October 11, 2010
It is a date I remember very well. It was one day before my 18th birthday. I had just recently graduated high school and even more recently decided I was going to try college. it truly was turning out to be one of “the” summers of my life.
My friends and I were all young, free (kind of) and invincible (in our minds). Life was one party followed by another. We had jobs. But that rarely stopped us from doing exactly what we wanted to do and when we wanted to do it. It was the summer of 1988. July 18th to be exact.
My aunt and uncle had gone out of town. They asked if I could keep an eye on their house and feed their cats. Absolutely! That is just one more place to be “free”. But I wasn’t going to be going all Risky Business. First, I didn’t really know any prostitutes. Second, I just thought it could be a place to crash for me and a select few friends. No debauchery.
So, on July 18th we were making plans for the night. We would all get off work and head to the house to clean-up before going out. We met up at the city pool. That is where almost everyone worked anyway. I was lifeguarding at the country club pool, but still hung out at the city pool with everyone else when I wasn’t working. We discussed who was going to drive and decided that we would all drive separately. That way, if any of us had a last second change of plans (read as “booty call”), we would not be stuck dragging someone back to their car. This house was a little out of the way.
We take off in our mini convoy. This route just happens to be very similar to the route to the liquor store. Remember that, as it will come back into play. We turn onto the windy country road that will lead to the house and it begins to rain ever-so lightly. Just a summer sprinkle. As I said earlier, we were invincible, so none of us ever wore a seatbelt. This drizzle of rain made me a little uneasy, so I buckle up while driving along. I still to this day do not know what made me decide to do that. It was truly out of character.
We continue driving the twisty road and have now gone about a mile since I buckled up. There is a sharp left turn ahead, so I use a little brake and slow down to take the turn. As I turn the wheel, I am struck by the lack of change in my direction. I have turned my wheel! I am sure of it. But I continue on…straight ahead. I leave the road and then quickly leave the ground. “Sweet Child o’ Mine” plays on my tape deck as I fly and spin through the air. This can not end well.
Strangely, as I am airborne, my mind can only think one thing. This is kind of cool. Trees are crashing around me. the world is tumbling by like I am in a clothes dryer. I can’t focus on anything. But I can still hear Guns N’ Roses. I wonder if this will be the last thing I hear on this earth. If so…excellent! I love this song! I eventually black out.
When I come to, I am still pretty disoriented. I hear water, but I am not wet. I hear muffled voices too. After a few seconds they become clear. it is my friends standing on the hill above me. What I hear is “Mitch! Are you alive! Say something! If You are a in pieces, I am not coming down there! That is gross!”. My friends…true heros. I quickly release my seatbelt so that I can get out of the car. I fall a few inches into some water and realize that I was laying on the drivers side of the car. I stand up while opening the passenger door above me. I climb up onto the side of the car and see my friends looking down at me. I am a good 40 feet below. That was quite a drop. James Paul is the one that has been yelling to me. Brad has been yelling too. But more at his car (which is now wrapped around a tree). His words are: “You Son of a ……! You made me wreck my car! Look at this!”. It seems that as I launched in the air, Brad was directly behind me and was completely overwhelmed at the sight. He was watching me fly off the hill and didn’t even bother to make the turn himself. He caught himself in time to hit his brakes just before hitting a tree. James Paul came sliding in behind. What a mess this was turning out to be.
I decide That I am all right. I am not bleeding. All my appendages seem to be functioning. So I decide to jump down onto the rocks I had come to rest on. Just as I hit the rock, I see a copperhead startle and scurry back into some brush. In one fluid motion…as I crouched down from my landing…I spring right back up and back onto my car. I can only imagine that I resembled some sort of X-Man or super hero. In reality, I probably looked like a bumbling oaf scrambling to climb onto a crushed 1972 VW Beetle.
I scout my area again. ANd I start throwing random objects in the general area I want to go to get back up to the road. A few cassettes, a couple of Mountain Dew bottles and an Iron MAn action figure are used to scram any more slithering onlookers. No motion. The coast seems clear. SO I leap to the rocks again and start running/climbing up the hill. I am grabbing roots and small saplings to finally get back to the top. As soon as I get there, I realize that I have left my brand new Ray Ban Aviators behind. I contemplate for a second, give J.P. a glance and off I go. Back down that snake infested hill. These are Ray Ban’s dammit! I can’t leave them behind. Priorities people!
While getting my $80 sunglasses, I also realize that I have some other items that demand attention. There is the matter of, roughly, 50 parking tickets that are crammed in my glovebox. Those found their way into the stream to be taken away. I also had a street sign that had been pillaged a few nights before. The cops would eventually be here. I had to get rid of that too. I toss it as well. However, it did not really float away. Metal has a tendency to sink. And this stream was only a about a foot deep right now. So that sign was just laying there, face up, a few feet from my car. Not obvious at all! Back up to the road I go.
A guy driving a big truck pulls up and looks over the edge. “Did anyone call an ambulance?”, he asks. J.P. says “no” and asks why we would. The trucker says, “For whoever is in that crushed car down there.” I step up and explain that I was in that car. He just laughs a little and says “sure. Whoever is in that car needs help. And I just radioed the cops. So, If you boys have been drinking, you better figure something out.” Then he takes off. Well, we are all stone-cold sober. So the cops are not a threat. What should we do now?
We decide to go on up to the house (only another mile or so). We call our parents and tell them what has happened. While I am talking to my mom, she asks if we are drinking (I am starting to see a theme here). I tell her no. She follows with, “Well, we passed you on the road to the liquor store. Are you sure?”. I tell her we came that way to her sisters house and that I was certain that all I had had to drink that day was a lot of Mountain Dew. She accepted this and they were on their way. It was starting to get dark as we drove back to the crash site to wait for the police and our parents.
As the parents arrived and scoped out the scene, we tell them about our trucker friend. He has used his radio to call the police. We wait a little longer and decide to call them ourselves. The police still never show up. But Crace’s Wrecker service does. And they drag my car back up that hill. What a mess. My poor, beloved “Bug” is destroyed. It resembles a crushed pepsi can. But that pepsi can stood up to a Hell of a ride and left me virtually unharmed (it turns out I had mashed the dashboard with my knee, but the adrenaline had kept me pain free for those few hours). Brad’s Fiero GT was basically totaled too. He was not real happy about that.
The funny thing is, I do not remember the next day at all. I turned 18. My knee was swollen and I was using crutches to get around. Other than that, it is all a blank. I was “let go” from the Country Club pool because I was not able to work for the next week or so. When Joyce Miller (City Pool Manager) found out, she offered me a job on the spot. I was back to work soon after and did another two summers at that pool. I guess there was a silver lining to this after all.
Just a few things to add. The pictures above were taken today (the date on the article). That sign and guardrail were not there back in 1988. It was just a straight shot off the side, with a small mound of dirt that actually helped launch me into the air. We also found out that a truck had spilled some diesel fuel on the road in that curve. The rain shower had brought that diesel back to the surface and caused me to slide out. I was also told that they decided to put up this guardrail after several others wrecked here. I was supposedly the only person to walk away of my own accord. There had been deaths and severe injuries every other time. This did not help with that sense of invincibility at all!