It was said to be “unsafe at any speed.” That was even the title of a book written by consumer advocate Ralph Nader. In his book, Nader wrote a full chapter about the car that he labeled as being unsafe at any speed. That little car was the Chevrolet Corvair.
My Mom was proud of her baby blue Corvair. Sadly, I totaled her little blue car in 1968.
The engine of the Corvair was mounted in the rear of the car, which of course made the rear of the car heavy. I always thought that the car felt a little “squirrely” when turning on wet pavement. A few times I felt the rear end of the Corvair lose traction and slide a little in a turn.
Coming home from Miami University, after signing up for my freshman classes, I decided to try a shortcut, so I took Bonham Road out of Oxford.
That was a mistake. Bonham was still wet from a heavy morning rain. I found out there were a few too many twists, turns and hills on Bonham Road.
While driving down a hill and at the same time negotiating a left turn, the little Corvair slid off the right side of the road. Suddenly, I was traveling backwards, crashing down a tree-covered hill.
The car came to rest near the bottom of the hill. I found myself jammed up between several trees. The car was on its side facing backwards. I was able to climb up and out the passenger door and climb up the hill and back onto the wet road.
I sat there for a minute looking at what was left of Mom’s car. The radio was still playing. That didn’t seem right, so I climbed back down the hill, into the car, turned off the radio and took the keys out of the ignition. Now, it seems like a stupid thing to do, but that day it made sense.
There was a wound somewhere on my head. My face and shirt were covered with blood. I remembered passing a farmhouse just before the hill, so I started walking back up the road.
The nice lady who answered the door could only say, “Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord.” I figured I must have looked pretty bad. When I looked in a mirror, it did look pretty nasty.
There was no 911 service at the time. She had to look up the number of the fire department and call them. Rather than risk getting blood on any of her nice things, I went outside and sat on the front porch.
In just a few minutes, I heard a siren. It was obviously heading my way. Suddenly, I felt a whole lot better. Whew… I knew that help was on the way. It was a great feeling.
Years later, I worked as a volunteer EMT for Port William Fire & EMS. While climbing into a wrecked car or truck, it was not unusual to hear, “Thank God you’re here.” I knew the feeling.
My daughter called me one afternoon. I knew something was wrong by the tone of her voice.
The whole family — Jessi, Sean and all five children — were in the family van. They had been heading for home when the van broke down on Interstate 71. As I talked with Jessi, the sounds of traffic seemed to be too close. As soon as she told me where they were and what was happening, I said, “I am on my way.”
No other words were needed. They just needed to know that help was on the way.
Sean was able to contact a wrecker service to help with the van, but it was going to take the wrecker service quite a while to get there. I needed to get those kids out of the van, off the interstate and home. I was on my way as quickly as possible.
I remember a minister once saying that the five sweetest words anyone in trouble can hear are “I am on my way.” I was glad to be able to give Jessi that reassurance. She was happy to know that her Dad would soon be there, and that her kids would be safely away from that crazy interstate.
When your family is in trouble, you just go.
I remember a scene from the movie “Forrest Gump.” He’s working on their shrimping boat when he hears that his Momma is sick. Forrest doesn’t wait to get the boat back to the dock. He dives in, swims to shore and runs home. Nothing could keep him from his Momma.
That’s the way life should be. When a family member or a friend is in trouble or needs help, you drop whatever you are doing and head their way. That’s the way it should be.
I’m still sorry that I wrecked Mom’s favorite little car.
I’m also sorry that Ralph Nader was right. It was unsafe at any speed.
Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.