Monday, July 26, 2010

Ball game

In late August 1998, I packed a few things into my Volkswagen Golf: a duffel bag of clothes, a few CDs and books, and enough money for gas and food to get me from San Diego to Radford, VA. I had about a week before the start of classes at RU, and I planned on making the trek in about 3 or 4 days. I decided to kick off the trip by spending the night in Las Vegas and having a little fun before heading back to school for the fall of my senior year. The next day I would then head down into Arizona and hook up with Interstate 40 in Kingman Arizona, which would take me across nearly the whole of the country en route to Virginia.

I got to Vegas before sundown. I had barely dropped my bag on the bed before I headed off to the MGM Grand. I had an extra $200 that I figured I could afford to lose gambling...and within 20 minutes I had done exactly that. I was shocked at how briefly it lasted. I thought that because I dealt a blackjack game and knew how to count cards that I would automatically win. Turns out it doesn't work that way. Oh well, I got a few drinks out of it at least. After 10 minutes I didn't care. I was 21 years old and reveling in the new freedom to do such things without the worry of using a fake ID. With no more money, I sat in the sports book for a little while and pretended I was sweating a game just to score a few more scotches and beers. But, I knew I had to be on the road early, so I was back in my cheap hotel room before 11. I woke up at about 5 am, and hit the road just before dawn.

US93 brings you over the Colorado river into Arizona by way of the Hoover Dam. This was not the first time I had driven my car over the Dam and I was somewhat surprised by the slow pace of the traffic. I had not expected to run into this many tourists so early in the morning. By the time I made my way up into the hills on the Arizona side, the sun was blaring and the temperature was well above 100 degrees. I cranked the air conditioner on full blast since my shirt was already sticking to me. I was annoyed. Finally the traffic broke and I sped off, eager to get some road behind me. The highway leading down through the hills is two lanes, windy and has some rather steep hills and valleys. At one point, I found myself stuck behind a slow moving 18-wheeler. Passing is allowed, so I pulled into the oncoming lane and saw that it was clear. Just as I was about to overtake him, I noticed that he was speeding up. I heard him down-shift and his engine revved. I looked up and could see that the driver was in the midst of a full on road-rage episode. He was flipping me off and mouthing F bombs. My mouth just dropped open. We crested the top a small hill and started heading downhill. His massive inertia moved him forward faster than my little Volkswagen could muster. I looked down at my speedometer and we were going over 100 mph. When I looked back up at the road, it was too late. I felt the blood leave my face.

Another 18 wheeler was heading straight at me...lights flashing and horn blaring. It was also traveling very fast and heading downhill having just crested a small hill of its own. I glanced back up at the trucker and he was still going nuts. My eyes did the math and quickly gave me the sobering answer. I would not have time to brake and get behind the mad man before the other truck closed the distance. I could not swerve off the road either. It was hundreds of feet down on either side and protected by guard rails. I turned off my AC to free up some horsepower, down-shifted into 3rd gear, and pegged my motor. Too late. I simply wasn't going to make it.

And then.... I felt complete relaxation. The kind when you truly know that there is no point in worrying about what is going to happen, because it is clear, and there is nothing you can do about it. In that split second of my remaining life, I felt truly at peace.

"Ball Game," I said to myself.

I had recalled that phrase from a story my father had told me... about an incident when he had nearly died in traffic accident and uttered those words... a casual acceptance of his fate.

My right side mirror touched the side of the truck as I pulled closer to it. My car buffeted and my steering wheel shook...a result of the hurricane force wind generated by the closing speed of the huge trucks. My windshield cracked. It took me a moment to realize that I wasn't dead. I had passed between them in the center of the road. I took my foot off the gas. The crazy trucker sped down to highway, horn still blaring, as I shifted into neutral and eventually drifted to a stop at a turnout on the side of the road. For another minute or so I still felt strangely calm. The radio was playing Midnight Oil. My coffee was still in the cupholder. A Burger King wrapper lay in the passenger seat next to me.

Then the adrenaline hit me all at once. My muscles tensed and cramped. I opened the drivers side door and emptied the contents of my stomach onto the dirt. It was another 10 minutes before my heart settled down enough, and I regained my thought process. I checked the car for damage. The plastic on the outside of the right side mirror was scuffed. The windshield had a small crack in it. Everything else seemed fine.

I popped in a book on CD. It was "The Lord of the Rings." It was a good one too... with multiple actors doing the different voices and good sound effects. I listened to it for the next two days, finishing it somewhere around Knoxville.

I don't pass 18 wheelers anymore.

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