ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

 

LEARNING AT 100 MPH

Deep down in my heart I probably knew it was wrong. At the very least, I knew it was dangerous. But I did it anyway because . . . well, because I was 17, male and stupid.

Or is that redundant?

I’m not sure whose idea it was – probably one of those "spontaneous combustion" things that seem to erupt whenever teenage boys have time on their hands and car keys in their pockets. But somehow Jim, Dave and I decided that we should see if we could hit 100 miles per hour driving our respective cars down Mueller Park Road, a narrow, twisting, winding road that snaked down a mountain canyon to the foothills above the city in which we lived.

As was so often the case in those days of raging hormones and exploding testosterone, we tried to do a dumb thing the smart way. We decided to make our attempt late at night when: (a) fewer cars would be on the road; (b) headlights would give us advance notice of approaching vehicles; and (c) Turner Burningham, the local police officer famous for always being in the wrong place at the wrong time (or was that the right place at the right time?) to catch teenage miscreants, would be in bed.

The limitations of late night visibility never occurred to us. We had all driven that road so many times before (Mueller Park was the ideal place for post-date . . . uh . . . "conversations") that we honestly believed we could drive it blindfolded.

Which, come to think of it, is sort of what we were doing.

Although my memory of the exact details is a little fuzzy, I’m pretty sure that if any of us actually hit 100 it was probably Jim. He drove a white Thunderbird with a huge engine, and he was widely known and respected as the craziest driver in the school (which is sort of like being the wackiest guest on an episode of Jerry Springer – I mean, how can you tell?). I probably came in second, if only because my "Dragon" (a ’62 Cadillac complete with fins and a ghastly purple coat of paint) was faster than Dave’s "Dog" (a Dodge of undetermined age and model).

Of course, Dave’s kid brother on his banana bike was faster than Dave’s "Dog."

I don’t remember how many times we tried for the record – it seems like several times, but these things have a way of running together in my aging mind – but I do remember the night we stopped trying. I had stayed home from an activity with my church youth group and was catching up on some homework when my friend and neighbor, Renae, called, sobbing. At first I couldn’t understand what she was saying. Finally I heard and understood words that chilled me right to the bone: "Jean . . . is dead."

Eventually I learned that the activity had been in Mueller Park. A group of young people was walking home when somebody came barreling down that narrow, twisting, winding road way too fast and hit Renae’s best friend Jean from behind. It was a tragedy, one that could have been avoided if only . . . if only . . .

My friends and I never raced down Mueller Park Road again. It wasn’t something that we talked about or considered thoughtfully or mutually agreed to. It just didn’t have any appeal anymore. Life has a way of doing that to us. It teaches us lessons – sometimes painfully. Then it’s up to us to choose whether or not we will learn the lessons and adjust our behavior accordingly. Sometimes behavior modification happens naturally, without even thinking. But sometimes we have to stop and take inventory of what we have learned through our experiences, and give due consideration to the possibility that that we might have to put on the brakes.

Even if we’re going 100 miles per hour.

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--- © Joseph Walker

http://www.sfpnn.com/joseph_walker1.htm
valuespeak@msn.com

 

Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com.