The Drive

My freshman year in college I got an invite from an old girlfriend to drive to Columbia, Missouri and see Steven Wright in concert.  It was a fabulous invite.  I appreciated Steven Wright’s humor.  His interesting way of looking at the world.

In one of his jokes he explains in his monotone voice, “This woman came up to me and said that I was wearing two different color socks.  I told her that was fine– to me they are the same, because I go by thickness.”

I really wanted to see Steven Wright in person.  However, there were many problems with this.  I didn’t have a car.  For some strange reason, which I don’t really remember, I had to be back at school the next day.  Also, the girl I was going to see was an on-again off-again girlfriend from high school.

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
Look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too

“Runnin’ on Empty”
-Jackson Brown

I convinced one of my friend’s to ask his roommate if I could borrow his car, drive the 4 hours to Columbia, then return To Iowa City and be back by the next morning.  To my surprise, his roommate agreed.  It was set.  I was to leave the next afternoon.

Here is the point at which I also mention that the automobile I borrowed was a station wagon.  The deal was that I give his roommate 50 bucks and return the car, unharmed, with gasoline.  My best recollection was that it was a 1985 Dodge Aries station wagon.   In the mind of an 18 or 19 year old, this seemed like a great idea gathering momentum.  Ok, it still seems like a great idea.  I love a good road trip!

I did not know if he had insurance.  I did not know if the car had been maintained.  I didn’t own a cell phone.  After all, it was 1992.

The trip down went according to plan.  Mapped precision and a keen schedule put me in Columbia in time for dinner and the show.  No drama with the ex girlfriend.  I simply did her bidding and then retreated at the previously agreed upon departure time.  I had escaped complications and was back in the car on my way home.

At this point, I might mention that it was about 2 a.m. when I left Columbia.

As I crossed over the Iowa border, I started having trouble staying awake.  I had a deadline, though.  So I continued.  I pressed on the gas a bit harder.

I must have continued for at least another hour.  I was very tired.  It was about 3:30 or 4 in the morning.  I was fighting the inevitable nod off.  I had already had plenty of caffeine, but at that point it really didn’t matter.

I should have taken it as a warning when I edged over into the gravel, but there was no suitable place to really stop along this one lane highway.  I kept going.  Even the next small town was still a considerable distance away.  I kept going.  I had a deadline.  I kept going.

I imagined each one of the dashed lines hitting the car.  Bump.  Bump.  Bump.  Bump.   Then a solid ‘no passing zone’ line.  The line seemed to wave at me at first.  Then she pointed at me and curled her finger for me to come closer.  I could see the whites of her eyes as she moved closer to me, her long straight teeth ready to let out a big laughing jeer.

It was at that moment that I woke up.  It was as if someone had injected me with a shot of adrenaline.  I was alert.  I could see the teeth of my former maiden were engraved with the detailed lettering of a truck manufacturer.  Truck!

In a split second, I jerked the wheel to the right, and veered into the gravel shoulder.  Then to the left back up on to the pavement.  Then to the right.  The car began to shake so violently back and forth I remember hitting my head on the window.  I had unknowingly put my foot on the breaks and put the car into a backward spin.   I gave the brakes one final slam as I watched the semi pass me… on the passengers side.  Eventually the car came to a screeching stop.

Had that just happened?  I couldn’t feel anything except for a throbbing headache.  It was dark.  The smell of burning rubber filled the car.  The engine had stalled.  I was facing backward down a 2 lane road watching as the semi stopped and the driver got out of his cab and started running toward me to see if I was ok.

I had cheated death.  The odds were slim, but at the last millisecond they turned in my favor.  I turned the key and the car started.  Good ‘ole car.  There was alignment.  There was gasoline.  I was awake.  I completed a three point turn and watched in the rear view mirror as the man stopped and ran back to his truck, all the while getting smaller and smaller.

Was I alive?  The world seemed crisp and clean.  Even in the dark, I could see the clouds linger overhead and the stars in the distance.  For a moment I wasn’t sure.  As I thought about it I nearly nodded off again.  ‘Time to listen.”, I thought.  I stopped in a parking lot in the next town kicked back the seat and slept.

I got back to Iowa City and returned the car.

“How’d she drive?”, my friends roommate asked.

“Not bad… for a station wagon.” I said.

I considered how close to death I really was.  How– in a split second– we could part from this world.  How there can only be milliseconds between life and death.  It was the next year that Chris Street was killed in an auto accident.   I had spent nearly every Tuesday and Thursday riding on the campus bus with him on our way to class.  Both of our heads leaning over, our ears pressed up to the ceiling like a couple of goofballs.  Then, he was gone.

Please don’t forget that your life is short.  Make the most of it.  You will have failure and you will have success, but your odds of success improve with good choices.  A couple of these choices involve how you eat and what you do with your fitness routine.  I would love for all of you to stay with the program.  I consider each one of you good friends and it has been our pleasure to serve as your coaches.

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