Saturday, June 25, 2011

I Got to Visit Oxford, MS!

I went to Oxford yesterday and had dinner at a restaurant that's got black and red checkered floors and terracotta colored walls that are adorned with Christmas lights even in the middle of June.  The restaurant was called Ajax Diner and the food was divine.

I had a cornbread stuffing with a not-too-sweet cranberry relish that took me back to the obligatory annual late-November meals of my youth.  The green tomato casserole sang with a tangy cheese sauce that made me never want to leave the Deep South.

My plan was to head into Oxford to meet a friend for lunch.  I left my hotel around 1 in the afternoon and, according to my GPS, the trip there from Greenwood would take about an hour and 45 minutes.  It actually ended up taking closer to six hours.  I had a little detour. 

It sounds overly dramatic to say that I hydroplaned, but that’s the only explanation I can come up with.  In one second I was driving down the freeway, in the next one I was skidding sideways.  

Here's what I can piece together.  It was hot and humid when I left Greenwood.  About an hour into my drive it started to sprinkle, and then it started to rain.  I noticed that the rain was getting more intense and it was harder to see what was up ahead.  Next I noticed that my car was slowly veering into the lane next to mine.  I tried to correct it and was suddenly perpendicular to the road.  It felt like someone had taken the SUV, violently yanked it to the left, and was then awkwardly dragging it down the freeway at about 50 miles per hour.  In the skid I could almost feel the SUV trying to not flip over.  I know that I'm making it sound as though I skidded for a long time, but it was probably a second or two at most.

The skidding seemed to lessen but I was now headed off the road.  Again, I tried to straighten out.  Again something seemed to angrily jerk us (me and the SUV) to the side and then drag us down the road.  This happened one more time and then my car went into a ditch. 

In the ditch I swerved to avoid a wall of massive green trees.  I drove in the ditch next to the freeway, or kind of drove in the ditch.  It was bumpy and, even though my foot had long since come off the accelerator, I was probably still going fairly fast.  The SUV bounced up into the air like a ball and then slammed back into the earth again and again.  Every time it was in the air I could think for a split second.  I would tighten my grip on the steering wheel and try to sit up straight and then BOOM!  It would crash into the ground.  I screamed.  I cried out to God.  Then it occurred to me to apply the breaks.  After much skidding and more screaming, we finally stopped.

I've never been in a car accident before.  Maybe someone else would've known exactly what to do, but I couldn't seem to get a grip on how alarmed I should be.  Was the car okay, would it drive?  Would someone pull over to come get me?  Was I supposed to sit there and call the police or continue driving to Oxford?  I wanted someone to lend me their brain and just tell me what to do.

My husband, who is usually the first person I think of when I need a brain loaner, was camping.  I knew that he was miles away from cell phone coverage so I didn't even try calling him.  Plus, my battery was quickly fading and I didn't want to waste any of its juice.

I called the production coordinator, but our calls kept getting dropped.  In the few minutes we were able to talk she said I sounded lucid and I agreed with her.  It was still raining really, really hard.  The cars were flying past me.  In my state of lucidity I realized that I was starting to feel afraid and somehow a little suffocated.  I know myself.  I'm worthless when I'm really scared.  

I was in a ditch, visibility was low, and I had 3% battery life left on my phone.  I looked up the freeway and saw only a long stretch of road.  I looked the other way and saw the same thing.  I had to get out of that ditch.

I knew that the longer I sat there the harder it would be for me to muster the guts to drive out onto the slippery freeway and merge with the semi-trucks that were zooming past me.  Without thinking any more about it I started to drive. 

I don’t know long I drove before I saw the first freeway exit.  What I do know is that there was a Wal-Mart there and I figured I could get a charger for my phone.  I went in, found a phone charger and went to the register to pay for it.  Every step seemed to introduce some new pain: my neck, my back, my shoulder, my arm.  The woman at the register looked at me sideways and asked me if I had a pinched nerve.  I told her I’d been in an accident.  She said I needed to get to a hospital.  I told her I didn’t know where a hospital was.  She told me that I was right next to one.  Thank God. 

It turns out that I was in a little town called Batesville that's about 30 minutes outside of Oxford.  The production coordinator called an oral historian from Oxford, not to record the intricacies of my crash, but to meet me at the hospital and make sure I was okay.  The three of us ended up going into Oxford for dinner.  They wanted me to eat a decent meal before taking my muscle relaxers and pain killers. 

That’s how I ended up at Ajax Diner.  Although it took awhile to get there, Oxford did not disappoint.  It felt like a youthful, happening oasis of activity tucked away in the quiet woods of Mississippi.  It’s a place that's appreciated.  Many of the towns I’ve visited in Mississippi seem untouched by outside influence.  Oxford is not one of those towns.  In a really good way, it’s clear that Oxford is treasured.  


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