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A Bad Night's Sleep: Dodging Mattresses

All of us, I think it's safe to say, have our little obsessions, thoughts that come to us unbidden, burrow into our brains, then surface at the slightest provocation. If you ever saw that movie "La Bamba" you may recall that Richie Valens was supposedly obsessed with crashing airplanes--fitting, since he died in one.

Of course obsessions needn't be as terminal as that. Some are closer to pet peeves, the little irritations that drive us crazy: the toilet seat left up, the turn signal left on--that sort of thing.

I combine both types in one of my longtime preoccupations: the mattress that is ill-secured atop a vehicle. My family is accustomed to me exploding behind the wheel when I see a mattress lashed to a roof with a few ineffectual twists of twine or a strained bungee cord. "Look at that idiot!" I shout. Often the leading edge of the mattress is bent back and the left hand of the driver is out the window trying to hold the whole thing down. As if that's going to do any good! It's all so dangerous. If you need proof that mattresses go airborne with alarming frequency all you need do is look at the shattered Posturepedics by the side of the road.

Or read today's Post Metro section: "Car Hits Mattress, Leading to Another Fatal Crash." A 21-year-old Fairfax County woman was killed when she swerved to avoid a mattress in the middle of the road. A similar thing happened last week in California. And last summer in Colorado.

I did a column on this a few years ago after a reader contacted me outraged that a mattress store had refused to allow her son to drive off with his purchase. The boy was at college somewhere in the midwest (or was it upstate New York? I can't remember) and wanted the bedding for his new apartment. I called the store and was delighted at their rationale: Too many people don't secure the mattresses. It's too dangerous. That's why we make delivery mandatory. Or course, they also charged for the service so their motives weren't entirely pure, but I'd rather tack on 60 bucks to the price of every mattress than have to dodge flying box springs.

So please, for god's sake, if you have to move a mattress, have it delivered or tie that sucker down. It would also be nice if the police gave hefty fines to mattress morons.

What's the most unusual thing you've had to dodge on the road? I once had to swerve around a hay bale that was sitting, pristine, in the middle of a Beltway lane.

By John Kelly  |  November 19, 2008; 9:30 AM ET
 | Tags: driving  
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Though I was spared this experience myself, friends in Pennsylvania advised me to watch out for deer darting suddenly across the highway.
You are right to warn of the peril of the sliding mattress.

Posted by: cktirumalai | November 19, 2008 10:30 AM | Report abuse

John, when you saw the bale, did you shout "HEY!"?

Posted by: tomtildrum | November 19, 2008 10:32 AM | Report abuse

My husband is similarly obsessed with mattresses on top of cars going 70 down the interstate. Last year we had to dodge a utility ladder laying sideways in our lane on I-95. That could have been bad...

Posted by: amyg8r | November 19, 2008 10:38 AM | Report abuse

I'm also obsessed with mattresses on top of cars. I wasn't, until the day I had to swerve to avoid a mattress on the Beltway. I was following a semi (probably a little more closely than I should have), and when the truck swerved suddenly into the next lane, that caught my attention -- and I saw the mattress lying in my lane. Fortunately, I was able to get over quickly enough to miss it, and as soon as I reached my exit a mile or so later, I dialed *77 on my cell phone to alert the highway patrol. I shudder to think what could happen if my low-lying compact car hit a mattress at 60 mph.

Also, I will not drive behind contractor trucks and such that have ladders or poles in the back. Occasionally, you'll hear a gruesome story about death by highway debris, like the one a few years back where a famous movie producer was impaled by a pole that fell of a truck and came through his windshield.

Posted by: Janine1 | November 19, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Whoops -- make that "OFF a truck."

Posted by: Janine1 | November 19, 2008 11:08 AM | Report abuse

We had a very scary experience on I-70W in Pennsylvania one time. Apparently someone was moving furniture in the back of a pickup truck or van and lost some of it.

Luckily it was late enough at night that there was very little traffic when we had to swerve around a piece of shattered upholstered chair, but the full-size couch blocking the lane sent us off the side of the road, in a 360, coming to a rest on the side of the road. Luckily we were already slowing down a bit after the chair.

We were very lucky that we didn't hit any other vehicles, and stopped about a foot short of the large metal post just in front of us on the side of the road.

Our toddler in the back never woke up. We were stopping for the night at the next town and made it fine, but had to replace a tire the next morning as it had gone flat and the wheel rim bent a bit.

I was worried the state police dispatcher would think I was nuts when I called to report the furniture in the road, but apparently I was not the first to call and they were already on their way to take care of it.

Posted by: HopesMa | November 19, 2008 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Have unsuccessfully dodged deer on I-66. Fortunately I was in my 73 Cutlass, so I just kept going.

When I lived in Utah I was driving down a road and had to stop for the sheep being herded down from their summer pastures. In that case, the sheep ran over my car. They don't get good traction on highly polished metal... The dogs, however, did.

Posted by: wiredog | November 19, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Wow, who was this impaled famous movie producer?

Posted by: rosebudpeas | November 19, 2008 1:31 PM | Report abuse

I saw someone driving down 270 one day with drywall tied to the roof. One sheet didn't make it though. It broke into a dozen pieces when the wind got under it, broke it off where it was tied and hit the road.

Posted by: SHELLY1234 | November 19, 2008 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Re: Who was the movie producer?

Alan Pakula. It happened exactly ten years ago today!

Posted by: dansachs | November 19, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

@tomtildrum: Good one. I did shout something. It may even have had an "h" in it. But it wasn't "Hey." (That's the last straw, by the way.)

@amyg8tr and janine1: I'm glad I'm not the only one obsessed with this. Maybe we can form a support group.

@hopesma: 360 degrees? That's amazing. And you were amazingly lucky. There's something about an easy chair in the middle of the road that borders almost on performance art.

@wiredog: I hope you took a picture.

@dansachs: Does aanyone find it suspicious that Pakula buys it after directing "All the President's Men"? I wonder if it was a Nixon crony who did him in.

Posted by: JohnFKelly | November 19, 2008 6:12 PM | Report abuse

My closest friend was killed 3 years ago because there was a trash can laying in the middle of the highway. She was driving to work on Halloween morning and the car in front of her swerved to go around the trash can. She then swerved to get around the car in front of her but hit the rear of that car with the driver's side of her car. That trash can should not have been there in the first place and the person whose trash can is was should have come back and retrieved it from the middle of the highway. It now peeves me to no end when I see things in the middle of the road because someone can die from jsut simply trying to avoid hitting it.

Posted by: mmcrae1 | November 20, 2008 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Actually, John, if you Google a bit, you'll find a blog that promotes the idea of a "Pelican Brief" curse (the movie, not the book), and ties Pakula's death to that. I didn't read it long enough to determine whether they were serious.

Posted by: Janine1 | November 20, 2008 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Thankfully it didn't fall off the car, but I once saw a couple of guys driving with an inflatable swimming pool, FULLY INFLATED (but not filled with water) on the top of their car. Not only were they too stupid to deflate it, but they were also too stupid to tie it down. Each was holding it with one hand, one from each side of the front seat.

Posted by: AmyH3 | November 21, 2008 11:27 AM | Report abuse

A sad (but funny in a sick way) mattress story from Michigan. About 10 years ago, a family was driving their mattress home on the top of the car and were worried that it might not be secure enough. So they put their 12-year old daughter on top of the mattress to hold it down. It didn't work. The daughter was killed.

Posted by: Ruralreader | November 21, 2008 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Snow and Ice on top of cars! That will scare the "begeezus" out of you. Happened to me that 2 inches of frozen water (like a slate rock) dislodged and slammed into my windsheild on I-66, at 65+ miles an hour. Broke my winsheild, and I couldnt see anything because saftey glass "spider webs" thank god. Yes I survived, but am always looking for that cream colored Toyot Avalon with a certain nationality driver to hand the bill to......

Posted by: busdriver420 | November 21, 2008 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I was on Route 4 in PG County a few years ago and had to swerve to avoid a 1970s-era harvest gold stove in the middle of the road. The owner/transporter quite obviously was the similarly-aged pickup truck full of old furniture and other items I passed about a mile later.

My father and some friends started out on a week-long motorcycle trip in Utah about five years ago only to have the lead biker crash into a hay bale that fell off of a truck right into his path. They'd been on the highway all of ten minutes, and the local guy who put the trip together ended up in the hospital with a compound leg fracture. All things considered, the outcome could have been much worse!

Posted by: urbanangel | November 21, 2008 1:49 PM | Report abuse

While driving in the deep south, I saw an large RV camper style trailer being towed with little more than a jump rope by an older couple in a pickup truck. As we crossed up and over the Tennessee River, the connection between the trailer and towing truck broke -- the trailer went rolling backwards down the upgrade. I managed to steer clear of it, but it rolled right into a sportscar in the left lane behind me -- bang.

Posted by: vuac | November 21, 2008 7:45 PM | Report abuse

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