Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Road Hazards

(To mark twin 50th anniversaries in 2017, as a fulltime running journalist and as a marathoner, I am posting a piece for each of those years. This one comes from 1992.)

ONE MOMENT all can seem right with your world. The next instant it can spin out of control. Literally, in this case.

My life was going superbly as 1992 neared its end. Barbara and I had settled into a new house, one that we agreed we never wanted to leave. We had a flight to Honolulu scheduled the next morning, a respite from Oregon’s darkest and rainiest month.

My son Eric, now 15, had joined his 10-year-old sister Leslie at the Oregon School for the Deaf in Salem. The school nurse called that afternoon to say, “Eric has the flu. We can’t keep him in the infirmary overnight, and he can’t go back to the dorm, so you’ll need to take him home.”

I made the hour’s drive north on Interstate 5, then reversed course with Eric dozing semi-reclined in the passenger seat. I planned to drop him at his mother’s house.

The trip seemed no less routine than dozens of others I’d made on this highway. Then came a sudden “Whomp!” A speeder had rear-ended our little Honda, which now fish-tailed out of control and onto the muddy right shoulder, where it rolled.

Our car came to rest upside down, leaving me hanging suspended by the seatbelt. I looked over to see Eric dangling the same way.

He spoke first: “I’m okay. Are you okay?” I was. We released each other’s belts and lowered ourselves to the ceiling.

Eric kicked open his door but mine wouldn’t budge, so I crawled through his side. Only on the outside did we realize how lucky we were, and how shaken.

We stood in a puddle, wondering what to do next. Eric finally announced, “We survived,” then threw up.

A State Highway Patrolman arrived promptly, from his headquarters just across the freeway. A witness identified the culprit, who hadn’t stopped, as driving an American-made muscle car twice the size of mine and going at least 25 miles an hour faster.

The cop let me call my wife, then offered to take us to a nearby restaurant to wait for her. I took a last look at the crumpled Honda. Its final act was its best, as it protected us from serious harm.

The crash didn’t cancel the Hawaiian trip, only delayed its start by a day. I still ran the Honolulu Marathon as planned, just slower than hoped and feeling as if I’d recently played a football game without pads.

Photo: A hard-earned shirt from the Honolulu Marathon, run five days after my auto accident.

[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]

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