Bar talk

I was still driving my 1969 Pontiac GTO, so it had to been the early 80’s. One night I ran across my neighbor Rico. Rico, to me, has the look of a math professor. He’s a slender built man, 5’7’’ or so with a receding curly hairline. For years he drove a VW micro bus pickup. Rico doesn’t have the look of an athlete, but he’s ran the Boston marathon in a very respectable time. As a downhill skier he can hold his own against anyone at the Marquette Mountain ski hill. For a quiet, unassuming man, he’s pretty solidly built. One Thursday night in the early 80’s he told me he had a friend that created a downhill ski for people with disabilities and asked me if I want to be the first to test it out? I said sure! Rico then stopped me, looked me in the eyes and said, ‘’is this bar talk, or are you serious?’’

You’ve done it, I’ve done it, everyone’s done it. Hi! It’s been a long time! Let’s get together! I’ll call you! Sure I’ll come to your party! Etc. etc. etc. But never do it. Rico called it bar talk, but it can happen anytime or anywhere, even church. I’ll never forget when Rico looked me in the eyes and said that. I paused, looked him back into the eyes and responded, ‘’I don’t know if I’ll be able to operate the ski, but I’ll look at it. If I can I will.’’ ‘’Ok what are you doing tomorrow?’’ ‘’looking at a prototype ski?’’ ‘’Can you come over at 10 (am)?’’ Rico’s mother lived next door to my house on east Ridge street. ‘’How about noon?’’ ‘’Ok.’’

The next day, Friday, at noon I’m next door meeting the man who made his own downhill ski for people with disabilities. It wasn’t what I was expecting. It looked like one of those plastic sleds you had when you were a kid that could fit two people on it with the plastic hands that always broke, except this sled was solid. It’s main sled part was made of fiberglass rather than plastic, so it strong and solid. It had a roll bar just behind a seat back that had more seatbelts and straps to tie you down then you’d ever need. Covering the sled part was a nylon fabric with a zipper down the length. Once you were sitting inside the sled and strapped down, you could pull the zipper up so your body was covered. I guess it would be like a kayak. It was to keep the snow off your legs and body so you didn’t become wet and cold. I looked at the sled for less than two seconds and knew I was going down Marquette Mountain in it.

Rico and his friend lifted me out of my wheelchair and lowered me into the sled. They strapped me in place, which felt very confining, and I tested it out on the living room floor. We didn’t move the sled across the living room floor, the sled had two metal runners bolted to the bottom side that were very sharp. I just moved my arms around as if I was trying to turn the sled going down the ski hill. My first impression was this sled was going to fly down the ski hill in a straight line very well and very fast. To steer the sled, the inventor had made these two mini ski poles. They looked like regular ski poles, except they were only 8 to 10’’ long. My hands are paralyzed, so we decided we could duct tape them to my hands. Add a hat and mittens, and I was ready to go skiing.

The next day, Saturday (it was either my birthday or the day before, making it 1982 or 1983), I meet Rico and his friend, the inventor, at the Marquette Mountain ski hill. It was raining slightly, so the snow was hard packed and going to be fast. This was before global warming, so the snow in Marquette stayed on the ground well into April and May. My birthday is April 17. This was the last weekend for skiing at the hill. Come Monday, the ski season was over until next winter.

To get up the hill, we decided to have a worker at the ski hill pull me up the hill behind a snowmobile. The ski sled had a 20 foot nylon strap that could be fastened to the front of the sled or the rear. They hooked it to the front and pulled me up the hill. Before we left the bottom of the hill for the first time, Rico asked me what hill we should go down first? My junior year in high school, before the accident, I had taken a skiing class. It did give me a little familiarity of the different runs at the ski hill, so when Rico suggested going down Rocket run first, I knew what it meant, the steepest fastest run on the hill. My head was thinking Ridge run, a longer, slower and much safer hill to start with, but my mouth opened and ‘’sure?’’ came out. Rico looked at me, then told the guy on the snowmobile to bring us to the top of Rocket run.

At the top of the Rocket, things look so much smaller at the bottom of the hill. People looked like ants and  the ski lodge looked like a small cabin. Rico took the nylon strap off the front of the sled and fastened it to the rear. He then wrapped the end of the 20 foot strap around his waist and tied it secure. It wasn’t coming off of him even if he fell. Rico looked at me like it was last chance to chicken out, then a gentle little push and off I went.

Oh crap! Right away the speed was amazing. I started down the hill at an angle, my thought was to zig zag down the hill like a skier, but that plan ended in about 3 seconds. As soon as Rico tried to slow me down, the ski sled, from the drag on the nylon strap, went straight … down the hill and it wasn’t going to turn. I don’t know how fast a skier can ‘’bomb’’ down Rocket, but how ever fast that is I was now doing it in a prototype ski sled. After 5 seconds I didn’t even want to try turning anymore. Now I was hoping no one crossed my path because I’m not stopping until the bottom of the hill. Every little bump in the hill launched me 5 to 10 feet through the air. When the sled landed snow flew in my face blocking my view for a second or two. You’ll never believe how fast we were flying down the hill.

Scared? Excited? I’m thinking about the beginning of the TV show, the 6 million dollar man when they show the spacecraft tumbling out of control. The pilot’s body is torn to pieces so they turn him into the six million dollar man with new legs and arm. If my sled looses it and starts to tumble, it’s going to feel just like that spacecraft crashing to me.

About 2/3 down the hill, after flying through the air and landing, I wipe the snow from my goggles. Oh crap! We’re heading right for the ski lodge and people at full speed. I try to put my ski poles into the ground, but all that did was to cause snow to fly up into my face. If you’ve never been to Marquette Mountain, the ski lodge has very large plate glass windows on the ski hill side so you can sit inside and look at the hill. At the speed we were going and the short distance left to the lodge, we, both Rico and I were about to go right through the window. That’s after we ran over a few people standing there with their skis on.

My father owns the ski hill. I can already hear him bitching how much the large plate glass window is going to cost him to replace. It’s weird what goes through your mind just before you crash. After just missing two young girls that were able to just get out of the way of me and my sled, I can feel Rico slowing us down. Again I try pushing my tiny little ski poles into the ground, but it’s more show then anything. I could have said no to going down Rocket first. What the hell was I thinking? This is going to hurt!

Rico, the world class skier that he is suddenly turned into an anchor. I couldn’t tell you if we stopped 10 feet or 20 feet before crashing through the large plate glass window, my trying to stop with the tiny little poles was throwing so much snow into my face, but coming to a stop because of Rico stopping from behind rather than the sudden impact from a glass window from the front was a relief. Five seconds earlier I had no doubt in my mind we were going through the window of the lodge, no doubt what so ever. We were still going that fast at the bottom of the hill.

Right away Rico skis up to me. ‘’Are you OK?’’ ‘’Sure, but let’s try a different hill next?’’ being a man, I didn’t want Rico to know I just had the crap scared out of me. After a couple times down Ridge Run and Snowfield we called it a day. Then into the bar for one of Whitney’s world famous bloody marys , and it was another fun day.

The next year I bought my own sled. Of course Rocket was the first hill we went down with it, again the same scary oh crap we’re going through the plate glass window ride. With the new sled, we used the chairlift to get up the hill all the time. We had found with the prototype sled we could use the chairlift. When it was our turn to get on the chairlift, the chairlift attendant would stop the chairlift and help Rico lift me on the seat. Using the nylon strap, Rico would tie me on the chairlift. At the top the same thing in reverse. After a while, Rico and the chairlift guy got so good at it they quit stopping the chairlift. They’d only slow it down a little. I skied for 3 more winters. Then after going down the small moguls I crashed and burned popping something in my right shoulder. For the next 3 months I’d wake up at 6 am to take a prescription strength motrin so I could painfully get out of bed. I was going to college at the time, which meant transferring out of bed at 8am into my wheelchair, into my shower chair, back into my wheelchair, back into bed to get dressed, back into the wheelchair, into my car to go to college, back into the wheelchair at college, back into my car to go home and back into my wheelchair once home. That was if I didn’t go anywhere but college. So you can add in a few more transfers a few nights a week.

The first 3 months were painful like you’d never believe. I use my shoulders for everything. The next 3 months it was ‘’just’’ some what painful. After that injury, I only skied twice. It wasn’t fun anymore. The thought of hurting my shoulders was too much. But for three years, it was great. Thanks Rico. Great memories!

Angels on the Mountain

After another fun weekend up at Kip’s house in Pine Grove CA, I’m driving the Mint Julep (motor home) back home. Congratulations Amanda, Kip’s daughter-in-law. Amanda graduated from college. It’s after 8 pm on highway 205 I’m coming up on the Altamont pass and it’s windy as hell. Altamont pass has hundreds of those couple hundred foot high white wind turbines. Tonight they’re making electricity. The wind is pushing the Mint Julep all over the place like it’s a match box toy. All of a sudden it sounded like a door suddenly opened. I quickly look towards the doors to see if they opened, but no. I usually dead bolt them so they can’t open. They have in the past. Looking around, I spot the source of the loud sound of wind. The front passenger side windshield is about to fall out.

Since I use a wheelchair, the motor home had to be modified. Along with the wheelchair lift, they cut a huge hole in the side for a door so I could wheel into the motor home off the lift. They also removed a few interior walls so I could access the bathroom and bedroom. The motor home is 36 feet long coach on a Ford F53 drive train. That basically means it’s a lot of weight on a not so heavy duty frame. With the removal of some interior support structure and the new door, the entire cabin flexes like you would never believe. The cabin and frame of the motor home have been bent since near day one. Strangers and even the police have pulled me over to tell me something is wrong or broken, because the cabin is leaning so far over in the wind. A few years ago I did add airbags on the rear to add strength to the springs which helped a lot, but it was like repairing only one hole in your water bucket when you have more. It’s just the wrong motor home to use for my needs, but she’s all I have and I’ll never sell her.

The coach flexing doesn’t bother me while driving the motor home, but it does cause the front windshields to come loose from the window frame. When it became too bad and the wind noise from the gaps becomes too loud, I had a shop reinstall the window back into place. It was getting close to time for that to happen again. But before I did that, I wanted to strengthen the cabin. I was talking it over with Kip about adding an angle iron frame inside the coach to add support or strength to the cabin that was removed when I bought it. It’s time to finally try fixing it property, or at least try.

It looked like I went on one trip too many. Oh crap! Story of my life. I was about 5 miles away from the top of the Altamont pass. There on the top was a truckers parking area where truckers could pull over and check their brakes. Can I make it there? The top corner of the huge windshield which is probably 5 feet by 6 feet is moving away from the frame by 4 to 5 inches. Should I pull over right now before it falls completely out? That would suck!

I slow down to 40 mph and with one eye on the windshield and one eye on the road, I drive on. Five miles is a long drive when you’re holding your breath. God it was windy. Every gust of wind looked and felt like it was going to be the one to knock the window out. Finally the exit to the parking area, then slowly over on to the gravel parking lot trying to avoid the deeper pot holes, I stop and put the Mint Julep in park. A call to Kip to let him know I’m not home but safe anyway, and that I’m sleeping on the top of the Altamont pass for the night. Kip offered to drive the hour long drive to help me, but I told him I’ll see if I could find a trucker in the morning first. Truckers are usually pretty helpful. A couple of years ago I was driving to Florida to watch the space shuttle take off on its last flight. Just before the trip I had bought this device that would constantly read the air pressure of all the six tires and radio the psi to a screen on the dash of the motor home. It wasn’t until then I found out I had a few tires that didn’t hold the proper amount of air. Every night a couple of tires would lose air. In the mornings if I was going to drive over 40 mph that day, I’d find a truck stop and I’d ask a trucker to put air in the two or three tires that kept loosing air. The tires didn’t go flat and during the daytime they’d hold the 100 pounds of air pressure all day long. It was just at night they’d lose 30 to 40 psi and only 30 to 40 psi. On that trip, I stopped at seven tire shops and not one place fixed them. Most thought I was crazy when I said they only lost 30 to 40 psi at night, but would hold air all day long when I was driving. It wasn’t until I when to the Jackson Tire shop in Jackson California that they found out the problem. The wheel weights on the tires where screwing things up. They replaced them and things got better. Anyway, I bet I asked over 30 truckers to put air in my motor home tires on that trip – all but one helped me out, very nice guys and girls.

Since I’m parked for the night on the top of Altamont pass , I turn on the 36’’ HD TV. I have a direct TV satellite dish on the top of the motor home that automatically finds the satellites with the push of a single button. Oh course there’s only crap on TV. I only watch TV when there isn’t anything better to do, and I hardly ever watch it during the daytime. I’m not going to turn 90 and have my memories of my life sitting in front of a TV pushing a remote control button. I do have the financial channel on during the daytime, but I pay my bills by knowing what’s happening in world’s financial markets.

The morning arrives and it’s time to solve my problem. Today’s problem is to find someone that will secure my windshield so I can drive back to Morgan Hill, where I store my motor home. Looking out the motor home’s windows, I see an AAA tow truck pass through. It seems to pass through every 30 minutes or so. It’s not going to be my first choice, but it’s an option. Looking around, there are several semis trucks parked nearby, so it’s time to see what can be done. I grab a roll of black gaffers tape (a better quality duct tape) utility knife and off I go. I spend about 20 minutes looking at all the truckers. About half the truckers that get out of their trucks are looking at their trucks and trailer’s tires then getting back in and leaving. Picking one of them to put duct tape on my windshield isn’t going to be easy. The other half that get out of their trucks take a quick piss then they’re gone. Again, it’s not going to be easy. It’s 9 o’clock in the morning and I have all day.

It was at least another 20 minutes or more before I asked my first trucker for help. He wasn’t checking his tires, so I had to wait a few minutes. He told me he had an appointment to get too, so I told him no problem. Trucks are coming and going every 10 to 20 minutes, so I take my time. Finally I ask my 2nd trucker. He, Tim, looked like he was in a hurry, but agreed to help. I showed him where the windshield was falling out and asked him to put strips of duct tape on it. Tim ripped off a piece of black duct tape about 12’’ long and put it on the window and chassis. ‘’Tim, please make the strips of duct tape longer. I have to make it to San Jose.’’ After about 6 strips of tape, Tim looked like he was ready to quit. 6 strips of tape would have ripped loose before I left the gravel part of the parking lot. ‘’Please, If you have time, the more tape the safer I’ll feel driving on the freeway?’’ Then the tape started coming off the roll. 2 minutes later and twice as much tape on the motor home,’’ I can’t reach any higher.’’ ’’ OK Tim, thank you, I really appreciate it.’’ He handed me back my black roll of duct tape and off he went.

It was a great start, and Tim was wonderful for helping, but I wasn’t going to start driving on the freeway yet. That ½ of a front windshield cost a $1000. I wheeled around to the other side of the motor home to see if I could find another trucker to help me and there they were the angels on the mountain. Standing next to a very well used VW van holding a floor jack was Dave, nearby was his wife? Angel. When I wheeled over, introduced myself, she introduced herself as Angel. I’ve had to ask strangers for help countless number of times, most often for falling out of my wheelchair. Since I have a broken neck, I don’t have muscles from the chest down that work for me. For the first four years after the accident I wore a seatbelt across my chest to hold me in my chair. Then one day I ran across a girl I knew from as far back as grade school, Yvonne. It was the first time we’ve seen each other since the accident and talked. I could see in her eyes she felt sorry for me, but it was the seatbelt I noticed she couldn’t stop looking at. I quit wearing one after that. Because of that, I’ve fallen out of my wheelchair every year since, and not just once. The main reason I fall to the ground is by far because of the transfers from and to my wheelchair, my bed, my car or shower chair. So over the years I’ve kind of learnt who’s going to help me (with the best type of help) and who isn’t.’’ Excuse me? Can you give me a hand for a second?’’ Dave said,’’ Sure, not a problem, what can we do for you?’’ ‘’ I see you have a cooler, if you wouldn’t mind standing on it, you could put duct tape up higher on my windshield that’s falling out.’’

We went over to the motor home where Dave looked it over very carefully. He not only looked at the side I needed help with, but the other side as well. After pointing out I had more places the windshield was coming loose from the windshield frame, he asked me if I had a nylon tie down strap? ‘’No I don’t.’’  ‘’Well, I have an old one I’ll give to you.’’ ‘’Really? Thanks, that would be great.’’ Dave wanted to put a nylon strap across the entire front of the motor home. I knew it would then be safe for me to drive back home. Dave hasn’t done anything and I’m already a happy man. Dave first hooks the strap on the awning on the driver’s side of the motor home, then goes on the passenger side, gets on his hands and knees and tells Angel to stand on his back and hook the strap on that side and ratchet it tight, but not too tight.

Cool, the Mint Julep is safe to drive back to Morgan Hill where I store it. Now I know Dave isn’t the type of guy to take money for helping me out or for the nylon strap for that matter, even though he told me he’s unemployed and going to the bay area looking for work, so I told him and Angel that I would like to buy them dinner for helping me. He said no, but only after I insisted did he agree to it. I only had a $20 and a $50, so I handed him the $50 and told him that’s all I had. The gentleman he is told me it was too much and gave me a $20 back.

Dave and Angel are good people! I didn’t tell them I was going to do this, but they gave me their contact info. If you think you might have work they can do, send me an email and I’ll let them know.

My 13, 1979, Accidents happen

I’m guessing it was around 4 am when Tom woke me up to leave on that May 13, 1979 morning. Being men, neither Tom nor I never really talked about the events of that day. As a matter of fact, this going to be one of the first times I tell the entire set of events. I haven’t talked in detail about it because in my mind it’s just another day. This is the first year I looked at the calendar to see what day May 13, 1979 fell on. That was only because I thought I could start this web page on May 13 with this story. Otherwise I never think about it. My mind set is simple. Life is not a video game where you can go back and do it over again. I don’t believe in blaming people, events, society, the past, etc. etc. etc. I feel you should learn from yesterday and move on.

I do get asked from time to time why I’m in a wheelchair. I always answer all questions. People are curious. I just don’t bring it up. Not because I don’t like talking about it, it’s because not everyone else is. Not everyone feels comfortable talking about events that might be unpleasant. I can’t handle hearing stories of  blood, guts and gore.

My brother-in-law Mark, ex-brother-in-law now, well he’ll always be one to me, changed jobs. I was back in Marquette talking to him about it. You’ll need a little background on Mark. He and my sister married right out of high school. To support his new family he joined the Marines. He says he joined the Marines because they promised him he could cook and not see combat. The truth is there are Marines and then there are the rest of our armed services. Thank God for all of them. After his 4 years, Mark went to learn how to cook at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York’s Hyde Park. After finishing his schooling, he worked himself up to running a 4-star restaurant in Cincinnati. Then when my sister wanted to move back to Marquette, he had to start all over again. One of his jobs was cooking at Marquette’s maximum security prison. Mark then worked his way back up to the top chief at the Huron Mountain Club. The Huron Mountain Club is a very excusive resort that has some of the world’s richest people as members. When I say excusive, I mean exclusive. Bill Gates wouldn’t be allowed as a member. His money isn’t old enough. Mark was again back at the top again. Then he quit to become a paramedic, at probably ½ the pay. Now that you have the background, I asked Mark how could he quit a nice high paying (cooking) job to become an EMS driver? A job where you’re going to accident sites where people are dying with blood, guts and everything. I can’t even watch TV shows that show that type of gore. My stomach can’t handle it. Mark looked at me and told me he could never do my job. MY JOB? No one dies with my job! I’m an investor and an income tax preparer.  I invest what little money I have in whatever investment I feel I can make enough money to pay my bills. Mark asked if I made any money this week? Well no. Any this month? Are you going to make any next week? Not sure, probably not. Mark looks at me and says, I could never live like that where I didn’t know if I had the income to (properly) support my family.

I don’t like stories of blood and guts. My first words of advice for anyone with a disability, don’t think everyone wants to know your story. May 13, 1979 was the day of the accident that left me paralyzed for the rest of my life. If it’s not something you feel comfortable with reading about, it’s OK if you stop reading now. But please come back for other stories!

One of the first three questions asked by adults is always was there a drunk driver involved? Children on the other hand usually get to the point, what’s wrong with your legs? Your hands? I tell the children I was in a car accident and I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, which is the truth. As for the drunk driver question, my answer is I don’t know. I had maybe four cans of beer during the four hours I was awake? Then I slept for three hours? When I was awake, no one (my brother Pete, Monica nor Tom) were partying like rock stars, so gut feeling is no, but it doesn’t matter either. May 13, 1979 happened. I can’t change what happen (the past), I can only learn from it.

Tom woke me up at 4 am. I got into the passenger seat like I did all night and I closed my eyes. The next thing I know I’m sitting on the floor of my truck. I opened my eyes. I seen a dent in the dash where it turns out my knee hit. I looked up to see the windshield was shattered. I could see a little of the hood that was pushed back to the windshield. I figured we hit something head on. I turned to look at Tom. He looked dazed, but was coming too. His upper body was leaning on the steering wheel. The steering wheel looked bent. His lip was bleeding a little, so I asked him if he was OK? Dazed, he said yes. Are you? I didn’t feel any pain, so I said yes. Tom then told me to get up. That was when I realized something was wrong. I didn’t move. You know how when you fall asleep on your arm? You wake up and can’t move it? That’s how my body felt. I told Tom I couldn’t get up. He said to quit joking around. I’m not! I can’t move. Can you move your arms? I lift them, so yes. I then ask Tom to help me on the seat. For whatever reason, I didn’t want to be found on the truck’s floor. But after a try or two, I told Tom to stop.

Tom, go get help!

He looked at me and he didn’t want to leave me. I didn’t have a clue what was wrong with me, but I knew it was going to take doctors and a hospital to fix it.

Tom, go get help!

Tom left. I thought to myself, there was nothing I could do! It’s going to take doctors and a hospital. In my mind, I’m going to go back to sleep and when I wake up it will be OK. The doctors will fix what’s wrong and I’ll be OK. I laid my head back, closed my eyes and went back to sleep. It’s going to be OK.

When the paramedics came, they woke me up. I opened my eyes to see they weren’t doctors. I wasn’t yet in a hospital, so I closed my eyes. One of the paramedics told me to open my eyes. When I opened then closed them he yelled at me. Keep your eyes open! He just wasn’t getting it. I’m going back to sleep and when I wake up (in the hospital) I’ll be better. I’ve seen Squad 51 Rescue 51, they can put me on a stretcher, in an ambulance and bring me to a hospital without any help from me? But they kept yelling at me to keep my eyes open and I kept closing my eyes. They just didn’t understand. I was scared. I could feel my body or move it. In my mind, they weren’t going to fix me! There was nothing I could do by staying awake. I’m going back to sleep and when I wake up its going to be all better.

I’m sure Mark will tell me why they, the paramedics, wanted me to stay awake. But I don’t care. I was scared and I wasn’t ready to believe it couldn’t be fixed, yet.

Tom and I did talk about it one. I was at his house one night. There were 20 to 30 people there. It was probably a Saturday night. It was around 11 o’clock when I decided to leave for home. Tom offered to help me get into my 1969 Pontiac GTO. I broke my neck, so every day is a physical challenge. The transfers in and out of my wheelchair to my car, bed, shower chair, etc. are very difficult. But, It’s important to me that my family and friends don’t worry about me when I’m out and about. I’m a survivor. I’m willing to work hard to make it in this world. For the first 15 years plus, I wouldn’t let you help me. If you tired pushing me, I’d lock up the brakes on my wheelchair so you couldn’t push me. I never had a handicap placard for the first 15 years of driving my own car/van. I never parked in the handicap parking spaces. So when Tom wanted to help me, I told him I’d be OK. But could you help me over the door threshold? Those can be difficult at times. Tom came out with me anyway. I transferred into the GTO, folded the wheelchair so it could fit behind my driver’s seat, but I don’t remember if I pulled it into my car or let Tom?

I looked at Tom and I could see he wanted to talk. Oh crap, I was hoping this day wouldn’t happen. I never planned for it, so I didn’t have a set response. I could see on his face the pain he was feeling. His eyes had welled up. Oh crap, please don’t Tom I wanted to say, but he had too. What he said next just blindsided me. Tom asked me if I hated him. I’m at his house, I buy gas at his father’s gas station, I’ve never to this day said a bad word about him or that night. So Tom asking me that was the last thing I thought he’d ask me. NO! WHY WOULD YOU THINK THAT? Well, as he pointed to my body, what happened! I do what I do best, I opened my mouth and started talking. Without thinking of my response, I told him, everyone has challenges in life. You have challenges, I have challenges, everyone inside your house has challenges, mine just changed that day (May 13, 1979). It doesn’t mean I can’t be happy. By now the tears are running down his cheeks. Tom didn’t have to tell me he was sorry with words. That night he did with tears.

That’s just as true today as it was that night a long time ago. I’m proud of what I’ve done with my life, both before May 13, 1979 and since. I never asked Tom or anyone what my 1979 Ford pickup truck hit that night. It doesn’t matter. What I do with my life today is what matters to me. I think too many people look backwards in life and assign blame to someone or something rather than looking forwards and enjoying life.

The Times are A changing… May 12, 1979

Everyone has days, events or situations that cause changes in their lives. Maybe it was graduating high school or college, maybe the birth of a first child, or starting a new job or being laid off from one, marriage or divorce, everyone’s lives have taken a new course or direction at least once. For me, its happened several times. Todays story is about the week of May 5, 1979 through May 12, 1979. What made this week life changing started with a simple question my father asked me. Its was about 10 am on Saturday May 5, 1979 when he asked me the question, ‘’why didn’t you report running into the (construction company’s) building with (a chrome yellow Ford F-250) truck No. 5?’’

Its amazing how something as simple as a little question can change someone’s life. Not just change it, but have effects that last years or even decades. I’m writing about it three decades later! It was a Saturday much like nearly every other Saturday of my life since I was 8 years old. The few Saturdays that were different were in the winter when I’d be woken up at 5, 6 or 7 am to play junior hockey at the Palestra. God that place could be cold. Its the only building I knew where you could get frost bit on your hands and feet while inside the building. I swear, if it was 5 degrees outside, it was -5 degrees inside the building. But junior hockey was fun! I’d do it all over again and again.

The rest of my Saturdays from 8 years old consisted of waking up at 8 am, having two bowls of cereal then going to work for 8 hours at my father’s construction company. It was something I loved doing. It wasn’t just Saturdays, but every day, except Sundays of course. Every day I’d rush home from school, changed into older clothes then go to work for 3 hours a night. During the summer school break, I’d start at 9 am and work until 6:30-7:00pm everyday of the week plus those Saturdays. Even though that was my childhood, I loved it. I learnt so much about construction, building, plumbing, drywall, electrical, operating heavy equipment, hand tools, etc. etc. etc. It was like going to school in the construction trade and being paid minimum wage to do it. Oh, I loved the money too. I always had money to buy anything I wanted when ever I wanted. I never asked my parents for money. I didn’t have too. There were times I’d have uncashed payroll checks from a couple of weeks or more in a dresser drawer at home. I didn’t always have the time to go to the bank to cash them and I often didn’t need to. Then I had six brothers and I was the one that always had money. If I don’t cash the checks, I can say I don’t have money. Then its a long time ago and water long under the bridge, so lets just say I didn’t always hide my money well enough. An uncashed check was money still in the bank.

Saturday May 5 1979, I was unloading a pickup truck that was returning materials and equipment from the Iron ore mines. If you’re not From the U.P. (Upper Michigan), the U.P. is part of what is called ‘‘the iron range.’’ Most of the Iron ore mined in the U.S. is mined in the U.P. and Minnesota. The last of the big expansions of the Tilden and Empire mines (and powerhouse) were nearing their completion. Add to that the recession of 1979 and the writing was on the wall. The construction work at the mines were coming to an end. I remember many of my friends leaving in the late 70s and early 80s because there wasn’t a lot of work. But for me there was, trucks and semitrailers were coming into the construction yard filled with crap returning from the mines on a regular basis. Semitrailers I hadn’t seen in years. I was checking a 100 foot 1 1/4’’ air hose for holes when my father approached me. He asked that question, “Why didn’t you report hitting the building with truck No. 5?’’ I had no idea of what he was talking about, so that’s what I told him. This part of the story I’m going to keep short, except that he didn’t believe me. And when he later found out that day that Randy hit the building with pickup truck No. 5 he never apologized. This wasn’t the first time, so that was it! Monday I walked into his office. I put in my two week notice. It was time for a change.

On Wednesday I filled out my very first Job application. It was for an oil company that owned several gas stations in the Marquette area. By Friday I had a new job. It was going to be working at the Mobil gas station in South Marquette when my two weeks were up. I was going to be paid minimum wage to pump gas and do my school homework. No more waking up at 5 or 6 am to do it.

Saturday, May 12, 1979 was a beautiful sunny day. The temperature was in the 70s. I arrived for work at the construction company like I had for the past nine years ready for work. After that day, I only had 6 more days left. I walked into my father’s office to receive my orders for the day. They were to bury a 20,000 gallon fuel tank with a hand shovel. I’m guessing he found out I had a new job starting in just over a week. I left his office a happy man. Working hard shoveling dirt all day is nothing new, I’ve shoveled dirt all day long many times. The John Deere 500 loader/backhoe that was used to dig the hole was only 25 yards away, it would have shortened the job to minutes verse an all day affair, but shoveling dirt was better the washing port-a-johns in the hot sun, so I wasn’t going to question it.

When I was five years old I went to my grandparents farm. I spent half my summer break from school there helping my grandfather move old crap out of his original barn into the original house (now used for storage) on his farm. These buildings were 100 years old and the barn was to be torn down to be replaced by a modern pole building. My grandfather was a pack rat, which I inherited from him. A week after I left, the buildings were struck by lighting and burnt to the ground. The next summer I was over at my grandfather’s brother and sister’s farm. My uncle (great uncle?) Freddie walked me over to a Ford tractor and asked me if I wanted to help make hay by driving this tractor out in the fields? That was an easy answer, sure! After showing me how to check the oil, water, battery, etc. he gave me a grease gun and told me to grease all the grease fittings. I found all but one. He then said that this was now my tractor and handed me a red can of paint to paint the tractor’s name on the hood, ‘‘Smokey Joe.’’ Every summer the farm cut, crimped, side racked, baled and stacked in the barns the hay needed to feed the cows during the winter. Uncle Freddie drove the grey Ferguson trackor with the sickle to cut the grass. Jimmy, who was a few years older, drover the yellow Ferguson with the crimper. I drove Smokey Joe with the side rack and Monica drove the Farmall with the baler. One field that uncle Freddy had cut and Jimmy had crimped was looking like it was going to be rained on. You can loose an entire field of hay if it sits cut on the ground too long in the rain, so uncle Freddy told Jimmy help side rack the field with me. This is where the saying, ‘‘make hay when the sunshines’’ comes from. Jimmy pulling a side rack with his yellow Ferguson was going first and I followed with Smokey Joe. Smokey Joe had three gears. 1st gear, even at full throttle, was very slow. You had time to get off, take a piss and get back on again it was so slow. 2nd gear was the main gear that was used, and 3rd gear was road or high gear. It was only used for driving on the side of the highway to get from field to field in a hurry. One never side racked in road gear. Well, Jimmy’s yellow Ferguson’s 2nd gear was a mile or two per hour faster then my Ford Smokey Joe. Jimmy was leading and slowly pulling away from me. I knew we needed to get the field of hay baled before the rains came, so I switched to road gear, but at a very low throttle. I never went faster then Jimmy who was in 2 nd gear. Suddenly uncle Freddy shows up and stops Jimmy to talk. I quickly put it in 2nd gear before he came to me. When he asked me what gear I was in, I showed him 2nd, but when he asked me if I was always in 2nd, I was honest and told him I used road gear at a low throttle. Uncle Freddy said we don’t side rake in road gear. When I was done I was to drive the 5 miles home in 2nd gear. That meant instead of making it back to the farm in 20 minutes or so, it was going to take maybe an hour. After Jimmy and I finished we started for home. I don’t think I made it a quarter mile when it started to rain and rain hard and it was cold, but I left it in 2nd gear the entire way. The last mile or so back to the farm you could look out the window of the farm house and see me. I know uncle Freddy looked more then once for me. When I walked into the house, I was soaking wet, freezing cold with the biggest goose bumps you’ve ever seen. Neither uncle Freddy nor I said more then a few words to each other the rest of the day.  The next day I won him three games in a row playing 500 rummy. No one ever won uncle Freddy three games in a row playing 500 rummy. Uncle Freddy had his rules, which were known and fair, but he did have a heart too. Me, when I don’t feel I’m wrong, I can be stubborn. If it means driving in 2nd gear in a cold rain or shoveling  dirt all day, then that’s what I’ll do. I get the same pay.

The Saturday went by fast. I thought about all the things I was going to be able to do now that  I wasn’t going to be working for the construction company. I could go to the beach and play Frisbee on a Saturday. I could hang out with people I only seen at school because I always rushed off to work right after school. I would have time to cash the payroll checks and spend it. The day was flying by fast and life was good. From time to time the plumber who was putting in the sewer system in the building for what was soon to be the new home of UPS would ask for my help. It was a nice break from shoveling, which I have a feeling is why he would ask.  The fuel tank was going to be for UPS to fuel their brown trucks. I was a happy man. My life was changing and I was looking forward to it. My childhood days and ways were becoming a thing of the past.

It was around 4 o’clock. The entire 20,000 gallon fuel take was completely covered. I had the last foot or so of dirt left to make the once deep hole completely level with the rest of the parking lot when my father drove up. The first words out of his mouth were asking why in the hell wasn’t I finished yet? I told him it was because I was doing what I was told to do, using a hand shovel. I added that I wouldn’t leave until I was finished, but that only upset him more. I knew it was time to leave. I looked back over my shoulder as I was leaving to see him climbing on the John Deere 500.

I got into my 1979 black Ford F-100 shortbox pickup truck and drove away from the construction company for the last time as an employee. I stopped at Togo’s and bought a large cheese steak with extra steak, extra cheese and a side order of hot peppers. I dumped the entire thing of peppers on the cheese steak and ate it as I drove home. At home, I undressed and went to bed, I was beat. I’m not sure if I even showered. I don’t think I did. It was 9:00 on the dot when my bedroom light suddenly came on and my older brother Pete, in a loud obnoxious voice yelling what in the hell was I doing in bed on a Saturday night? My alarm clock said 9:00, but was it AM or PM? Along with my brother was his then girlfriend Monica and a good friend of the family Tom. Tom and his family lived only two houses down on Lakewood lane in Harvey when we lived there. In 1969 our family moved to 322 East Ridge street in Marquette. His parents and my parents were good friends.They had been to each other’s houses and cabins many times. It was because Tom and Monica weren’t laughing with Pete that I figured it was 9:00 pm at night. Pete then said he blew a head gasket on his (1967 327 cubic inch V-8 SS Camero) car and to get dressed so we could go out in my truck. Pete and I weren’t what you would call close. As children, I wasn’t allowed to hang around with him when his friends were around. There were times if I didn’t leave fast enough, He’d actually chase me away. It wasn’t until I turned 16 (a year earlier) that we really started hanging out in public together. But never yet on a Saturday night did we go to the same parties together. My life was changing, I was happy.

Soon we left the house for my truck. Pete asked for my keys and I gave them to him. Pete’s a driver. To this day, he has only rode in the passenger seat of my vehicle once while I drove. He’s gone so far as to make other’s drive him if  I refuse to let him drive my vehicle. But Saturday night May 12, 1979, I was happy to be a passenger. Our first stop was Harlow lake. I had never been to Harlow lake before, but heard of it, so I was happy to finally be there. Pete gave me a can of beer and off I went to talk with people I rarely see and to meet others that I knew of but never met. There was a big bonfire in the center and everyone stood around it talking to each other. I looked around the fire and seen a few girls I wanted to get to know better. From time to time someone took their turn finding firewood, which I took my turn as well. I wasn’t going to be a nuisance or obnoxious in anyway. I was at Harlow Lake. I was out with my big brother Pete. I planned on this happening again and again.

We left there and drove to another place, but around 11:30 or so Pete and Monica decided to go home. Pete and Monica got out at the apartment and Tom jumped into the driver’s seat. Pete, Monica, Tom and I all knew Tom was going to drive. He was older and the better driver. Tom and I were (are) good friends. He’s driven my truck on several occasions. At the time, I was a junior in high school. All through high school I was taking a full schedule at school. I mean a full schedule. Not only did I never take a study hall, but I would take swimming class instead of gym class. Swimming class was a 1/2 credit while gym was only a 1/4 credit. My senior year I only needed 1 credit to graduate. My days would start a 7 am with a shower, 5 or 6 am if I needed to finish my homework or study for an exam. Then school, afterwards I went straight to work at the construction company for 3 hours or more. Often at night, I was a tired puppy. But I still wanted a social life too. Tom was one of the friends I hung out with. For a while when Tom was replacing the drive train on his 1/2 ton Chevy with a stronger 3/4 ton set up. He didn’t have a vehicle, so sometimes Tom would drive my truck when we’d go out. Tom was a better driver. A time or two after long days, I’d fall asleep in the passenger seat while he was driving. He’d park in front of his house, wake me up and I’d drive home. One time I actually fell asleep while still standing up in the garage. They laughed for a second.  It was no big deal.

After Pete and Monica left, Tom and I went looking for some one to hang out with. We drove around all the usual places then South Marquette, but nothing, then out toward Harvey we went. Eventually Tom’s driving down US 41 towards green garden hill. I had no idea where he was going and the long ride as taking its toll. Tom then turned on Carlshend? road. I’ve never even heard of the road, but I had never been to Harlow lake and that was fun. We went to someone’s house. I only knew Tom and one other man, Tim, and Tim was talking with a girl. I just didn’t have the energy to meet new people. I shoveled dirt all day long burying a 20,000 gallon fuel tank with a long handle no. 2 spade shovel. I was happy. I had a fun night. I got to hang out with my brother Pete for the first time in my life on a Saturday night while out with other people. I went to Harlow lake for the first time. I had a great time. My life was changing and I liked it. I had nothing more to gain by staying awake, and I had a Sunday to loose the longer I did. I found a chair. I sat down. I was sleeping in minutes.

May 12, 1979 was a happy day that I’ll remember for ever.

Scrambled Eggs

A while back there was a TV commercial that showed this very serious man holding a white egg. He was in a kitchen next to a stove with a very hot frying pan on it. He held the egg up and in a stern in your face type of attitude said, ”This is your brain!” he then cracked the egg into the hot frying pan. The egg starts to cook instantly.  He then says, ”This is your brain on drugs! Any questions?” The smart ass in me would say, ”Yes, may I have mine scrambled?”

Sometimes I think I got my wish. I always have small projects going, and some not so small. Yesterdays project was one I started months ago, but never finished. Its nothing important. I have a duffel bag, the type one would put a gym gear and towels in. What I want to do is to make it so it always has the form as if its completely full even when its empty. My thoughts are to buy a piece of plastic that fits the bottom of the bag (10” x 20”) and two the fit the ends (10” x 7”). I’ll then bolt the two end pieces of plastic to the bottom using L or angle brackets. Of course I’ll file all the corners of the plastic round so there are no sharp corners to tear into the duffel bag over time.

Well, like I said, I started this little project a while back. I live in a part of the city that has several business and a shopping mall nearby. Less than 1/2 mile away is a store called Tap Plastics. They sell plastic in sheets, tubes, containers, etc. etc. etc. I’ve been there before. My wheelchair has these plastic guards that keep my seat cushion and pants from rubbing on my wheels. The factory ones often crack and break, so I make my own out of plastic that is twice as thick.

Now there is one thing about me that I guess I should say at this time. I usually wheel to the stores that are within a mile or so just for the exercise and to burn calories. And probably to make an outing of it. Which did happen yesterday, I now have to tell my summer dress story. Yesterday wasn’t the first time I wheeled to Tap Plastics to buy the three pieces of plastic for my duffel bag project. I went a while back on a Sunday, only to find out they’re not open on Sundays.

Do you know what amazes me the most about me?

Its how I’ve made it with the scrambled eggs I have for a brain. Yesterday I left my apartment to go buy the plastic for the duffel bag. Wheeling, I stopped at the fabric store to buy these wire thing for treading a sewing machine. I recently picked up my sewing machine from the repair shop. Then the Home Depot to buy the screws and angle brackets. I then stopped at the Olive Garden for dinner. Then off to Tap Plastics. After all my stops, I arrived there at 7 pm.

I truly am amazed I made it this far in life with the scrambled eggs for brains. Tap Plastics isn’t only close on Sundays, they also close at 6 pm during the week.

There was a man selling strawberries, oranges and fruits in the parking lot so I bought $10 worth of strawberries. Yesterday my Ninja blender came in. Goggle ninja. Its a blender on steroids. They’re not cheap, but the the second, third and so on are only $99. Find a few friends and family that may want one so they become a little cheaper. When I’m done here I’ll go to the grocery store, which is on this same block I live on, and buy some yogurt and bananas for a fruit smoothie.

Hey! Not all my stories are going to be about adventures, sex, drugs and rock n roll. A few need to be about me, so when they make the movie about my life it won’t be only 15 minutes long. Although the summer dress story does include at least one of those topics…