I had just crashed through a guard-rail on that last curve, so now my car was plummeting to the bottom of the canyon, and quickly at that. Yet everything seemed to be in slow motion.
I guess this is how it goes, because I’ve read about things of this type, and a person’s life flashing before their eyes just before they cash in their final chips. I wasn’t literally ‘seeing’ anything like that, but I did think this would be a good time to look back on my life and contemplate the good and the bad, with the hope that it would kind of even out and make me an acceptable person in the end, which seemed to be looming a little quickly for my taste.
This was a rather odd thing, considering how slow my car was suddenly going as it creeped through mid-air, but with the headlights pointing downward now, illuminating the rushing river that was coldly blasting down there in the abyss.
I blame the logging truck, because I think that guy took the oncoming curve a little too fast, since his truck had tipped and he spilled a load of logs in my direction. I hadn’t expected him because they don’t do logging operations at night, but it was barely night with the sun having set about a half-hour prior, and I bet he was the last truck out for the day. Anxious to get home and tip back a beer, I guess, so that’s why the curve caught him by surprise. He was in a hurry.
I still remember seeing those logs coming at me. It startled me, to say the least. The truck had pitched over to its right side and was up on the right tires with not a single left tire touching the asphalt. The load of logs were about to close in on my windshield so I jerked to the left and sailed right through the guard-rail and over the cliff. It was kind of an automatic reaction.
There was one log in particular – a skinny former tree that seemed to follow my path and fall in behind my car, with one of the ends pointing toward me. I’d been at this for a while now, so I looked in my rear-view mirror to check its progress, and yep, there it was.
These were your standard pine trees that grow in abundance throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and even though pine is a lighter-than-average wood, when its still mostly a tree, it weighs maybe 2000 pounds or more.
This guy may have been a tree earlier, but the loggers had shaved off all the branches, so now it was in ‘log’ mode. Were it to make it to the sawmill, it would have been sliced up for all kinds of different uses, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to make it to the sawmill because I could see it in my rear-view mirror, just kind of hovering there, like the way my car was hovering with sagebrush and rocks slowly passing under it.
I could see some much larger rocks looming ahead, and I couldn’t help thinking there was a possibility my car would crash into one of them, ejecting me through the windshield, but then the pine log – all 2000 pounds of it – would crash through my rear window and ruin my upholstery.
Dammit, I’d just realized I’d spilled my coffee at this point too.
I really liked this car that I’d only gotten a month ago, so I was kind of upset at that logging truck driver for being in such a damned hurry and thus hurtling logs all over me as I hurled down a cliff into some rocks while getting coffee all over the Corinthian leather.
The rampaging river below was the “American River,” which gushed through California’s gold-rush country, where I was born and raised. I’d traveled this twisty highway several thousand times, some nights in various states of intoxication too, before I wised up and stopped drinking.
I think every day I’ve lived since the first time I pulled that off without getting killed has been kind of a borrowed day, and maybe this evening I was to pay it all off at once. I wasn’t sure at this point, but it was looking more likely by the moment.
The car was a late seventies Chrysler Cordoba, so it wouldn’t be a big loss being so old, but the previous owner had taken great care of it and a mint condition Cordoba like this one is a rarity.
I just like the look and feel of older cars if they’re in good condition, they take me back to the era they’re from and they give me a sense of the youthful exuberance I once felt all day, every day, but now only experience with the help of alcohol, or more recently, a vintage car to drive around in.
It occurred to me I shouldn’t really be so quick to judge the poor truck driver, because he was in the same pickle I was, but maybe still in the cab of the tumbling truck, strapped in by his seat-belt, just as I was strapped into my Cordoba. I never transited this terribly twisty highway that snakes through a canyon without a seat-belt on!
In my rear-view mirror I could see him, behind the log, sailing through the air with all four limbs flailing and a terrified look on his face. I would say it’s a bit of a silly look, kind of cartoonish really, and I’d have a good laugh over it but I also caught a glimpse of my own face in that mirror and it’s quite similar.
I was a bit surprised he hadn’t been seat-belted in, but I noticed that his right arm was drastically disjointed, so I think the belt just didn’t contain him correctly and he’d slipped out on impact with the guard-rail.
The logging truck driver looks like he might be Hispanic, and I’d put him at maybe fifty or thereabouts. He has a head of thick, wavy black hair, and a bushy moustache, so I think I’ll call him “Hector.”
It’s not that I like that name so much, or don’t, but I just think he looks like a Hector, and I bet I’m right about that.
I bet Hector has a wife of thirty-two years named Maria, and they have nine kids, all mostly grown-up except for dear, sweet little Sonia, who just turned fourteen and who will probably miss her dad the most, despite knowing him for fewer years than her mom and older siblings.
I felt a tear form for Hector as my eyes watered, and emotion swept over me when I thought about all those kids and grandkids and what about Maria, dammit, all sobbing over that guy floating in mid-air about a hundred feet behind my Cordoba.
Next Saturday they will put him in the ground, and they’ll all be there with extra hankies on reserve, and relatives upon more relatives, all dressed in the darkest, saddest, bleakest clothes they could dig up.
Maria will cry for weeks and be inconsolable until about November, and little Sonia will never really be the same person. She will grow about ten years older by New Years Day, and will speak about half the words she does now.
But wait, dammit, why was I thinking about this guy behind me when those rocks ahead are getting larger now, and I may or may not sail over them but it’s going to be close either way, and of course there’s that dammed river down there and all its gushing.
There’s a bridge that crosses the river at the bottom of this canyon, and on one side they have a restaurant and general store. I was hoping I wouldn’t plunge through the roof of either because I didn’t think anyone beyond Hector and I should be involved at this point.
It didn’t seem likely though, since we’d plunged over the edge a bit up the side of the canyon wall, maybe 500 feet or more away from the buildings.
So okay, good… rocks it shall be.
I’d had a song playing on the radio just before we took the plunge, and I was beginning to wonder what had happened to it. It was pure happenstance it happened to be playing at that moment because I usually listen to streaming music online, but I hadn’t gotten around to wiring up the old stereo in the Cordoba for that, so I had it set to a fuzzy radio station that played classic rock.
The song was Golden Earring’s ‘Radar Love,’ and I chuckled a little at the irony, because it’s basically about a guy who drives too fast, but all in the name of love, because “his baby is lonely and needs him now.”
Dammit, now I’m crying about Hector again, because Maria will be lonely.
I don’t have a ‘baby,’ because she divorced me about twelve years ago, which is okay because I deserved it and we’re still friends anyway, so who cares?
I just realized how much I’m going to miss her too, and she’s probably the only one because I’m kind of a loner, keeping to myself and avoiding social situations as much as possible.
I’m not shy – au contraire! – but I just feel like I’ve heard it all, seen it all and sometimes there’s just not anything new to impress me, and I know that’s a load of horseshit but I really can’t help feeling that way.
But I’m going to miss Danielle. That’s her name, Danielle, and I think it’s lovely because I’ve always liked the name Daniel because of the Elton John song, so having a ‘girl Daniel’ by my side was everything I’d ever wanted out of life.
Danielle had remarried a few years ago and even has two little kids now, courtesy of her new husband, Mitch, who I’m actually friends with, and yes I know that’s really unusual.
Mitch is a cool guy and get this, he even makes a living as a logging truck driver in the area, so the only thing that would have made this whole bit even weirder would be if it was Mitch in my rear-view mirror with a disjointed right arm and terrified look on his face, instead of Hector.
But I’m glad it’s not Mitch, because even though I’ve come to respect Hector very much now and I like him a lot, Danielle would be extra sad if both Mitch and me ended up dashed on the rocks that are, oh gosh… getting really close now.
The river isn’t super deep — maybe only 15-20 feet or so, and the river rocks are jagged, pointy and huge. I’ve gone white-water rafting on this river, which is incredibly fun but also a challenge because the water moves fast.
My poor Cordoba was about to be dashed apart on them and I know all the little chunks of me and the car are going to get swept downstream immediately. Authorities will be picking up pieces over the next three days, for about a quarter-mile stretch.
I wondered if there would be a glorious fireball, but I’ve been told they only do that in movies, plus I was down to less than a third of a tank, so there wouldn’t be much to burn. Probably just a huge crashing sound, followed by another crashing sound seconds later as Hector and his truck arrive, with all those logs flying all over the place.
I bet the logging truck has a pretty good tank full of diesel, but I don’t think we’re getting any fireball out of that, because Mitch once told me that diesel fuel doesn’t explode as easily as regular gas. That conversation took place when Danielle invited me over for their oldest kid’s 1st birthday, which is the first time Mitch and I really hit it off.
I told you he was cool, because what guy is down with his current wife inviting her ex to their kid’s party? But he was so confident, he just wanted to make Danielle happy, so when she invited some of her friends, of which I happened to be one, he was fine with that.
Come to think of it, I’m really going to miss him too.
I wasn’t sure if the river was getting closer to me, or if I was getting closer to the river, which is the kind of thing that people apparently think of as they plummet into an abyss.
You’d think you’d be thinking of heaven, and forgiveness, and wrongs you’ve done and how sorry you are, and finally, you’re going to see angels! ..but nope.
You think about your coffee spilling and what you see right in front of you, which in my case was this big river, now rushing toward me (or me to it?) faster than I thought, and hey, I’m about to hit it, and… what about Hector, is he close behind? Oh yes, there he is, and the log too, which will likely take my head off now, so it doesn’t matter if I was too lazy to wash my hair this morning because coroners have seen it all.
There’s a bit of regret over not having done this or that, and a twinge of sorrow for all the wrong choices but not much because there’s just not much time left, and I hope I see everyone again someday, but who really knows, because at the moment it’s just a lot of rocks and rushing water, and it’s everywhere alla-sudden and,
Oh my god, Danielle I love you. Take care of her, Mitch, buddy…