Yes, I know I wrote about the Walmart Yellow Poles of Mystery just two weeks ago and here I am writing about it again.

So sue me. You won’t be scoffing when I tell you that, through brilliant analysis and consultation with experts, I have solved the Walmart pole mystery once and for all.

That’s right, gomers. We’re talking science all up in here.

So, I was at Walmart the other day, picking up a shoehorn or some dang thing, when I got the text message equivalent of an emergency bulletin.

A Jeep lies on its side in April in the Walmart parking lot in Auburn. Patrick Finn photo

“Police and fire sent to Walmart parking lot!” declared the message. “It’s happened again!”

Out I wheeled to the parking lot, my shoehorn needs forgotten. Straight away, I found I rather shame-faced man milling about in front of his now mangled car. Inches from his twisted and dented bumper, Walmart’s now infamous green pole leaned in at an angle and seemed to sneer.

“What happened?” I asked the forlorn driver.

“I never saw it,” he said, and that was all.

It was at this moment that I vowed to the world that I would solve this maddening riddle if it took all of my remaining days and cost me a marriage, job and shoehorn.

“I will solve this maddening riddle!” I declared, arm upraised, finger pointing to heaven, “if it takes all of my remaining days and some other stuff!”

After taking careful measurements at the crash scene — point of impact, gradients, angles, gerunds, foot size of the driver, etc. — I tossed those notes in the trash and called in an expert.

Enter Larry Caron, instructor at Roy’s Driver and Rider Education in Lewiston and one heck of a roadside sleuth.

“Why?” I implored the man, with Ingrid Bergman-level drama. “Why is it happening!”

Turns out Caron had an answer at the ready, and it wasn’t some droll lecture about distracted driving, either.

“A-pillar blind spots,” he said.

I swear, at the utterance of this unexpected explanation, I heard harps playing somewhere.

“The A-pillar,” Caron went on, “is that line between your windshield and the driver’s-side window. With the newer cars, they tend to get bigger and bigger, because every year, cars become safer and safer. Some cars have an airbag hidden in there, some have a big handle, if it’s a truck or SUV. They try to make that blind spot as small as possible, but again, safety. It’s got to be a certain width, especially on a heavier vehicle, and with that you have that big blind spot.”

Caron wasn’t done. He had already put in the effort to analyze the various crashes he’d heard about involving cars, trucks, and SUVs getting whooped by those fearsome poles at the front of the Walmart parking lots.

“There’s a huge crosswalk right there,” Caron observed. “The drivers are doing the right thing: they’re stopping for pedestrians and they’ve completely forgotten about that pole because it’s in that A-pillar blind spot. I bet if you talked to every one of these drivers, they would say, ‘I stopped for pedestrians and that pole came out of nowhere.’ They probably started to accelerate, made their turn and bang! They hit it.”

Again, the harps. It made me think of what the driver, with his hang-dog shame, had told me in the aftermath of his crash. He never saw that pole. For all the world, it was like the pole had sprung out of nowhere and leaped ninja-like into the path of his Hyundai.

With Caron’s elegant assessment of the crashes making much, MUCH more sense than any of the other half-wit theories on the matter, including my own, we’re left with a quandary: Is the enemy in this low-budget thriller the poles themselves? Or the car manufacturers who, so zealous as they try to keep us all safe from ourselves, put such big, honking blind spots in our cars?

Caron has thoughts on that matter, too. In fact, he uses the Walmart pole enigma to teach his students about overcoming blind spots. He’ll have the student stop and pullover as they seemingly move on to a new lesson. When it’s time to go again, some drivers will start to pull out right away. They’ve only been stopped for two or three seconds, after all.

NOT SO FAST, TIMMY!

“Remember,” Caron said, “we’ve got to start the process all over again.”

“That process” means checking your mirrors again, looking over your shoulders, all that good stuff you learned in driver ed about a hundred years ago and then promptly forgot.

“We need to have that 360-degree awareness,” Caron said.

Andy Levesque, a former Auburn police officer, crash investigator and now an advanced driving instructor, concurs with Caron’s assessment, right down to the A-pillar factor. In technical terms, he would put down the cause of these pole wrecks as “physical impairment and vision obscurement,” which basically means that the drivers are too distracted and impatient to take a proper look around before proceeding.

“People make turns prematurely and cut corners,” Levesque said. “A few seconds longer and a better driver attitude of patience is key. That is the hardest part.”

That 360-degree look around before you start driving again could reveal other pedestrians, oncoming vehicles or ninja parking poles materializing out of nowhere to make you a laughing stock.

Oh, and believe you me, if you hit one of those poles, people are going to laugh at you. While I was out doing my exhaustive research after the Walmart pole crash last week, I noticed a strange phenomenon: Every man, woman and kid who walked past the crash site broke out at once into a self-satisfied grin. A few chuckled and one or two outright haw-hawed, because they KNEW, man. They knew what had happened and they knew that the next time they loaded up Facebook, pictures of the wreck would be all over the place.

Don’t let it happen to you. Check your blind spots and don’t let that A-pillar fool you.

So, that’s that. The way I see it, there ought to be some kind of award for this stunning unraveling of the vexatious pole mystery. Technically, it was Larry Caron who came up with the solution, but I’m the one who yelled “Eureka!” so I think I should collect the award alone.

In lieu of that, I’ll settle for a shoehorn.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: