The time of 7:29 a.m. found me hurtling along a stretch of highway 30 minutes south of Hartford, congratulating myself heartily on my pre-rush-hour escape from New Jersey.
I'd wafted traffic-free over the Hudson; easy as a birdie in a game of badminton over that pretty Tappan Zee Bridge; and was now halfway to my destination in Boston.
"I'll be there by 10!" I was broadly gloating - when, just north of Waterbury, all traffic slowed to a sudden crawl.
So "Eat a little yogurt," I thought, popping the lid on the container in my lap. I flicked my eyes quick toward the plastic spoon on the seat beside me and...
And four hours later I was there yet, on that same stretch of road again, in a rental car this time, yogurt all over me and my smugness erased utterly, while my sweet reliable old minivan was just beginning a 3-day sentence in the body shop. All because at 7:29 and 10 seconds - just as I glanced over for that spoon, as it happens - the car ahead of me came to a full and sudden stop. I braked hard, transforming my possessions into a fleet of flying saucers and hit it anyway, wham.
The driver was fine, thank God. When he stopped so suddenly himself, he'd looked quick in his rearview mirror to see if I had noticed. On realizing I hadn't, he eased up on his own brake to lessen the impact, smart man.
And his car was fine too, with not a scratch on it.
My car was not fine. The front end was pushed in and the radiator was ruined. Ditto the AC compressor and the fuse box. Oh and the bumper was split and the frame bent.
But if this is a cautionary tale about the consequences of even momentary inattentiveness behind the wheel, it is also a chance to say a word about the kindness of people generally.
Because the man I hit was not only kind but downright affable. The first-on-the-scene plainclothes State Police Captain was sweetly comforting. "Everyone's OK, that's the main thing," he said, patting my trembling arm. And the uniformed officer let me off with just a warning. And when I looked down for the first time and cried out to see myself painted from scalp to sandals with strawberry yogurt, they said, practically in unison, "Look at it this way: it isn't blood."
The tow-truck driver, who took my van and me to the repair shop said, "Hey don't feel bad! We get six of these a day from that one stretch of road." The woman managing the office there gave me a world of patient attention. And the resident Golden Retriever there rose from his nap and loped over to lick my sandaled feet clean of their strawberry goo. Then he delicately nosed into my backpack, extracted a stale dinner roll, setting it gently on the ground for future consideration, then reached up and licked my tear-stained face, averting his eyes just after, as if out of respect for my sorry state.
So the day's lessons came in two parts.
The first part I pass on as a tip, for the young especially. When driving, just drive, for everyone's sake. Kids: As a gift to your fathers on Fathers Day, or a First-Day-of-Summer gift to anyone at all who loves you, do this to avoid calamity.
But if calamity should find you anyway and things fall apart, remember: How poorly we can mend things on our own, on our lonely own; how much more quickly with the help of others.
Write Terry at firstname.lastname@example.org