Biff America column: Life is made of pivotal moments
September 8, 2017
"You're lucky to be alive."
Most of us, at one time, have heard those words referring to either surviving poor choices, bad genetics, vagrancies of providence or the misdeeds of others.
The 'McQueen Mile'
For me, one such event was a night on the Steve McQueen mile; I was 17. Brian Powers and I called Elm Street Extension, a windy road in an adjacent town, the "McQueen Mile." The name came from Steve McQueen's movie "Bullit." The film was released in 1968 and a favorite of ours, mostly because of the car-chases.
The hero was getting chased through the streets of San Francisco, and, to escape his pursuers, the stunt driver hit humps in the road at such speeds it caused his car to leave the ground. Sparks flew and McQueen maintained control while his antagonists crashed.
The McQueen Mile was a tree-lined, winding road that contained a steep and narrow bridge over a culvert. Our goal was to use that bridge to get airborne, in Brian's old Chevy Impala, like McQueen did in "Bullit."
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We tried various speeds to get airborne and eventually found that 60 mph was the optimum velocity.
Often, after a night of high school fun, we would head to Elm Street to get air on the McQueen Mile. We did this successfully until the time we blew out a front tire upon landing.
Just past the bridge, there was a site that had been cleared many years before for a proposed factory. It left an empty swath which in the spring would be full of mud and litter.
I'm not sure if the car had seat belts; I know I wasn't wearing one.
We hit the bridge, got air, landed hard, flatted the front tire and lost control. We were on two wheels — one of them deflated — as we passed between two large trees. When the car hit the mud it began to spin. My door flew open and I was thrown out. I came to my senses miraculously unscathed but covered with mud.
It wasn't the only time someone could have said to me: "You're lucky to be alive."
Our lives are full of pivotal moments. Moments — life-threatening or not — where good or poor choices, bad or dumb luck can have far-reaching ramifications.
Had I died on the McQueen Mile, been born with different genetics, gone skiing with my two buddies who were killed in an avalanche or not been lucky with many close calls in my vehicles, on skis and bicycles, then things might have been different. But here I am alive and blessed to be so.
As a young person it is easy to fall under the false assumption that you are immortal. But as we get older, if our stupidity has not killed us, then we try to extend that life we once took for granted by seeking the council of health experts.
Life expectancy in the early 1900s was 44; now it is 78. Obviously, much of the longer life has to do with preventive health care and the advances of science and medicine.
The sensible listen to and follow the advice of those whose job it is to prolong the lives of folks like us. We get our heart and colon, blood and brains checked, exercise, eat well and have designated drivers.
Earth needs a doctor
By the same token it is time we think of our planet as not a hunk of rock but as a living thing (like our own bodies) that will either live a long life or suffer an unnecessarily shortened demise; all according by how we treat it.
The first step might be to acknowledge that what we do and how we behave has an impact. The second would be to, as we do with our own bodies, take the advice of those whose job and education qualify them to advise us the best way to keep this amazing and beautiful living rock healthy.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book, "Mind, Body, Soul," is available at local shops and bookstores and online.
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