Two weeks ago I broke the door handle of my truck. I had just finished a good run on a chilly day and pulled a little too hard. My Tacoma was built in 2004 and small inconveniences like this are not uncommon for a truck this age. The key hasn’t worked in one of the outside locks for over a year, the parking brake needs to be wiggled just right for the light to turn off the dashboard, and on cold mornings I’d need to pull the clutch back out with the top of my foot after pushing it in to shift.
As with all issues before, the truck still did its job damn well. I’m not the only stubborn owner of an aging Toyota who will attest that the quirks give each vehicle a personality of its own and the dependability of these trucks outweighs the small annoyances.
That said, after having to wrap my shirt around my hand to find a grip on the broken, jagged plastic, I decided to order a replacement handle to be shipped to my mother’s house in Susanville where I’d be for a relaxing week.
The incident has been replaying in my mind nonstop. Would better tires have helped? Probably. Would weight in the bed of my truck kept me from fishtailing? Maybe. If I left later in the day would the black ice have melted? We could play this game all day.
In my memory, what happened that chilly morning occurred both very quickly and in slow-motion:
I was driving on a straight part of a two-lane highway, slightly downhill but under the speed limit when I realized my back tires were angling to the right and I was drifting into the oncoming traffic lane with my hands still at 10 and 2. There have only been a few moments in my life when I have felt sheer and immense terror – this was definitely one of them.
I’ve driven on ice before, granted not at 50 miles an hour. Thankfully, I didn’t react by braking, but I did overcorrect and went up a snowbank off the side of the road. My truck turned on its side and slid across the road. Once the flash finished, I took a deep breath and looked out my driver’s side window at the pavement. I thought about how in action movies cars blow up after crashes and immediately cut the engine and unbuckled my seatbelt. I then realized the passenger window would be my best shot of escape and turned the battery on, rolled down the window, and climbed out of the truck with my keys and my phone. As I was getting out, a large truck was pulling up behind me and a middle-aged man who looked incredibly relieved that he didn’t just come across a body asked me if I was OK.
It’s very strange to do a self-evaluation of one’s health while adrenaline is flowing and you’re not even really sure of what just what down. I remembered hearing something about how people go into shock after accidents and made sure I wasn’t bloody or broken.
It was also weird to see my bags and clothes strew about the cab of the truck, everything so familiar turned literally on its side. As I stood looking into the sideways vehicle, I was incredibly stressed but kept feeling thankful that there wasn’t oncoming traffic at the time when I lost control.
The next hour and a half were spent talking with CHP and waiting on a tow truck. Bad cell phone reception made this difficult. There was a brief moment of hope when I along with CHP officers and EMT responders tried to roll the truck right-side up. As it was rocking, I had a shimmer of optimism that the technique would work and that I would drive off with hardly a scratch. Needless to say, this dream had as much of a chance as a blindfolded full-court shot.
Once the truck was flipped by a tow truck, it actually turned on and drove out. But I had to hold the steering wheel at an angle to keep it going straight and terrible engine noises told me that the damage would be more than cosmetic.
Being the crisis manager that she is, my mom started driving in my direction when I told her that I probably wouldn’t be able to get myself to her house. Not the normal way people book one-way trips to Susanville.
The tow truck took me and the damaged Toyota back to a yard in Weed. I watched my side mirror flap in the alpine air and thought about how beautiful that truck once was. I thought about how I hoped the tow truck driver didn’t have COVID. Rollover with a side of Rona. I realized that I really needed to pee and when we got to another patch of service my phone dinged. It was an email letting me know that my replacement door handle would be arriving in Susanville soon. Great. Maybe they could send a mirror, a hood, and a door too.
The driver was kind enough to take me to the Hi-Lo Cafe in the middle of town, a place that he promised would have good food and would be fine enough to wait for my mom. The cool thing about hanging out in Weed, CA, with an assortment of bags and luggage is that you don’t stick out. While I waited for my mom to rescue me, I ate tasty chicken strips, bought a shirt at a souvenir shop, and had some nice small talk with people walking laps up and down S. Weed Boulevard.
When mom arrived she hugged me tightly and then immediately checked my eyes for a concussion. Always a great mother and a great nurse.
Insurance has since confirmed that the truck is totaled and while I’m grateful that it was covered, I’m saddened with the reality of not driving my truck again. A great vehicle that took me up and down I-5 many times and helped countless friends move couches, beds, and bookshelves. Ultimately, it kept me safe when I needed it to, and for that, I will be forever thankful.