A few years back when I was first putting in big miles on my road bike, I came to a turn at the juncture of two semi-rural roads. It had rained slightly that morning. When I leaned into the right turn and tapped the brakes, the rear wheel of my bike started to come around to my left. I was about to lose it at a bad time. There was a vehicle approaching in the opposite lane from where I was making the turn.
Fortunately, the rear tire grabbed a spot of dry cement and I got control of the bike and kept rolling. But that moment came to mind when I was cycling yesterday and stopped to take a photo of the garbage truck that had tipped over while making an angled left turn.
That must have been one strange moment for the driver of that truck. He must have bounced around in that cab even with a seat belt on. And…Who knows how they’ll scoop up all that stinky garbage? Will they load the truck back up first, then pull it back on its wheels? Or will they empty the whole load to avoid the peril of shifting loads?
I couldn’t stick around to observe their choices. But seeing the scene of that accident did make me think of my own experience driving commercial trucks. I worked one summer as a delivery driver for a U-Haul distribution center in the Chicago suburbs. Using classic paper maps, I’d drive all over the region in vans and box trucks bringing trailer hitches and other goods to gas stations and other customers. I was nineteen years old and not possessed of the greatest attention span.
One day the back of the truck was filled with refrigerator cartons. Those get heavy when stacked one on top of the other. I was driving through Roselle, Illinois on Roselle Road at Route 19, one of the busiest intersections in the area, when the stoplight turned red in front of me.
Mapping out trouble
Admittedly, I’d glanced down at the map in my lap while tapping the brakes before the intersection. But it had rained that morning after a few dry weeks and the asphalt had a slick layer of summer oil on the surface.
When I pumped the brakes harder the truck refused to stop. It started skidding toward the intersection. Then the back end swung around so that I traveled backward through the intersection. Keeping a cool head, I steered in the direction of the skid and wound up bringing the front end around in perfect harmony with the slide. One of the best driving stunts I’ve ever done, thank you.
It took the entire intersection to accomplish that spinning slide, but the truck and I rolled on our way. I gave a little “Whoop!” as I tapped the accelerator again and continued on my merry way.
But a half mile down the road I had what I call a Death Shiver. In the moments when the slide began, I’d reacted swiftly and kept a crash from happening. Fortunately there was no traffic in the intersection at the time. Yet it suddenly dawned on me how dangerous the situation had been.
I pulled the truck over and sat there a few minutes, gathering my wits. It took a few minutes. Then I took a long sip of a cold Coke, sat up straight and vowed to pay better attention on the road.
So I feel empathy with that truck driver who dumped his garbage load on the roadside yesterday. That stuff happens fast, and it really stinks when it happens.