It was back in my 19-year-old days, when I knew everything and needed no advice from anyone; definitely not my father. I was commuting to college, post baseball career, and other than school, my main priority, in addition to getting into extracurricular shenanigans (let the reader understand), was working. At this time I worked for J.C. Penney, an anchor for the North Park Mall, only I wasn’t in the store; instead up on the hill at the TBA pumping gas. This just happened to be the coldest, snowiest winter that southern Missouri had seen in a generation and I was working outside. This was also the day of full service gas stations and some customers just didn’t understand. “Sonny, could you put some air in my tires?” “No, ma’am. I’m sorry. Due to the fact that it’s zero degrees outside, our air is frozen.” “I don’t understand; how does air freeze?” I went on to explain about the moisture in the line and how it would freeze up at certain temperatures and when that happened it was impossible to put air into her tires. I finally convinced her. “Well then, could you make sure to wash all my windows?”
One particular morning, before heading off to Joplin for school, Dad pulled me aside. “Son, the weather is supposed to be bad all day; sleet, snow, frigid temperatures; and by the time you get off work tonight, the roads will be dangerous. I don’t want you driving on HH highway on your way home tonight. Take I-44. It should be cleared.” “Okay Dad.” I had learned long ago that even though it was much easier and a shorter drive taking HH and I could have made a good argument in my favor; agreeing with Dad was the best course of action. Of course, agreeing was one thing, but I had no intention of following his advice. I, after all, was in full control of my own destiny.
When school was out I drove to work and had a wonderful day of pumping gas, washing windows and not putting air into people’s tires; and in between automobiles, standing in the little booth with the space heater trying to stay warm. When the last car pulled away and I’d shut down all the pumps, I loaded up in my Opel 1900 (Julie’s least favorite automobile) and began the trip home; Dad’s warning still ringing in my ears.
I drove by the school on my way to HH highway (Surely you didn’t think I was going to do the smart thing did you?) and the roads indeed were not only snow-covered, but where the snow had melted during the day was a layer of ice; frozen again when the sun went down. Some call it black ice, but whatever it is, its slick! Really slick. I was having fun fish tailing down the road, testing my driving skills, when I finally reached the prohibited highway and turned east. For some reason I thought that the 55 miles per hour speed limit was in effect regardless of road conditions.
As I reached 45 miles per hour, the car began to spin. Around and around I went; with no amount of steering wheel corrections able to change the trajectory of the car. From the inside of the car all I could see was a white blur flash in front of my eyes as I was whipped around time and time again. If you’ve seen Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and recall the scene on the highway, “You’re going the wrong way!” then you have a good idea of what was going on inside my car. I was definitely going the wrong way! If there had been a passenger beside me, he may have seen the face of Satan sitting next to him, but as it was I was all alone. How many times I spun around is impossible to say as I was moving at a rather high rate of speed. It would have made a great amusement park ride! Finally there was a big thump and the car came to an immediate halt. I was in a ditch; waist deep in a drift of snow. The car had come to rest, interestingly, within a couple of feet of a telephone pole. (“Son…the roads will be dangerous!” Ha!).
Now I was in a predicament. How to get the car out of the ditch? I couldn’t call Dad (pre-cell phone days) and suffer the fate of eating crow. I tried rocking the car back and forth, but it was buried and that didn’t last long. I began walking down the deserted road, looking for a house with the lights still on; indicating someone being at home and awake. I finally remembered that a friend of mine’s brother-in-law lived on HH highway. I walked the remaining distance to his house (not dressed for the weather as I never anticipated this happening; I was so smart!). Gary was home and he threw some chains in his Jeep and we drove down to my car. After a few minutes I was hooked up and he pulled me out of the ditch. I thanked him profusely and before he drove away he said, “You should have driven home on I-44. It’s much safer!”
As I drove the remaining miles home, I thought of Dad’s advice and was aggravated that he was proven right; again. I thought of what I was going to say to him when he asked, because I knew he would ask which way I had come home. I also knew I couldn’t tell him the truth. Thanks to Gary and his Jeep, I didn’t have to. He did ask and I did lie. I’m not sure he ever knew the true story of what happened that night. What is it about 19 year old boys? There isn’t anything they don’t know!