Thoughts: On Missing the Telephone Pole


My son missed the Telephone pole.

My daughter hit hers. All is well. Let me explain.

Friday night I got a call about twelve thirty from my son telling me he was on the way home, but if he wasn’t there in 20 minutes or so, to come looking for him. It was actually a pretty logical request despite being woken from a deep sleep complete with dreams of the Philippines and sunny climates.

You see, it was snowing. An unexpected snow, coming out of nowhere, fast and furious. He was coming home, but there is (to be generous) spotty cell service in our corner of Vermont and there are a couple of serious hills between any here and any there you choose to travel between.

He made it fine. All was well. And I got the rest of the story,  of while heading home, he hit a particularly slick spot, slid out, bashed his way through a ditch and into a field, missing a telephone pole by just a couple of feet. He managed to work his way out to the road again and gave me that after midnight phone call. He made it home just fine.

He made it home just fine. I just took the convertible to the shop that brings me home because it has a nasty wobble in the front end now, but we’ll have it all fixed (for, as they say, a slight fee).

There’s an irony in this, or at least a strange coincidence. My daughter was about the same age when, driving another PT Cruiser convertible,  back from the grocery store in nearby Granville,  she was faced with a rather large, speeding red pickup. Basically, with a split section to make it, she was faced with the decision – Do I hit a big red pickup truck going way too fast, or do I hit a telephone pole?

She chose the pole. It was the right decision.

Like my son, in the end, she was OK. The PT Cruiser was not. PT Cruisers are cute (I’ve had three of them, convertibles all.), but tough they are not. She hit the pole hard enough to snap it in half, so you can imagine what it did to the car. It was finished.

But she was fine. And my son is fine. And we worked around the car thing.

It was a mess of course. I happen to have two cars so my son can drive one back and forth to work while they do their magic on the wobbly front end. In the case of my daughter, insurance paid for it and we got another convertible so she was able to get back and forth to work quickly.

Stuff happens. As long as people survive it’s all fine.

We forget sometimes the real value of cars. It’s not all the glitz or good looks or electronics and connectivity. It’s not even whether or not the top goes down (I have an addiction to convertibles.).

It’s freedom. It’s the power to go and do and be on our own schedules.

Most of us, me included, forget that. and forget the importance of that freedom. We get so used to hopping in the car and doing what needs doing, or going somewhere just for fun. It’s really hit me hard these past few years, however.

Part of it has been my congregations at the two tiny churches I serve as a part-time pastor. They are both older congregations, and a few of them have lost their privilege to drive over the past few years. It’s hard for them. Suddenly they are dependent on others. They can’t take care of their own lives the same way. For someone who has lived independently all their lives, it is a terrible blow.

The other reason it’s hit me so hard has been the woman I love, who has been in my life nearly three years now. She’s a social worker, and helps folks who are struggling to make it for a variety of reasons. Some of them have cars. Some do not.

For them, not having a car is crippling. How do you get a job when you can’t get there? How do you get your children or yourself to doctors, or to school, or to any of the things that could help you get to a better place when you have nowhere to get there? In cities, yes, there is public transportation, but for rural areas like hours, there’s nothing except a patchwork network of friends or family, if you are lucky enough to have them nearby.

Having wheels is huge. Not having them is crippling, both practically, and emotionally.

A few days ago, my son told me we were rich, and that our cars prove it. That made me laugh. I have a bunch of old cars. My daughter has the newest of the lot, a 2010 Sebring with 163,00 miles on it. My son drives the aforementioned 2008 PT Cruiser, with over 120,oo0 miles on it. Me? I drive a 2000 Isuzu Trooper and a 2002 Sebring convertible (See, I told you I was addicted to convertibles.) with zillions of miles on both.

They are nice cars, but old. No one would mistake my driveway for one in Beverly Hills. But you know what? My son was right, because those four old cars represent freedom, and we have it. We go where we want, when we want. Need to get somewhere for work. Check. Need to get to a doctor? Check. Want to cruise around on a nice spring day with the top down and music wailing away? Check. Life is good.

I’ve given a couple of my cars away over the years. To people who needed a car bad. Trust me, by the time I get rid of a car, it’s been ridden hard. It’s got a LOT of miles on it. It’s no prize and you’ll never see it in the Geneva Auto Show. But you would have thought I had given those people a Ferarri.

It makes that much difference.

Why am I writing this? I had a lot of things to write about this morning. It’s been a thoughtful kind of weekend with lots of things coming up. But I chose this.

Maybe it is simply because I am grateful. Cars per se don’t mean a lot to me. I’ve never needed the new car. I don’t like to spend a lot of money on them. But I do treasure the freedom having cars gives me, the joy I get from them as I ride from place to place or take long road trips.

Or maybe I just want all of us to be more aware, more sensitive. Maybe somewhere along the way each of us will have the chance to give a car away instead of recouping a few hundred dollars in a trade in of that worn out set of wheels we’ve driven so long. It would make a huge difference to someone. More perhaps, than you can imagine.

Or maybe I just have a wandering mind. There’s some truth to that. But in today’s case, that wandering mind will head out in a 2002 Sebring, happy as a man can be.

And twice as grateful.

Be well. Travel wisely,


One comment

  1. I am at that moment now, Tom, where I have been independent all my life. My car gave up the ghost and I am dependent upon others to take me here and there. I also have health issues which is something new for me…at first it was humbling to ask for rides. I have found friends who are more than willing to help…but yes, it is a strange feeling not to be free and drive where and when I want.

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