Coming home from the grocery store this week, the traffic was erratic. I could see young people moving over toward my lane in traffic as they were looking down on their phones; going so fast I tensed up wondering if they were aware of the cars around them; and passing me – immediately moving into my lane, only to stop suddenly to make a right turn. I’m not finished describing the recklessness of the other drivers’ actions, but you get the picture.
The immaturity, recklessness, lack of responsibility, and disrespect by young drivers is not anything new. When I was a teenager, and even into my twenties and thirties, I knew that old people were not in car crashes very often, but it was my belief that they caused car crashes. It made little difference that I engaged in six car crashes in one month in 1968, and not one of them had anything to do with a person older than twenty-five.
During May of in 1968, the month I graduated from high school, I was driving my employer’s Econoline van (we called it the Weenie Wagon) from Vail to Denison on U.S. Highway 30 when a gust of wind picked up the empty vehicle and threw it in the ditch. I was okay, but a little shaken up. It was my first encounter with what we used to call accidents. The Weenie Wagon was okay, as well. It landed right-side up in the ditch. I caught a ride back to Vail and Dick Blair retrieved the Weenie Wagon.
Not long after that, a small group of us were sitting in a car at the top of the hill where Vail’s park was once located. We had the headlamps off, of course, because we were drinking beer. All of a sudden, a car without headlights on came around the bend and ran into the front of us. The four in our car, and four in their car, all got out to see if everyone was okay. While the drivers checked out the damage (if there was any), three in our car took our beer and went east. Three in the other car, took beer out of their car (even though they were all over twenty-one) and went west over a fence. No one was hurt. I wasn’t driving; Herbie was. No old people (over the age of 25) were involved.
I didn’t go to my junior/senior prom. Rather than get dressed up to sit around watching people dance, three or four of us got some beer and went to a party. When the party began to break up, someone said that another party was going strong and that we should move to that party northwest of Carroll. I was driving my stepfather’s car, an ugly gray Chrysler with transmission controls on the dashboard. We were to follow the car which held the people who knew where the party was. They were traveling much too fast, but knowing that I could have been a race car driver, I kept right on their tail. That is, until we hit a curve in the road. I rolled the car right up to the fence that separated the ditch from an auto junkyard. The other car came back to get us, but I had to stay with the damaged Chrysler that was lying on its top.
The highway trooper didn’t show up until the sun began to come up over the horizon. His name was Larry Long, and I had to wait a “Long” time for him to arrive (pun intended). He gave me a citation for ‘failure to have control of vehicle’ and had me stay by his car until a wrecker could pull the car from the ditch. He knew what he was doing. When the wrecker brought the car upright, a full can of beer fell from it. “Is that yours?” He asked. “I don’t know; it could have been in the ditch.” He didn’t fall for it and gave me another citation for ‘possession of alcohol by a minor.’ After the tow truck drove away, I asked trooper Long if he could give me a ride home. He said he was off duty now and that troopers don’t drive people home. Fortunately, a guy by the name of Jim came by. He was in my class but dropped out a year before we graduated. He was driving to work in Denison at the beef slaughter plant. He gave me a ride home to Vail, which was on his way.
I walked into the house and my stepfather was sitting at the kitchen table. I told him I had wrecked the car and his face turned red. His lip hung open like a pissed off bull. I was scared to death. But he kept his cool. We did have another car. Eventually, the insurance company had the Chrysler towed to Vail. It sat there for a day or two before Quant’s Junkyard bought it and parked it about three feet on the other side of the fence from where it landed after I had rolled it. There were no old people involved in my prom night adventure.
It wasn’t long after rolling the car into the ditch when Kuemper High School held its Baccalaureate Celebration for seniors. After Mass in the gym, the school fed us breakfast. You know it was bad when I can still remember it. Upon moving the plastic-tasting sausages and eggs from our mouths to our stomachs, we rushed to the parking lot to pile into cars and head down to a farm north of Dedham where one student had a keg party.
After a day of drinking, I realized I had no way to get home. Mud and Pitter (not their real names) said they would take me home. As a matter-of-fact, Mud let me drive his car. It was a nice car. Somewhere along the way home I failed to navigate the car properly from going west to going south and ended up in the west ditch. Mud decided he would take over driving from that point. The car was not damaged. There were no old people in the way at any time.
I can no longer remember the other two incidents, but I’m sure I was a passenger in each incident. It’s safe to say no old people were involved in either case.
Yeah, I see now how old people cause crashes. Youthful drivers and their attitudes and actions require old people to drive defensively, and it’s that defensive driving that causes crashes involving young people who just may be irresponsible, disrespectful, irreverent, self-centered, and reckless.
If I cause a crash, it will probably involve a round-a-bout. I hate going full circle.
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