rototiller pushed the ramp off the lip of the trailer. The tiller toppled off, yanking me on top of it. I got bloody gashes in both shins, but for once my intuition was off; the tiller was fine.

Admittedly, I was so exasperated and emotionally exhausted by the first two incidents that I wasn't exercising full caution when unloading the tiller. Just at the moment that the wheels hit the edge of the ramp I thought, Wait, I need to reposition that ramp. But by then it was too late.

From there I went around the corner to my insurance agent. He was very reassuring and said if the other driver's damage was under five hundred dollars, my rates wouldn't even go up, and if damage was over that it would only raise my rates a little, since I have such a clean record. I figure it'll be just over five hundred, and hopefully there isn't more unseen damage to be found.

Then I drove slowly to my job site, fretting about the vibration all the way. I dropped the ladders off and took the trailer to the shop. It turns out that the shimmy was due to loose wheel bearings.

I figure I was lucky that all three disasters were done by then, because I spent the rest of the day up on ladders painting.