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The night my world almost ended
Some time after driving them to that concert, I would be involved in another incident with Sue Anne and her friends: perhaps even the precise group from before.
I was returning home from my restaurant job on a weekend night. I often worked dayshift on weekends in order to be able to play at night. I usually got off lots sooner than I had this particular evening, but on this occasion had agreed to work overtime when the boss needed it, due to someone not making it in, or else we'd been extra busy. I can't remember those details now.
But I always had a use for overtime monies. And getting out by 8 or 9 PM meant I'd still have a few hours to run around and get into mischief.
However, this night would turn out nothing like I expected.
As I neared a particular blind spot in the highway where accidents frequently took place, I saw one big mess of backed up traffic and flashing lights.
This highway was basically a strip of fast food joints, car washes, small hotels, tiny stores, office buildings, and gas stations. With various turn offs in-between leading into subdivisions of homes here and there. My friend Ben lived in one of them, not far from this very location. My friend Steve's parents' electrician's shop location adjoined this road, too. As did the hot rod shop Steve and I spent so much time hanging out at.
That meant there were plenty of places to pull over, turn around, and even bypass entirely the traffic jam itself, if you were familiar with the area.
From experience though I knew this was likely the most interesting event occurring in town at the moment, and I had absolutely no idea for anything better to do in the next few minutes. I also knew it was unlikely I'd be able to find any of my closest buddies in town at this late hour-- or if I did, they'd already have committed themselves to things I'd probably be unable to join in on.
So I pulled into a handy lot I knew possessed connections that'd get me into other lots maybe as far as right up alongside the center of the mess, where I could then park and have a look see.
Within another couple minutes I had accomplished all of that.
But my curiosity turned to horror, once I reached eye shot of the reason for the commotion.
There'd been a bad car crash. I immediately recognized one of the cars involved: it belonged to Sue Anne's best friend Savanna.
|(To left is the type of car Savanna drove during this timeframe: a Ford Pinto. I'm unsure of the color now, decades later. Maybe it was blue. Sometime later I myself would spend much time in a different Pinto in college, owned by my friend Steve's girlfriend.)|
I knew that Sue Anne spent more time in Savanna's car than she did her own.
I'd also rarely seen Savanna's car with fewer than three girls in it.
There were three cars worth of cops on the scene, trying to get things straightened back out again. And two ambulances.
I could see it was a bad wreck. But quite a few people were crowded in, and the cops were trying to force them to back off.
The suburbs all around in this area made for a huge crowd of easily alerted gawkers on foot. Plus, this was a weekend night on a heavily trafficked road, so high schoolers like me eager for some excitement were naturally pressing in for a look-see too.
I managed to get pretty close in on foot before I could go no further without getting into a fight, or challenging a police officer. But I could see very little of the victims.
I did, however, hear the ambulance drivers saying something about someone probably not going to make it, as they loaded four stretchers into the two ambulances.
Being a native, I knew exactly what hospital the ambulance would have to take someone to, and the straightest possible route.
I also knew that route included perhaps the busiest red light intersection of my hometown.
And a weekend night was the worst possible time for anyone to have to try getting through that intersection in a hurry.
I guess I went a bit crazy then. For I felt it was a near certainty Sue Anne was involved. And according to what I'd just heard, she might be in danger of dying.
I returned to Shadow and moved him to a spot from which I could watch for the first ambulance to get underway-- and then get ahead of it.
Within another minute or so, the race against time was on.
I accelerated towards the dreaded intersection, trying to lead the ambulances just enough so that any opening I might create would be tailor-made for them to exploit.
Once we got near enough to the intersection, I accelerated still further, widening the gap between me and the ambulance, in order to give myself some extra time and distance in which to pull off my risky stunt.
I crested the hill overlooking the intersection and saw the traffic jammed, just as expected. My lights were already on, but as I came into sight of the blockage, I turned on my emergency blinkers and began toggling my brights on and off as fast as possible with my left foot switch, while also honking my horn insistently, trying to get everyone's attention in a hurry.
I was also barreling towards them at considerable speed, hoping that that would underline my warning.
For an agonizing moment at high speed it seemed no one cared. Or noticed.
I decided I was going to push it to the limit. Wait until the last possible second to begin decelerating, so as to hopefully frighten folks into making a hole for me and the ambulance behind me.
As I neared that limit, the small sea of cars finally began parting before me, in something of a frenzy, with suddenly most everyone at the intersection ignoring the state of the traffic signals before them, and just trying to accommodate the crazy guy coming down the hill.
By now of course the ambulance was coming into their sight and hearing as well, topping the hill behind me. Adding to the urgency of it all.
The traffic then magically parted, and I whizzed through, having barely slowed at all by that point.
The ambulances now enjoyed a clear path through the intersection for their vitally important right-hand turns towards the hospital!
Me, I was moving way too fast to make any sort of 90 degree turn right then, and so hit the considerable bump of the central intersection and maybe lost contact with the earth for a split second, then landed past it by maybe a couple car lengths, still traveling at a rapid clip.
I'm sure Shadow's underside scraped the intersection hump in a small flash of sparks as I moved through.
The road curved beyond that a little more drastically to the left than I could manage at that moment, as I jammed on my brakes, trying my damnedest to stop before I ran out of asphalt.
For if you didn't make either a left or right turn at the intersection, the only thing left was roughly 30-40 yards of pavement before you hit a T-intersection. The top of the T was backed by a grassy but solid earthen bank maybe ten foot high and nearly vertical, atop which ran a railway bed for the town's main train run.
If by some miracle you jumped that vertical ten foot bank (and there was no train there), you'd then careen into a river which lay on the far side.
But anyway, that brief patch of road between the two intersections wasn't exactly straight, as mentioned before.
Simultaneous hard braking and even slight turning don't go well together at sufficiently high velocity, so I inadvertently ran into a dry and dusty area off the road there, which formed part of a wide driveway up to a construction supply store parking lot, which sat on a slight hill on the right of the highway.
I truly didn't think I was in trouble, even then.
But the non-paved surface was riddled with time-hardened humps, and lightly sprinkled with gravel.
The humps somewhat resembled what I'd hear Steve call 'moguls' on a ski-run, years afterwards.
We bounced hard over the humps. Really hard. So hard I got thrown completely out of the driver's seat and into the passenger seat, somehow clearing the relatively high center console with no problem at all. I can't remember if my head struck the car roof, but it seems it would have. So maybe that contributed to my shock. One moment I was in control, the next I was just a hapless passenger in a nightmare, watching everything happen around me.
I'd been bounced between seats solely because I wasn't wearing my seat belts. I hadn't thought to buckle them in my zeal to open the path for Sue Anne's ambulance.
But in those days seat belts weren't taken so seriously as today, either. It might be that I rarely used them before this incident.
Now the moguls were steering the car. The rear end came around a bit, even as we continued to be violently bumped up and down. Suddenly I was thrown back into the driver's seat again. I didn't get the chance to regain control though, for it was at that moment we struck the corner of a brick building, ruining Shadow's passenger side.
If I hadn't been thrown back into the driver's seat again, I might have been killed or severely injured.
Even after hitting the building Shadow's motor was still running. I was too stunned to do anything. I numbly watched without comprehension as Shadow slowly drove himself across the highway and into a parking lot on the other side, all on his own. I was very, very lucky not to get hit-- as there was certainly other traffic all about, this near to the busiest intersection in town.
I don't think I even had the presence of mind to take hold of the steering wheel again until we were already in the parking lot. But I finally came to my senses and stopped the car there.
The severe damage to my car was obvious the next school day in the parking lot. And for the next couple months after that. For it took me a while to save up the funds to repair it, even cutting every corner me and my dad could think of to accelerate the process via various improvisations and elbow grease on our parts.
Yes, I felt bad about Shadow's wounding there. But not about what I did, or why. Sue Anne didn't return to school for a while after that, but word was she was going to be fine. And all her friends, too.
Yes, I never did find out if Sue Anne had been in the first ambulance, or the second. But it didn't matter to me. I'd done what I had to do. And maybe made the difference. For one of her friends, if not Sue Anne herself.
No, the only regret I had afterwards was that I hadn't buckled my seat belt. For I was certain I wouldn't have lost control if I'd been belted.
After that I always made it a point to get belted if at all possible before driving.
I never heard anyone at school make a connection between my wreck and the ambulance run. And I personally told almost no one about my involvement in the matter, either.
I did tell Steve. And he understood completely. For he too was smitten like me, only with a different girl. And I'm sure he would have gladly given his life for her too, back then.
So far as I know today, neither Sue Anne or any of her friends ever did find out about my deed that night.
The subject never came up in any future encounters I had with any of them, and I never saw any reason to bring it up myself. For it just wasn't the type of tale conducive to rehashing, from just about any angle or for any purpose. Or at least I could never see any, personally.
Yeah, having a desperate crush on Sue Anne at the time, I downright ached to tell her I'd helped save her life, and how.
But despite all I'd done, I wasn't even sure myself how much effect I'd had, with my risky maneuvers. I couldn't even swear Sue Anne had been in the first ambulance. Or that she'd been the one the ambulance personnel had been speaking of being so critically injured. For almost all of Sue Anne's inner circle had been hurt badly enough to stay out of school for about the same length of time. And I wasn't privy to many details of their injuries in the weeks and months following-- as I simply was too far removed from Sue Anne's crowd, socially-speaking.
So that was that. It did serve to console me a lot that Sue Anne lived and was whole again soon after that. And didn't seem to suffer too long from her injuries.
From that moment on I always wore seat belts when driving. For I'm convinced that particular crash was a waste: I'm certain if I'd been belted I'd never have lost control of the car, and never struck the building.
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