When I was 19 I worked all summer for my aunt Betty’s delivery service. Her small company shuttled papers, packages, and parts for industrial clients all over northern Indiana and southwestern Michigan. She did a good business with maybe a half-dozen drivers and an assortment of cars, vans, and straight trucks. She issued me an old Ford Pinto for most of my runs, but I got some experience driving the vans, too. Most of her vans were new heavy-duty Fords tricked out for delivery, with rub rails in the cargo area and a wall behind the front seats. She had an older van, too, a used-up regular-duty Chevy that lacked the wall and rub rails. It sat idle most of the time.
Betty’s biggest customer was AM General, which designed and built the Hummer for the US military. They used a particular glue somewhere in assembly, and it was kept frozen until needed. Betty’s company delivered the glue from the supplier, a company called Artificial Ice. All the pro drivers were on other runs one day when AM General called so Betty sent me, the driver of last resort. And all the Fords were on runs or in the shop so I had to drive the unloved Chevy, the van of last resort.
I drove to Artificial Ice in downtown South Bend and loaded 25 80-pound buckets of frozen glue into my van. It was a hot day, and frost on the buckets immediately began melting into puddles on the van’s metal floor.
I headed out with my thawing 2,000-pound payload. Seven miles lay between Artificial Ice and the Hummer plant in Mishawaka. All of the drive was on the same road, a major artery with a long string of stoplights. It took a long time for that loaded van to get any speed. Stopping that much weight was a real problem, too, as I learned when a light changed to red as I approached and the van plowed through the intersection as if my braking were a suggestion. To be safe, I slowed to ten miles per hour under the speed limit.
I was treading very carefully across South Bend’s east side when, in the middle of a block, a little girl stepped off the curb right in front of me. This was the first time I experienced how time slows down in a crisis. I was able to think, “I’m about to kill a little girl, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” sink my foot into the brake pedal, and gasp as I watched her take that first step away from safety.
Unfortunately, the bucketed glue was still traveling at 25 miles an hour on a nearly frictionless surface. Wham! Buckets slammed into the back of my seat. As I felt the wind leave me, I watched the passenger’s seat pop off the floor, smack the windshield, and bounce around along the tops of some of the buckets.
I managed to get the van stopped. Still trying to get a breath, I hopped out to look for the little girl, but she wasn’t there. I even checked under the van, because with all the excitement in the cabin I wasn’t sure I would have felt it if I had hit her. She had simply vanished.
I sat for several minutes, shaking, until I was sure the urge to vomit had passed, and then I crept at ten miles per hour the rest of the way. To hell with the cars honking behind me.
The loading dock at AM General unloaded the glue. They laid the passenger seat on its side in the cargo area, but never asked me about it. Betty didn’t send me on any more runs that day. She never had the passenger seat reattached.
The most recent time I experienced time slowing down was last summer when I wrecked my car while on vacation.