First, allow me to say that I love Texas. And that everything I’m about to tell you, comes from this place of deep appreciation and love of Texas and Texans. That said…
I think there ought to be a Texas state statute that says, “If you are not from Texas…but your car gets attacked by one of our very aggressive, peeled off, tractor-trailer tire-retreads…that are so prevalent on our highways as to be ubiquitous…then, Texas will officially recognize you as a Texan.” That’s fair, isn’t it?
From South Padre Island, my next destination was Pearland, a suburb of southeast Houston…roughly a 380-mile drive. Fairly early in my drive, I was stopped by Texas (maybe it’s Federal?) border-security at a highway checkpoint (I was not pulled over. Everyone had to stop). When it was my turn in line, the only question I was asked by the no-nonsense trooper was, “Are you a U.S. citizen?” This gives you an idea of how close to the Mexican border I had been on South Padre. I was really piling up some miles on this trip.
A couple of hours later, still not even halfway to Houston, I was behind an SUV at highway speeds out in dead-flat farm country, when a couple/few very large, heavy strips of peeled-off tractor-trailer tire-retreads came shooting out from under the rear tires of the SUV, slamming into the front grille of my Camry, then sounding like they were violently pummeling the entire length of the underside of my car as I helplessly drove over them.
In that split-second I had before the initial impact, I remember making the conscious decision that, at highway speeds, it would be safer to face the retreads head-on, regardless of the potential damage to my car, than to attempt to suddenly swerve out of the way, risking rolling my car over. So, that’s what I did. In that instant, I simply braced myself and let the Camry absorb the full impact of the retreads.
As soon as the retreads cleared my car, I could tell something wasn’t right, so I turned off my music (which wasn’t loud to begin with), and could hear a constant scraping sound coming from somewhere underneath my car. I saw an isolated gas station/convenience store just up ahead, so I pulled in.
By this point, I realized that I was actually pretty shaken, and wasn’t quite sure what to do. I remember getting out of my car to see if I could see what was going on. The first thing I saw was that the lower portion of my front grille was shattered…not a good start (Note: the specks are mostly the hundreds of bugs that met their end just on this trip. I had washed and waxed my car shortly before I left CT. But, the black streaks? Those are from the retreads whipping against my bumper and grille).
Then, I lifted the hood and saw an open-hand-sized dent, or depression in what I initially thought was my radiator…really not good (Notice the long, tapered impression at the bottom of the photo).
And then, trying to look under the front of my car, I could see sections of the molded-plastic skid-plate that protects the radiator, oil pan and front-underside of the engine, were dragging on the pavement, essentially in tatters…really, really not good.
Fortunately, I have roadside assistance insurance, so that was reassuring. I had no idea where I was, other than out in the middle of farm country, with virtually nothing around. I went into the gas station’s convenience store and asked the woman at the counter where I was, and for the exact address, explaining what had just happened to my car. She was very nice.
With that information, I called my insurance company and began getting my bearings, meanwhile keeping my car running, in part to stay cool, but also to determine if the car was leaking any fluids.
After about a half-hour of idling my car, I checked underneath. To my huge relief, there was nothing leaking and the temperature gauge was reading normal…step one. Then, I asked the insurance customer service rep on the phone, if she could look up the address of the nearest Toyota dealership to my next hotel, which was in Pearland, three-plus hours from where I had stopped. I explained to the rep that it appeared that my car was not leaking, and the engine seemed to be running normally, so there was a good chance I could drive the rest of the way to Houston, versus getting towed to any nearby local shop.
She was very nice, not only locating the dealership, only a few miles from my next hotel, but calling the dealership to let them know what had happened and that I was on my way. So, the situation was beginning to look not as grim.
And as it turned out, this entire time, there happened to be an HVAC repairman, with his van, at the gas station, working on the gas station’s A/C. I thought that maybe, if he had a couple of spare zip-ties, I might be able to lash the dragging parts of my skid plate up and off the pavement. But instead, this good-Samaritan kindly and generously got out of his van and went straight to work, zip-tying my skid plate together, himself, graciously declining my offer to help, and any gratuity for helping me out. He was a really good guy.
I was honestly amazed and humbled at how, piece by piece, my initial feelings of helplessness at potentially becoming stranded, were getting allayed.
And so, off I went, with my bruised Camry, back on the highway toward Houston, watching and listening for any mechanical problems that might surface, but the old girl seemed to be running fine.
By this point, I had lost quite a bit of time, and knew I would lose even more at the Toyota dealer. This was only a concern, because my Massachusetts friend, Joni, had days-before put me in touch with her husband’s cousin, Cheryl, and Cheryl’s husband, Dave, in Houston, and the three of us were planning on meeting at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck bar/restaurant that night, where I was hoping to perform a few songs at the Mucky Duck’s open mic. So, the clock was ticking.
As it turned out, the dealership was extremely helpful, but did not have a loaner-car available, due to storm Harvey demands, and the affiliated car-rental office had already closed. But, since my car was driving fine, we arranged for me to return, first thing the next morning, to get my car properly checked out. This allowed me to keep my Mucky Duck plans with Cheryl and Dave.
So, somehow, despite my highway calamity, I was able to continue on with the next chapter of this trip, barely missing a beat. I was feeling incredibly fortunate and relieved.