Near death and pivotal moments
“You should be dead.”You could probably say that to anyone teen-age or older. Almost everyone I know has, at one time or the other, dodged the bullet. So to speak.It might have been a near-miss auto encounter – that’s the most likely – or various outdoor, health or other close encounters that might have ended badly.One of mine was the 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 “Bullitt.” The film was released in 1968 and a favorite for Brian and me – mostly because of the car-chase sequence. 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 speed it caused his car to leave the ground. Sparks, flew and McQueen maintained control while his antagonists all crashed. What Brian and I called the “McQueen Mile” was a tree-lined, winding road that contained a steep, narrow bridge crossing a culvert.We reasoned that if we achieved proper velocity in Brian’s old Chevy Impala we could get airborne just like McQueen. After several attempts, we found that 65 mph was the correct speed.Often, after a night of high school fun, we would head to Elm Street to get air on the McQueen Mile. We did this until we blew-out a front tire upon landing.There was only one section of the road that wasn’t lined with trees, rocks or other hard substances that could crush or flip a car. Just after 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 and lost control. The car was on two wheels for a while – one of them deflated – and passed between two large trees and entered the vacant lot. When it hit the mud it began to spin. My door flew open and I was thrown out. I came to my senses with Brian standing over me asking if I was OK and telling me I was covered with mud. Had we a spare tire we might have changed it and driven away. The car, like me, was muddy but otherwise alright. It wasn’t the only time someone could have said to me: “You should be dead.”A life is full of pivotal moment. Moments – life-threatening or not – where bad decisions or bad luck can have far-reaching ramifications. They serve to remind you that fate is a crap-shoot.Had I died on the McQueen Mile, been born with different genetics, married my high-school sweetheart (sentencing myself to a life in my hometown), gone skiing with my two buddies who died in an avalanche, not been lucky with many close calls in my vehicle and on bicycles, things might have been different.Of course, pivotal moments occur not just to individuals and families, but to whole counties and societies. This nation has been on the brink of a pivotal moment for several years now.How we, as a country and society, behave in the next decade will set the course for what this world will become long after most of us have gone. We simply must alter our course.We have diminished our standing in the world as the moral authority and leader in human rights. Rather, we have divided the world into “us-vs.-them” and polarized our own country. We have only lately, begrudgingly, entered the battle to fight the cause of global warming. Along with that we have turned the political debate from the discussion of ideas and philosophies into mean-spirited character assassination and fear mongering.That’s the bad news.The good news is that, miraculously, we have managed to dodge the trees and have ended up relatively unscathed. Perhaps now is the time to pick ourselves out of the mud and rebuild the bridge of world opinion and be an example of a nation with both military might and social sensitivity. At this pivotal moment, let’s restore political civility and open discourse like the great nation we are. Or, to quote my buddy Brian of the McQueen Mile days: “Maybe we shouldn’t do that anymore.”Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN TV, heard on KOA radio, and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com.Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at Backcountrymagazine.com.