In my rear view mirror, I could see the white Volvo coming up on me too quickly. I felt the impact reverberate through my bones as she hit me from behind, then again as the force propelled Pericles the Prius six feet into a Honda stopped in front of me. I heard a muffled crunch of the Honda slamming into the next car, then experienced deja vu watching the Volvo's grill lurch forward to slam me again.
I briefly wondered if there was a madman on my tail, but the woman driving the Volvo had apparently hit the gas in a belated and panicked attempt at braking after the first impact.
Obviously, I survived. Rental Prius #5 may not be so fortunate. Being sandwiched between a Volvo and a Honda Accord on an entrance ramp to I-5 in Seattle doesn't do a car's body good. The front crunch seemed to have compromised the battery or electrical system, so the hilariously congenial mechanics at the Hertz 188 repair center near SeaTac airport may require voodoo and fairy dust for its resurrection.
I was most annoyed by the wreck because it stopped me en route to a 6 PM meeting with the "residents" of Nickelsville, a group of homeless people who are organizing and agitating much like the SafeGround I stayed with in Sacramento. But I did learn some interesting things about the local scene from the state patrolman who responded to the wreck.
The other cars left after the patrolman distributed his documentation of our information, but I had to wait for a tow. The officer (who asked I not identify him) advised that while waiting I should maintain awareness because "transients" often passed through the area. I asked if by that he meant homeless people. Yes, he said, adding that he'd never heard them referred to as such until he'd relocated to Seattle a few years ago, but here he had been officially instructed to use that designation.
A "transient" couple often spend the night under low-hanging branches of a pine tree nearby, so he recommended I keep my windows up and doors locked after he left because they could be inclined to harass me. (Yes, I had to suppress a laugh because I was actually kind of excited wondering what their backstory might be.)
I told him about the Recession Roadtrip and asked if he had seen any expansion of the problem in the past year or two. His primary contact with "transients" is with those who sometimes venture down interstate on-ramps to panhandle from people stuck in rush hour traffic. Pedestrians aren't allowed on interstates, including the ramps, so he picks them up and transports them to the entrance, where they can legally beg passersby for money/food/work.
He said that this summer he'd encountered "a lot more" panhandlers. Previous summers, he might have to deal with one every two or three days, but this year it sometimes seemed he had to relocate two or three per day. Maybe there could be some scattered opportunists taking advantage of the situation, he said, but overall he believes the majority are ordinary people who've hit hard times because of the recession. He always has to empty pockets and search belongings to verify someone isn't carrying a weapon when he picks them up, and has never found a person who appeared to be falsifying an image of financial desperation.
After saying goodbye to Pericles at the Hertz repair shop, I picked up Prius rental #6, now dubbed "James" because as I turn east from Seattle I plan to shout: "Home, James." Heading back to DC won't be a direct route, obviously, but at least I'll be entering the final leg of the Recession Roadtrip.
Now signing off to head to an urgent care center, hopefully to learn the headache and back pain will clear up in a day or two. If I emerge from the appointment sporting a ridiculous neck brace, I promise to document in pictures and share with Atlantic readers so you can all have a good chuckle at my expense.