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(DANIEL FISHEL FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
(DANIEL FISHEL FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Behind the wheel, I’m Joe Btfsplk Add to ...

The Essay is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

My neighbour, a retired top cop from Toronto, shook his head in disbelief.

“If it weren’t for bad luck you wouldn’t have any luck at all, mate,” he said.

In fact, bad luck and paranoia have led me to where I find myself today. I have had too many traffic accidents, though I caused none of them myself. There is a silver lining, but first let me begin with a withering litany of my crashes.

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I was T-boned during a power outage a couple of years ago. Everyone was following the stop-and-go protocol – everyone, that is, except the guy who hit me.

My Subaru looked like a write-off. Fender, passenger-side door, post, rear door, back panel, all smacked by the enormous front end of the GMC Denali.

Police told us to exchange information and move on. They were swamped.

It was the first of four accidents in too short a span, all without witnesses. No one stopped. No one offered.

The driver of the SUV said I had gone through a red light, but the absence of lights proved him a fibber. The damage suggested he’d been cruising at track speed while I was rolling out from a full stop. Still, with no official report, perpetrator and victim pay equally.

The following November, fate found me travelling north on Highway 404 in a nasty gale. Everyone was playing follow-the-leader in the tracks between ridges of slush. As I was passing under Highway 407, a snowplow above caught a freezing mound of slush and mud, sending it exploding onto the highway below.

My windshield was a concave wall of popcorn. The rearview mirror was in my lap. I took my foot off the accelerator and clamped onto the wheel. There was a spot in the windshield where I could see. No one died.

On the phone with the police, I was told I was lucky not to be charged for leaving the scene. The Minister of Transport sent me a letter saying the 407 was not part of his purview. I called the offices of the 407. They said they’d look into it.

My insurance company told me I’d never get anywhere with the 407 and proceeded with the claim. But shortly afterward, I received a cheque for the damages from the ETR 407.

With my faith in mankind restored, I took the money to reimburse the insurance company. They were flabbergasted. They said nothing like that had ever happened before. They thanked me, but could not change the recorded fact that I had made a claim. They agreed that wasn’t fair.

The following May, my highway hobgoblin decided to take another swipe at my enjoyment of life.

While driving north in the dark, I glimpsed a strange object flying straight at me. Was it a canoe? I braced for the impact. There was a clunk.

I opened my eyes and saw the object propelled over the shoulder into the night. I left the highway to inspect the damage. There was a hole in my front bumper about the size of a broad axe, but no other obvious damage. I had no idea what had happened.

I learned the next day that a serious accident had occurred in the southbound lanes at the same time as my meeting with the UFO, which turned out to be the airborne bumper of a truck. In an effort to avoid another insurance claim, I modified the cavity and fitted a Hella fog lamp. Now the Outback had a certain cachet.

Just as I was beginning to think the Furies had moved on to other prey, I was cruising through an intersection on a distinctly green light when an oncoming driver impetuously cranked a left turn directly into my path. His death-defying stunt resulted in another collision.

Once again, no one offered to act as a witness, though many had seen the crash. The police were happy no one was hurt, noted the scrapes, and hurried us along. It was rush hour.

The insurance companies decided we would both atone for the intersectional sin.

In the 20th century there was a comic strip named Li’l Abner. It was the creation of Al Capp, a brilliant satirist. One of his characters, named Joe Btfsplk, always appeared with a rain cloud over his head. Everywhere he went, the cloud rained on him.

My insurance company, seeing me as a present-day Joe Btfsplk, offered to sell me “accident forgiveness” for a fee. I was tempted, but the Russians have something better.

In the spirit of every-man-for-himself, Russia leads the way. It is alleged that police there are so corrupt that on-board cameras are seen as indispensable by drivers.

I have ordered a camera to stick to my windshield, a robot-witness that will tell the truth, fearlessly. The new cameras are small, inexpensive and readily available. Ultimately, it will cost less than the insurance option that offers blameless fault.

And so, I surrender. I have learned the paranoia of our time. We all need a nanny cam, a nurse cam, a classroom cam and a snoop cam in every shady place.

Witnesses live in fear of their own observations: If anyone hears them give their account, they may be sued. They think their thoughts in abject silence. Only a fool would do otherwise.

So, this holiday season, I suggest you join in the paranoia. Ask Santa for a dash cam.

Hugh McKechnie lives in Newmarket, Ont.

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