Those of you who read my stories might remember some of my crazy, near-death stunts I survived over the years. Most of them weren’t by design, but one of my wives told me that my predilection for being accident-prone would be my undoing. I had my share of snake bites, runaway horses, and pitbull attacks not of my doing. On the other hand, motorcycle crashes, falls from boats, and driving my boat into a hurricane might qualify as pushing my limits a bit far. I tend to think my daredevil acrobatics and racing skills redefined my limits. In my own mind at least. By my count, I’ve used maybe eight of my nine lives, depending on how you count them. I present another story of cheating death by inches. Again, this one not being my fault.
During college break on New Year's Eve, 1973, my best friend, Steve Craig, and I explored the Dallas’ downtown nightclub scene and concluded we would revisit it soon. After closing the clubs, I was driving us home to north Dallas in an orange Volkswagen Beetle. I know some of you remember that car. I couldn’t speed because Central Expressway stayed a bumper-to-bumper, six-lane disaster 24 hours a day. That meant blinding headlights from many cars, billboards, and highway signs severely diminished my night vision. I knew our turnoff for LBJ Freeway was near, but I didn’t know how near. I stayed in the right lane, watching a carload of drunks swerving back and forth in the left lane.
That’s when Steve cried out, “Turn here.”
He meant for me to take a right onto the exit for the LBJ Loop. At that point in time, my Beetle was tooling along its merry way at 70 mph, with a right turn onto a tight cloverleaf maybe 100 feet ahead of it, which goes by fast at 70 mph. I turned a hard right, downshifted a gear, and gently touched my brakes, hoping the skinny tires would hold through the curve. Nope. My lightweight car held for maybe 150 feet before that dreadful sound of rubber sliding on pavement started. The steering wheel went soft, losing all response. About that time, I went into a slow-motion, "I am going to die," sequence you see in movies. Yes, that is real, and I’ve been in them several times. Fortunately, I haven’t died yet.
I reflexively pushed the clutch and brake pedals to the floor as we slid toward large metal barriers along the outside of the road. Steve grabbed a handle and pushed his feet down, hoping to find nonexistent brake pedals. I had the car turned about 45 degrees with the tires turned all the way to the right screeching WE ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE IT at the rail rushing toward my front corner. I knew God saved drunks in wrecks because they were so loose that they rolled with the flow. Ten feet before the bumper kissed that rail, I relaxed to die and pulled my feet off the clutch and gas pedals. The transmission inexplicably grabbed the tires and the tires grabbed asphalt. A foot or so before hitting that rail, the car took a hard right across the road. Still going too fast. I turned the wheel to the left. Sliding started again as I braked hard. The rail on the other side of the road waited for me with a death smile. Still in slow motion. I pulled my feet off the pedals. The transmission grabbed the wheels again, throwing the car back to the left. I fishtailed several more times before the vehicle became manageable. Real-time returned.
I slowly finished the cloverleaf and pulled to the side of the road.
Steve and I sat speechless for 30 seconds, barely breathing. We looked wide-eyed at each other, knowing we should be dead in a small car that smashed through the rail and rolled many times.
“How did you do that?” Steve asked.
“I don’t know. Reflexes from racing. Next time give me more warning.”
That leaves maybe one more life for me. Therefore, I have slowed down as I’ve grown older and haven’t tempted death for maybe fifteen years. I’ll wait for the real one.