Scary and Lucky

27 Nov

We got back from our Costa Rica vacation yesterday. Mike had a shoot today in Orange County, so I planned to paint part of the entryway (Mike wanted to put the Christmas tree in there but he wanted to paint if first; since he was gone today, I offered to do it) and then take Michaela to see “Frozen 2.” I knew she’d have more fun if we invited a friend, so her friend Angie came over to hang out and go to the movies with us.

When we got in the car to go, the car started shaking in an extremely violent way. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was shuddering and there was a weird sound. I turned it off and waited a minute before turning it back on. That time, there was no shaking or noise, so we headed off. The movie theater is only 6 miles from my house, so I figured it’d be fine to drive there. After all, if we got out of the movie and the car wouldn’t start, Mike would be home and could come look at it or we could call AAA.

We were about halfway there when we started smelling something. It was faint and I wasn’t 100% sure it was coming from my car. I drove a little more. Then I started seeing smoke coming out from under the hood. We were petty close to the theater, though, so I kept driving. I was pulling off the freeway when dark black smoke started pouring through the vents in the dashboard. My light was red, but I squeezed through the cars to make a turn off the offramp and pull over to the side of the road.

Once I pulled over, I had the girls get out of the car and get away. The car was smoking pretty badly. I popped the hood, thinking I would give it a minute and then lift up the hood to see what was happening under there. It was then that I saw flames under the hood. (I now think doing that probably introduced oxygen that fed the fire; if, God forbid, I’m ever in that situation again, I definitely won’t pop the hood.)

I called 911. They dispatched police to set up a perimeter and fire to put out the conflagration. The fire quickly went from something relatively small to really big.

A couple of Good Samaritans stopped. One was a woman with what I assume is her elderly mother in the car. The lady gave me her phone number and took the girls a block or so away, so they’d be safe and could calm down (they were freaking out, and understandable so). The other was a man who offered to help, but there wasn’t anything we could do except wait for the fire fighters.

When a police officer came to check in, I explained that the girls had gone with a stranger and asked if the police could dispatch something to find them. They did and, I learned later, called Angie’s mom.

It felt like it took forever for the fire fighters to arrive. When they got on the scene, they sprayed the car with water and some special foam. The air smelled terrible as the metal and plastic burned.

The fire captain asked me some questions and walked me over to the car once the first was out so I could retrieve anything salvageable. There wasn’t much. A pair of gloves and glasses out of my glove box, and my change purse and toll roads transponder from the center console. I couldn’t get into the trunk because the battery was dead and that’s how the key fob works.

The captain told me to call my insurance company because they’d probably want my car to go to a specific place, especially if they’re going to investigate the cause of the fire. I really hope they do– it’s killing me not to know why this happened. The only thing I can think of (and it sounds weird) is that rodents got under the hood and chewed on the wires and that caused a short that caught on fire. Because the car was in great condition and has been maintained very well.

I was on hold with the insurance company for a long time. It was raining and I didn’t have a jacket or umbrella (there was one in my trunk but I couldn’t open it) and it was pretty sucky. When the insurance people finally did come on the line, I could hardly hear them because I was so close to the freeway and the traffic zooming by.

Angie’s mom had driven to pick up the girls, and she grabbed a rain jacket and an umbrella for me, which she dropped off. That helped a lot, as did knowing the girls were safe and in good hands.

The insurance company said it’d be about 30 minutes for a tow truck. When the tow company called, they said it would be an hour. I walked the couple of blocks to the mall where the theater is and grabbed a hot tea to try to warm up and calm down. I was feeling pretty numb, literally and figuratively.

The tow truck driver called to say he was on the scene, so I hustled back to the car. He’d already gotten it hooked up, so all I had to do was thank him profusely and send him on his way. Mike arrived from Orange County about 10 minutes after that and took me home, where I promptly lost it.

I feel super lucky. Lucky that we were able to get off the freeway, lucky that we’re all safe, lucky that losing my car like this isn’t a catastrophe, and lucky that we can afford to get a rental car and to buy a new car. But it’s still such a weird, intense, scary, guilt-inducing experience. I keep thinking of the “shoulddas” and “shoulddntas.” I should have known something was seriously wrong with the car. I should have told the girls we’d go see the movie another day. I should have waited for Mike to get home to look at the car. I shouldn’t have driven it.

It’s a lot to process.

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