The Hastings Sideswipe – One Year Later

About a year ago we experienced one of the few hiccups during our global entire trip: a car accident.  I hesitated to post while we were traveling, but now that all the bills are paid and we’re back to the routine of home, I thought you might all want to hear this tale. So, as the Brits would say, sit back, grab a spot of tea and some biscuits, and I’ll describe the event and its humor. It seems long, but is worth it.

In mid-November of 2016 we arrived in Gatwick (London) airport late in the evening after a great visit to Finland. We successfully retrieved our rental car from Europcar and I paid with my Chase card, declining the expensive extra insurance, as usual, and began the drive to Hastings, England. Jody was not at all excited about riding on the left side of the car, on the narrow roads, in a foreign country. The dark and gentle English rain just made the trip even more exciting for her…the stress level from the passenger seat was high, but Google maps got us to our rental house, no problem. The next day I went and got some groceries and then we explored Hastings by car and by foot, just as Storm Angus began to ravage the English coast.

So,now you have the setting. On Friday, our second full day in Hastings, we spent a day by the sea, watching and running from the ever-growing waves, hanging out in the driving rain at Hastings Pier, enjoying some treats, playing on a playground, etc. We headed back to the house around 4 to make some dinner. I was driving up the hill from the town and beach area on Elphinstone Road, which is a main road but is narrow. steep, and a bit winding, like most roads in coastal U.K. towns. As we began the three mile drive, a small truck (aka small lorry) was bearing down the hill toward us (on my right) but was well across the center line.  Now, even in bright sunshine with no traffic there is barely enough room for 2 compact cars to pass on the road, between the parked cars.  These roads were made for horses, not lorries.
I slowed down to give the other driver time to move over on to his/her side of the center line. He/she didn’t.  I hit the breaks a bit more.

Then time slowed down for me.

I saw the headlight from the oncoming truck coming at my right front fender and several cars parked on our left.
That split second seemed like 30 and I assessed the situation and that I decided it was better to veer farther left than to take the head-on collision.  Essentially I decided to control our destiny with swerve instead of just hoping the other driver would move.
As I veered, the truck narrowly missed hitting the fender in front of me. WHEW!
However, on my left there was a scraping noise and a big crashing BANG as our left side mirror shattered when it smacked the parked car’s driver-side mirror!

The oncoming truck, I can only assume, just continued on its merry way on my side of the center line with nary a care in the world.

Meanwhile, in my world, there was much well-deserved consternation from both the front and back seat passengers. They were a bit shaken.  I, on the other hand, had some combination of relief and sweet, sweet adrenaline rushing through me.  In the big picture, all was well.

I found a rare parking spot about 100 yards from the point of impact and stopped to regroup. After making sure everybody was OK and taking a quick look at our car to make sure it was still safe to drive, I walked back to check out the other car. I retrieved its shorn-off mirror from the middle of street and walked up to the small business nearby, assuming the car belonged to somebody there. I asked the people in the front lobby if they knew whose car it was. One very friendly lady said, “Oh, that’s Bonnie’s car. Thank you so much for stopping, most people just drive off.” WHAT?!?!?!

Note: The car owner’s name is not really Bonnie, I changed it to protect her from further ridicule and embarrassment at her workplace…keep reading.

The nice lady in the lobby said the car’s owner, here known as Bonnie, was on a phone call. So I set what was left of the dented mirror on the counter and went out to our car tell Jody and the kids what was happening.

The kids and Jody were still a bit shaken, but clearly fine.  Leo decided to come back to the business with me while Jody and Grace stayed in the car.  Bonnie came outside with us and was very friendly about the accident, also THANKING ME FOR STOPPING!!!  There was no sense of “woe is me” or even “you stupid bloody American”, just very friendly and seemingly happy.  We checked our her car damage – lots of minor scrapes, and some ugly dents, and missing one mirror of course.  We figured we’d better call my rental agency, Europcar, right away so I could report the damage and figure out what to do next.  Leo, Bonnie, and I walked up to our car to get the rental information and Grace and Jody. We chatted about our trip and found out Bonnie had just returned from a trip to the US. She couldn’t have been any  nicer, especially in lieu of the situation.

Since we didn’t yet have cell phone SIMs for the UK, Bonnie offered to have us come back to the office and use their phone and have Jody and the kids sit in the building instead of the car. Then, as we crossed the street, Bonnie’s heel got caught on the curb and she fell straight down without even getting her hands in front of her.  She smacked her face on the pavement really hard.  When she sat up her face was bloodied as she’d cut the bridge of her nose!!!

OH MY GOSH!  So, now I’ve sideswiped this woman’s car AND she’s got a bloody cut-up face too!  However, as we walked in, she was LAUGHING at herself and the situation.  Bonnie jokingly blamed her own jet lag on the spill.

So, now the five of us walked together back into her office (some sort of children’s social services office), and her co-workers couldn’t figure out what had happened!! To them I’m sure it seemed like some American hit her car and then brought her back all bloody!  Bonnie quickly explained what happened and then, while still bleeding, asked if one of her co-workers would get the kids and Jody a cup of tea while we tried to get the rental company on the line.

Jody, Grace, and Leo all reported having delicious cups of tea with milk and one lump each, served by another very sweet lady.  Bonnie got cleaned up and she and I called Europcar and I told them I should have full coverage through my Chase credit card.  I did!  After about 30 minutes Bonnie and I had given all the info (multiple times) to the nice Europcar rep and got a case number, etc.  Since the car was still drive-able, I was told to just keep the car and return it in a couple weeks as planned.  Here are a few photos…nothing some packing tape couldn’t solve.

As for Bonnie, she got a rental car from Europcar to drive while hers was being fixed.  In addition, her co-workers got a great laugh out of the whole situation.

So, we said goodbye and thanked Bonnie and her co-workers for the tea and biscuits (cookies), and we were on our way. As soon as we got into the car, I told Jody it reminded me of this scene:


Just in case you think the movie snippet above is ridiculous and a bit over-the-top, here are some emails we got from Bonnie during the rest of our travels.  This is from 11/22/16, right after the accident:

“Hi Mike and family, hope you are all well. Just a quick note to say thank you so much for last week. I really appreciate that you took the time to find out whose car it was and waited to get it all reported. Only for me to then hurl myself on the road (I am still blaming jet lag!). My face is healing well; not so sure about my pride!
Just to let you know that I am taking the car in on Thursday to start the process for repairs so it’s all working out. I hope your kids were not too upset by what happened and that they are reassured that it has all been sorted.

Happy travels.

So yes, we bashed her car, cost her time and effort to get it fixed, bloodied her nose, and she THANKED US!!
Here’s another after we sent her the URL for our blog (12/12/16):

“Hi Mike and family, thank you for the link – I was wondering how your trip was going only this morning. Face has healed fine – I still dine out on the story though obviously!
My car is now in for repairs and in its place, I have a brand new VW Golf. It is an absolute dream and I’m so happy!! I am trying to think of different places to drive just to get full use! I will let you know (and send pictures) when my car is back.
What a great trip – I have never been to Scotland but it’s on my list. I’m going to enjoy reading the blog.
Have a fabulous Christmas and I hope Santa is kind to you all.”

See, I wasn’t joking.  She’s one happy lady!
Finally, we see that all is well (12/21/16):

“I hope this photo comes out – car is all fixed as if nothing ever happened. They wrestled the courtesy car keys from my hand so I have been reunited with my car. They even washed and vacuumed it for me – win, win I say.

Wishing you and your family a peaceful and happy Christmas and New Year.”

Storm Angus hit England hard so we had to make a few changes in plans due to some coastal flooding, but it was still grand.  Jody never did really get comfortable in the left passenger seat for the rest of our UK adventure…or for the several weeks in Australia…or while we were in New Zealand…or probably ever.  But we managed.

So, while I certainly wish I didn’t have to choose between hitting a moving truck head-on or sideswiping Bonnie’s car, nobody got hurt and it really turned into a very cool afternoon.  In the end Europcar and Chase paid for everything, we got to meet Bonnie, she got a repaired and CLEAN car, and the kids got to see how a potentially trip-ruining event was really just one of many great experiences we had, and will continue to have.