Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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In Which I Nearly Assault An Elderly Woman

Here is what happened. We paid a $500 deposit when we moved into our sweet, little home in Salt Lake City. I was determined, by God, to get that deposit back when we moved out. After cleaning until the skin on my hands began to reject being attached to my body, I embarked on an unfortunate midweek trip to Wal-Mart to match the paint on the walls so I could get Serge to fill and paint over the nail holes left by our photographs and paintings.

Paint purchased, Violet and I were on our way home. I was traveling behind an elderly woman in a white car. She was just about to cross some train tracks when the lights began flashing. Mind you, the lights flash for a good while before the bar comes down. Instead of continuing through the intersection like any driver under the age of 70 would do, she abruptly stopped. Right where the bar would come down on her car. And it would've if I hadn't rammed her from behind.

My SUV pushed her car smack into the path of the oncoming train, a fact I didn't realize until I had jumped from the driver's seat to check on Violet who was screaming in the backseat. I was frantically trying to unstrap my distraught lil' peanut from her car seat when I slowly became aware of people screaming at me from the third story window of a nearby building.

I looked up.

A woman was hanging out an open window motioning crazily with her arms and it took several seconds before my brain was able to catch up to what was happening and comprehend what she was saying. "MOOOOVE! TELL HER TO MOOOVE! THE TRAIN IS COMING! THE TRAAAAIN" Her voice seemed to float lazily across miles of thick air before I realized what she was saying. The old woman was still sitting in her car. On the tracks. As the train was fast approaching. I left Violet in her seat, ran to the rear of the old woman's car and began motioning and screaming for her to drive forward.

She did. Seconds later the train roared between us sending my hair floating skyward in a puff of wind.

Violet was okay. I was okay. My SUV? Not so okay.

All of the above happened in about twenty seconds yet it felt like I was moving underwater. The woman driving behind me when the crash happened ran up. "Why did that woman stop? I nearly hit you!" I didn't answer. I could only focus on my daughter.

With trembling fingers I tugged and yanked at the straps on Violet's car seat until I could pull her free. I hugged my baby close to me and tried to soothe her. The crash was so loud, she was so scared. Watching my daughter scream in fear, I began to cry. Holding her close I repeated IT'S OKAY, IT'S OKAY, MAMA'S HERE over and over again. I walked forward, assessing the damage to my crunched SUV... and my tears of fear turned into tears of anger. I was pissed.

The old woman had parked her car and was walking back to the scene of the crash. As she approached I began to shout at her. WHY DID YOU STOP? YOU WERE HALFWAY ACROSS THE TRACKS BEFORE THE LIGHTS BEGAN FLASHING! She offered no response. Her chin trembled and she seemed confused. I felt like a bully. But dammit! My car looked totaled. And my little sweetheart - one minute she was laughing and babbling and then BOOOM!


Before I could make an ass of myself by screaming obscenities at a 71-year old woman (I know her age because it says so on the police report) and further scaring my already terrified daughter I walked to the back of my car and called Serge.

The police came and I was ticketed for "improper lookout". No matter that she stopped dead in the middle of the road, no matter that she and I and the lady behind us could've made it across the tracks before the crossing bar descended, I rear ended her and so I get the ticket. At least the cop smiled apologetically as he wrote it out and handed it to me.

The SUV is being repaired. For $7,000. The insurance deductible, ironically, is $500. The very amount I was trying to save by driving to Wal-Mart to purchase paint to cover the wall nail holes in order to receive our full deposit back from the landlord.

Reader Comments (54)

Oh, WOW! SOOO glad that you're all OK. How scary! I think I drive the same exact car (and color) as you...if we lived closer I'd let you borrow it! Thank goodness for big, safe cars...

This reminds me of a story...when we used to live in town, we were on a street just down from a local ski shop. When the ski shop had sales (or during busy summer months), people would always drive down our road and turn around in resident's driveways. One day, I headed out the front door to my car which was parked two car lengths into the driveway. I got in, turned it on, and started to back up before I even turned around to look. I had, after all, just seen my empty driveway and I had two car lengths until I got to the road where I would then stop and look for traffic. All of a sudden, a car HONKS loudly. Luckily, I slammed on the brakes - I came within inches of backing into someone IN MY OWN DRIVEWAY. And the guy had THE NERVE to gesture madly to me! WTF? It's a good thing he got out of there fast - I was truly ready to beat the shit out of him.


February 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHanni

Holy Shit! What an amazing post - I am so glad everyone is okay....
Irony is a crazy thing isn't it?
xoxox Richelle

February 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRichelle

I'm soooo glad you are okay!! I've been worried ever since you tweeted the pic (but glad you kept tweeting which meant all must be reasonably under control). Your story is terrifying to read, but what a relief nobody was hurt.

Sorry about the financial kick in the teeth... sometimes it can feel like the universe is against you.

February 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKeenie Beanie

Glad you're ok but don't drive so close to the car in front. There's a reason they teach you that when you're learning to drive it's so you don't hit the car in front if they should break suddenly - for whatever reason, for this very reason!

February 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoy

Glad everyone is OK :)

February 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKate

You've said on several occasions that your husband is the more talented writer of the two of you, but this bit gives him a run for his money. Maybe it's because I'm also a new mother, but I read that with tears of fear, and tears of anger, in my eyes, too. The last line is just perfect.

February 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterskinnythighs

Wow ... that really really really really sucks. I am glad you and Violet and the wee old lady are okay.

February 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNJ

Oh! I know just how this feels. When Em was about two we got into a car accident. A lady ran a stop sign and hit us. She was older and so sorry. But she hit right where Emily was bucked into her car seat. I've never been so thankful for crumple zones!

I am glad you are okay - oh, the irony of the $500!

February 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEDW

That is so unfair! Because of some old lady (that shouldn't be driving) your iinsurance is going to go up and your car greatly depreciates in value. And you lose $500. Are you sure you can't fight the ticket and have the old lady at fault?

February 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTY

ditto, skinnythighs. i am going to hug my baby now. tight.

February 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteralex

I'm glad you are Violet are OK but to be honest, you were in the wrong.

The flashing lights are not a signal to put your foot down, they are a signal to stop. And if you are travelling so close behind the person in front of you that you were unable to stop safely then the cops were right to ticket you.

The little old lady was not in the wrong, you were. And i am disappointed at the above comment - why should that lady not be driving? Seems like she was the only one driving safely.

February 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

I am so glad you are okay, Monica, Violet & the old lady too. There were some angels at that sight and I'm just so relieved you're all okay. Yes, insurance will go up and now you can't SAVE the $500, and it sucks that now you have to SPEND it, but at least you had it coming to you (the money, I mean, not the car accident). That's a relief--and things like this (unexpected occurances) are exactly why saving a small amount is SO important. It's too bad things like this can set you back, but at least you're all alive, well and in ONE piece. I can't imagine the FEAR that you felt and a mother's instinct to protect her child is unlike anything else--bravo to you for being there for your daughter! God Bless you all and STAY SAFE!

-Sarah Liz

February 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Liz

God, that fuckin sucks, I live right by there and I swear to GOD an accident happens there every day! Good luck with the commute t0 SLC. I've been driving to Provo EVERY day, from the Liberty Park area.Thank God for XM!!!!

February 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristal Day

Good God! That is some scary shit. De-lurking here. Thank goodness you and Violet are okay. I'm a new follower to your blog. Love it.
Every time I drive across train tracks I floor it, thinking there's an invisible, crazy train racing through the intersection.

February 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCristin

To the Sarah four posts above me -

Not to create unecessary drama, but how is the woman in the car in front of Monica stopping EXACTLY where the bar would have come down, driving safely? If the lady was close enough to the tracks to be in the exact path of the railroad bar coming down on her car, then she SHOULD have sped up to avoid getting smashed by the bar coming down, not slammed on the brakes. I think its perfectly reasonable for Monica to expect that someone that close to the tracks would, oh I don't know, get out of the way??? And I believe the reason that the previous commenter said that the woman shouldn't be driving is that her judgement was not intact enough to realize the danger she had just put herself in.

It seems to me (personal opinion) that the reason Monica shared this story was NOT get people's opinions on if she was in the wrong or not. Maybe a bit of support for her going through this frightening time would be a bit more appropriate?

Monica, I'm so glad you and Violet are okay. How scary that must have been! Shake off any negativity that people throw your way and be grateful that you and that beautiful baby of yours are okay (albeit less $500, which sucks)

February 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara

You don't want to create drama. Well you have.

Firstly - look at my reply. My very first comment was that I hoped she and Violet were OK.

But secondly, I don't enable people. Half the problems in society these days are because people don't take responsibility for their actions.

Monica was in the wrong because she was tailgating. No two ways about it.
I know it, she knows it and the cop knows it. That is why she got ticketed and there is absolutely no way she could ever appeal and get it lifted because she was in the wrong. I'd love to know what anyone thinks the old lady should be faulted for.

Does this make Monica a bad person? Not at all. We all lose concentration because we're busy/in a hurry/stressed/whatever. But not fronting up and saying "yeah, i did wrong" and taking responsibility for it IS bad. And just as bad is to support and enable that irresponsibility.

As for Monica's motivations in posting this. Not for me to say, but much of the entry, and in particular the last 4 paragraphs, is expessing anger and resentment towards the person who was not in the wrong - trying to deflect the blame not take responsibility for it.

That woman could have been killed because Monica was driving too close behind her. Did she stop under the boom gate? Possibly. Worse case there is she may have got a dent on her bonnet and that would have been entirely her fault. But she was pushed into the path of an oncoming train and was no doubt shocked, much in the same way Monica was, in those immediate seconds afterwards. What if her car had stalled and she hadn't been able to move in time. Would you still be syaing it was her own fault then?

Far too many people are killed on level crossings because people don't respect the warning signs and lights - they aren't there for decoration. They are there because a couple of hundred tonnes of metal is about to race past and flatten anything that gets in the way. I don't know of one person whose errands are so important that they can't stop for the 2 minutes, tops, it takes to allow the train to pass.

February 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

well....on that note...Oi Vey! I am sure glad and reileved to hear that not a hair of anyone's precious heads were injured! Phew! I was getting nervous just reading that post! Railroad breakdowns ranks for me, more scarier than an underwater tunnel flood and bridge opening...
My godmother, Amelia is 92 and just this year gave up her license! She also had one of these incidents wherein while ON THE TRACKS, the bar on the opposite side comes down and I guess it was a long one, because she stopped right there on the tracks. The one behind her car goes down and she's just sitting there freaked out, looks down the tracks and SEES the front of... a hundred tonnes of metal about to race into and flatten.her Ford Taurus wagon with her massaging wood beaded seat and all. So...instead of driving on, she throws it in reverse and backs up, taking the bar out behind her. Thank God she was able to get off the tracks in time!

Thank GOD you and your baby and that old lady are safe.

February 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGina

what a scary experience...just glad to hear everyone's okay.

February 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterchristine from canada

SUVs, although, 'big' are not therefore 'safe'...

February 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterL

glad to hear you are all ok, and I mean that sincerely

that said, sorry love, but you are absolutely at fault, driving too close to the car in front - thankfully none of you was hurt

TY - really? fight the ticket? sorry, but what would that accomplish, exactly?

February 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSue

Actually, L, SUV's ARE safer than most cars (except the heaviest ones) - see this article :

And, since good design also comes into play and it's a Honda, it's even safer yet. I purchased my Honda Pilot specifically with my three year old daughter's safety in mind.

February 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHanni

Well, we are a feisty bunch, aren't we?

It sounds like a hella scary situation, and I'm betting that the buzz of the crazy adrenaline helped you write this Monica - and I'd agree with a previous commenter, it's great writing. And with adrenaline spiked great writing blame and angst gets slung around and so from the calm seat of not having your baby in the backseat screaming and then 4th floor angels from above yelling down and and a smashed car and 500 dollar deductible other's get to say what you did or didn't do right. Ugh. Who needs lectures? Not me. So I'm just here to say: whew. thanks for the great writing. and omg, I hate driving with my baby in LA, there are too many freaks of the weeks all around.

sending good thoughts...

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJane

I suspected I'd get a bit of this as you rear-end someone and it's assumed to be your fault. I WASN'T TAILGATING. And I wasn't ticketed for tailgating. The woman sped up like she was going to cross the tracks and then slammed on her brakes. I was AT LEAST two car lengths behind her and wasn't speeding. In any normal scenario both she, I and the woman behind us could've continued across the tracks before the bars came down and the train would've passed by twenty or so seconds later. I was ticketed for "improper lookout" as the cop explained to me was the least ticket he could give me, comparable in points to running a stop sign. If I was tailgating or speeding he could've ticketed me for that and he didn't. Two witnesses stayed behind to tell the cop how the woman suddenly stopped when it at first appeared she was going to cross the tracks.

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Girl Who

Yeah but...if the lights were going, you should have been preparing to stop. Whether you were tailgating or not, rushing through a train crossing (with an infant in the backseat) isn't safe driving. I know in SLC it's "the norm" for people to rush trains, rush red lights, see how many people they can "squeeze in" after it's clear they should stop, but that doesn't make it safe.

I'm glad everyone is ok, but seriously, not a good idea to race trains. It's a losing game.

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSammy

I wasn't "racing a train" with my daughter in the car. I was driving the speed limit and didn't speed up to cross the tracks.

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Girl Who

Glad everyone's okay! Try to ignore all the random negativity in the comments and focus on the fact that for whatever reason, you and your precious daughter are going to be just fine (even if your SUV isn't!). And fortunately, Violet's too young to remember and probably forgot the whole thing about as soon as it was over. :)

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

O.k. guys, I've been lurking for awhile and haven't commented yet, but this is getting nuts. Please re-read Monica's story again. She didn't do anything wrong! No train racing, no tailgating, no texting while driving, etc... We've all crossed the tracks when the lights have been flashing. Seriously, only the most anal drivers ever stop when the lights first start. The arms hadn't even moved!

It was a panic move by the old lady that set the rest of it in motion. Why are we dissecting this and finding fault with Monica?! Her actions in the face of a totally stressful situation saved not only Violet, but also the old lady in the process!

Please move along, nothing else to see here...

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

You guys...your defense is admirable and all, but I wasn't saying she was speeding, or tailgating. She didn't stop when the lights started flashing, plain and simple. When something tells you "a large vehicle that will definitely kill you is on it's way", I kind of think it's a good idea to stop.

And if only the most "anal drivers" stop when...they're supposed to...then that tells you a lot about why so many people get hurt and killed in preventable accidents. o_O

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSammy

I don't think she meant racing trains per say....well...who knows? I don't think you'd EVER put your baby in harms way. NEVER! Oh man....Speaking of racing trains. One day, my friend Angie and I were hiking along the tracks. We came a spot where the terrain became vey steep on either side, and I casually mentioned 'wouldn't it be neato' if a train were to come along down the other end and we'd have to make a run for the next intersection about a 1/4 of a mile away.. Mind you. the odds of that happening were slim to China since this was not a frequently used track and she, living near these tracks rarely saw a train. Wishful thinking born of extreme boredom. Well, of course I happened to glance back down the tracks and sure enough about a mile back, of all things, the light of a slow moving train! We picked up our pace but within a couple of minutes it was a half a mile back and we were still a couple of minutes from the next intersetion. Talk about adrenylin. Of course if we had to we woulda jumped and rolled down into the brush, but we were able to run the tracks to next intersection...

But this isn't about it?

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGina

O.k., so "anal" was a little harsh... I'm happy to treat you to a round of Kumbayah whenever you're free : )

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

i also think that if you rear end someone at a train crossing and, judging from the damage to your car, you smacked her pretty hard, it's at least partially your fault (as did the cop—i've been in a few accidents, and i know very well the police don't *have* to ticket someone. it's not compulsory). but glad you're ok. and it still blows to the max to spend your deposit on your deductible. for real. not to mention all the inconvenience and crap you'll have to deal with. live and learn, i guess.

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbonn

Someone wrote a story. Who cares what the hell anyone's opinion is? Why do people feel the need to throw their two bits in all the time? No one cares what you think. If they did, they'd be reading your blog instead. And guess what? They're not.

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSanto

Monica is right. I work in an attorney's office and it's very rare for a driver not to be cited for rear-ending someone regardless of most circumstances. The only two exceptions I'm aware of:

When someone makes an unsafe lane change in front of your vehicle and brakes at the same time, causing you to rear-end the vehicle that cut you off.

When your vehicle is stopped for traffic and rear-ended by another vehicle, causing your vehicle to strike the vehicle in front of you.

That said, I don't care who was at fault, I think Monica wrote a great story and I'm glad everyone is okay.

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I'm glad you and Violet and all of the commenters who were also in your backseat are all okay :D

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterchristine

WOW! The only thing that really matters in your life was safe and sound in the backseat of your car and just a phone all away.

So glad you're okay!

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterYM

Monica, so good it just a car wasn't okey, sending good thoughts!

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteranajo

Great story and so glad you and Violet are ok!

February 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy in Austin

Oh. My. God. I am so very glad you guys are ok. Holy CRAP I can't even imagine how terrifying that must have been.

Sending calm vibes your way.

Holy crap!

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShauna

One quick other thing- clearly this must have been terrifying & everything... but this was a pretty dang funny post.

Just sayin :)

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShauna

Monica, what people are reacting to is your failure to acknowledge the obvious; the accident is your fault.

When driving a car you must maintain a speed and distance that allows you proper time to stop your vehicle without hitting the car in front. You might perceive the cop as giving you a break by ticketing you with improper lookout but it a serious ticket. It is the same points as running a stop sign which is a serious infraction not something to be dismissed so casually. You might not have been speeding but you should have been able to stop you car with hitting the car in front of you. You car seems to have significant damage so you had to have hit the car in front of you with great force. How would you have felt differently if the woman had stopped short because a dog ran in front of her car? Would that make it easier for you to take the blame?

You can't expect unconditional love and support from your readership. You can expect that they should not insult or be abusive to you. Learn from your mistakes and move on. People here care for you. Criticism is not abuse.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDMV

I think the point, DMV, is that Monica wrote a great story and many commenters, including you, immediately start giving driving lectures. Who fucking cares about your driving lecture? I'll guarantee you Monica doesn't. She was there. She thinks she was driving a reasonable distance from a woman who apparently sped up to cross the tracks before slamming on her breaks. Like Santo said, why does everyone think open comments automatically means you need to throw in your lame ass two cents? We've all driven through yellow lights and flashing train tracks before the bar comes down. If someone in front of me appeared to go through the intersection I would maintain my speed and, depending on how long the lights had been flashing or how long the light had been yellow I'd probably follow them through. If they suddenly slammed on their breaks I'd be mad.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Delurking to say your commenters are annoying. Glad you are safe! The story gave me goose bumps.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGemma

Also, I text when I drive, because I am very good at it. You should not do such things. You are not me.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDMV

This, after all, is the internet. If a story is public to the entire world, you can expect a couple of negative comments. Monica is a big girl, and can defend herself. she doesn't need armies coming from left and right fending off those 2 or 3 negative comments. I myself am glad that both Monica and Violet are alright, it sucks about the lost money, and I'd be pissed off as well. However, Monica was racing the train, and ended up bumping into an older lady, who, by the way was going the normal limit, and in the story, stopped when the lights flashed, which was what she was supposed to do. Who cares if she was vouched for by the two cars behind, they didn't hit monica, and were going the normal limit. Also, why did monica scream at the elderly woman? shes 71 years old, who yells at an elderly person? I know that kind of situation all too well, and I would have been pissed, but you just cant do that ,especially when Monica hit her car. And why, Monica, are you bragging about hitting an elderly woman's car? This is my personal opinion, take it or leave it, respond however you want, and if you say you dont care, guess what? you do, or you wouldn't have replied to my comment, cursing me.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAdrienne Armstrong

Feck me.... Only in America would you write some story only to have the driving laws shoved down your throat... Round of chill pills for folks in the back seat please!

All that matters (as someone who is the world's worst driver knows) is that you and sweet Violet are fine. And you helped a stressed old lady.

Karma will come back to you....

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCrummyMummy

Fuck. This place just turned into The View.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSanto

By the way, this is not a lecture, I'm not "being a cyber bully" I did not personally criticize Monica as an individual. I understand where Monica is coming from, and love her other writings. But i do not believe that I should be forced to unconditionally love and support everything she writes.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAdrienne Armstrong

Um, exactly how many names are you posting under on this thread, Adrienne? So far I count three.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Adrienne, if what you've written isn't a lecture than I'd hate to see what a real one is like. One question, when exactly did Monica "brag" about yelling at an old lady and to answer your question, I'd yell at an elderly person if they stopped in the middle of the road. Most elderly people should relinquish their licenses anyway. They're dangerous.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGemma

I'd yell at an elderly person too. If I was upset and worried about my crying daughter.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSandy

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