Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Part 1: “Look, ma, no seatbelts!”

wilsonThis morning there was a clever piece on The Today Show about actor Tom Hanks. (I think it came from a Chicago Tribune article titled: “Sully is the last straw: You should never travel with Tom Hanks.”) They warned: “Look at all the movies made about disasters that occurred as a result of his travels.” They were talking, of course, about the movie currently out, “Sully” (the real-life story of the man who piloted a disabled jet safely into the Hudson River), but they listed all the other many movies that qualified, including “Castaway.”

If there was a real-life equivalent to Tom Hanks’ movie portrayals, I might qualify. I am the only person I know who has experienced transportation accidents on planes, trains, automobiles, boats, bicycles, on horseback, and even on foot. The only form of transportation I can think of I haven’t experienced an accident in, is on a bus … which is one reason I rarely ride buses!

So I thought this would be a good opportunity to start at the top and tell the stories of the various transportation accidents I’ve survived, thanks to the grace and mercy of God. We’ll go in chronological order. You’ll find there are so many here, I’ll need to be high-level, and may go into more detail in subsequent posts.

Who Needs Seatbelts, Anyway?

The year was (approximately) 1964 when I experienced my first serious transportation accident. It was a cool, foggy evening in Sylmar, California, and my mom was driving the three of us (me and my brother Don and sister Sandy) to church. We attended a Baptist Church in San Fernando. I’m not sure where my dad was. It was probably a Sunday evening service we were being driven to. Using Google Maps, I tried to reconstruct the route I thought we might have taken to get from our home to our church. It’s not the most direct route, but it’s close, and that would have been my mom … she didn’t have a great sense of direction. And it was a dark and foggy night.

I vaguely recall that the accident occurred in front of a post office, and there’s a post office on this route. The map shows us turning left from Pico Blvd. onto S. Maclay Ave., where there’s a U.S. Post Office on the right side of the street. My memory for some reason has us turning right at the corner and clipping a car parked on the right, but it’s possible this is in error and we swung too wide in a left turn to strike the car.

None of this, most likely, is accurate, except for my memory of the accident itself: Which had the three of us kids thrown suddenly and violently to the floor of the car in the back bench seat. None of us, of course, were wearing seatbelts in 1964. I’m not even sure they HAD seatbelts in the back seat of cars in 1964!

My sister Sandy probably should have been in a carseat, as she would have been no older than 2 at this time. Of course there were no carseats then, either. The majority of infant fatalities occurred in those days when moms brought their babies home from the hospital with them, in their front laps, no seatbelts, and some sort of accident occurred. It’s amazing how far we’ve come.

My mom might have been pregnant with her fourth child, my sister Kay, when the accident occurred, if my timeline is correct and Sandy was really 2. If so, it’s probably fortunate that there was no serious impact to her unborn child as a result of the accident. I’m reasonably certain my mom wasn’t wearing a seatbelt either.

No one was injured, thankfully, but I remember that my mom was very upset and crying and not sure what to do. I don’t remember exactly what happened … but I’m guessing she left a note on the parked car, put us all back together in the back seat, and kept driving to church.

I wish she was still here, I’d ask her to clarify my memory!

My only other general memory from driving in a car, at that time in my life, was seeing signs that indicated that gasoline was about 29 cents per gallon. Those were the days!

By the way, I just fact-checked my memory, and it’s pretty right-on! According to the Albany Herald, in 1964 …

The average annual income was about $4,600. The average new car cost $3,500, while a new home averaged $20,000. A gallon of milk was 49 cents while a gallon of gas was 30 cents. A loaf of bread cost 22 cents.

Hot-Dogging It on the Water

This photo has nothing to do with my own boat accident, of course … I just think it’s an amazing picture! Courtesy of … on Pinterest

I didn’t experience another real accident until about 1971, when we took a summer vacation with my parents’ good friends, the Fooses, up to their vacation home on the shores of Lake Almanor. Mr. Foos (I remember his wife’s first name was Donna, but I don’t recall his) had a powerful motorboat and loved to show it off on the lake. He put all four of us kids in the back, shortly after we arrived, and went zooming off across the lake, zipping this way and that. I remember it was pretty scary and we were hanging on for dear life.

I’m guessing my dad was probably in the boat too. I don’t remember that, but I’m guesing he would have wanted to come along for the ride. I’m pretty sure neither Donna nor my mom were on board. Mr. Foos got that boat going at a good clip when he cut behind another boat and hit their wake at the wrong angle. The boat went flying through the air and landed in the water, still at high speed, at entirely the wrong angle, so that one edge caught the water and the boat flipped completely over. I remember the world doing a 36o, with the lake over our heads at one brief point, then we landed in the water at a 30 degree angle or so, before popping back upright. All of us were drenched in the ensuing wave, and the boat took on quite a bit of water, but amazingly, once again, no one was injured or tossed out. I remember Mr. Foos looking around desperately to make sure we were all okay. (This is why I’m not sure any other adults were in the boat with us, but it’s possible my dad was there too. I’m sure if so he and Mr. Foos both probably warned us seriously not to tell either of the women what happened!)

About Those Horse Accidents …

While living in Norco, we owned both a pony and a half quarterhorse, half appaloosa named Shawn. I think I probably mentioned Shawn in a previous post, growing up with him was a favorite memory. But it bears mentioning that I spent a lot of time on horseback, when a young teenager, and got thrown off of Shawn many times. He was a little skittish and easily spooked, and I often rode bareback. More than once we’d be galloping or trotting down the street, when something to one side (a dog barking or car honking) would spook him and he’d do this sudden 90-degree veer one direction or the other, and I’d suddenly find myself in mid-air. He had a good set of brakes and also occasionally applied them to my surprise, so I was thrown over his head once or twice as well. I’m surprised I was never seriously injured. Fortunately, Shawn was well trained, and when he did throw me off, he would immediately stop and wait for me to recover, rather than run off.

We also owned a pony, that was blind in one eye and rain me into a tree once. I still have the scar on my leg in remembrance, though both that pony and Shawn are now long gone.

And Then There Are Bicycles!

Norco was also the site of my first serious bike accidents. I say “accidents” because there were two. The first occurred during a summer vacation. My best friend and I had ridden our bikes to the high school to swim in the pool, and had just left and were on our way home. There was a construction zone in front of the school, with one lane paved and the other gravel. We were on the right side of the street, riding side by side, when we heard a car approaching behind us. My friend pulled to the right, which was smart, but I made the dumb decision to move to the left, dropping over into the gravel area where oncoming cars would have been, if there had been any.

Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to me, the fast-approaching Volkswagon bus behind us (he was doing approximately 50 in a 25 zone) also decided to pass us on the left, in the gravel, just as I pulled in front of him.

The impact sent me flying and skidding across that gravel, approximately 50 feet. I was wearing just swimming trunks and a teeshirt, and so I had major road rash and gravel embedded at every pressure joint (knee, hip, elbow, shoulder) all along the right side of my body. I was very sore for weeks … but fortunately, no broken bones or internal injuries.

Which was some kind of a miracle, probably. My bicycle ended up going through the wheel well of that minibus, ending up being a barely recognizable chunk of scrap metal.

The fire department responded (my best friend’s dad was captain) and an ambulance was called, and my mom was called too. I remember she came screeching up frantically, and was beside herself with relief to discover me standing and talking to the police.

Before the police arrived, there was an altercation. The lone witness to the accident (other than my friend) was an older gentleman who was sitting on his porch, drinking. He was quite inebriated, and also none too pleased with the driver who was speeding through the school zone/construction zone in front of his house. I remember he came out, swearing, and threatening to get his shotgun and kill the man who hit me. The police had to separate them.

The police ended up charging the man who hit me for speeding in a school zone (I’m sure that earned him a hefty ticket), but they also gave me a ticket for pulling to the left rather than to the right. I understood why they did this, but it did seem a bit unfair at the time, in light of all the trauma me (and my mom) suffered as a result of this accident. (She was the one who paid the ticket, I know!)

The only other bike accident that occurred in Norco was a year or two later, when I was a volunteer for the fire department and returning home from a call. I was riding (correctly, this time) down the right side of the street when a car pulled past me and slowed. At the last minute I realized he was turning right into a driveway in front of me, and apparently didn’t realize he was turning right into me. I dove to the right this time, through a ditch and into his front yard, while trying to break. I had almost stopped when he and I met in his driveway at the same time. and he struck me with the right-front edge of his car.

He messed up my bike a bit, and I think I was cut on the hand. I remember that he was pretty worried and upset about it, but after the last accident I didn’t want to make a fuss. I assured him I was okay and not to worry about it, and left hurriedly. I certainly didn’t want all the emergency vehicles to be called out … a second time.

Let’s consider this post part 1 of 2 … and we’ll continue tomorrow, with my first (and only) pedestrian accident! At least, so far …

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