It was almost Christmas time, and the company where I was working had hosted a boozy after-work celebration. My employer had had quite a good year, and the bosses wanted to spread some cheer. Unlike many other teenagers, I hadn't experimented with alcohol while growing up.
I was more interested in mechanical things, and girls, not necessarily in that order. The eighteen-year-old version of me hadn’t yet learned how to “handle” liquor. Well, after several generous free pours, I hopped into the car with my co-worker, Wayne.
It was 5 pm. Wayne lived just over there, a 5-minute drive. Yeah, I was a little tipsy but what could possibly go wrong during such a short journey?
I was driving my first brand new car. A 1977 bright red, two-door, Honda Civic. It was my pride and joy. It was also the first time I had borrowed money from a bank to purchase something I wanted. I felt so grown up.
Admittedly, I was a cocky young man and like most my age, invincible. I had been driving anything with wheels or tracks since I was ten and was an excellent driver. I grew up on snowmobiles, motorcycles and then, of course, the Dune Buggy my father built. So, I had serious skills. Mmmhmmm.
I had been living in the big city for only a short time and was fascinated with traffic lights. I had figured out that traffic lights followed a particular pattern. My keen powers of observation at work, you see. As you know, lights change from green to yellow to red. I noticed that after a slow three-count starting from when the lights in the opposite direction changed to red, my light would become green.
Just to be super cool, impress my new friends and freak out anyone that was watching, I had developed the practice of “jumping” the red light. The technique involved rolling up to the intersection when my light was red and watching the other persons traffic lights. Once their lights changed to red, I’d count slowly, one, two, three and then BAM! My light goes green. I’d fly into the intersection as my light magically turned from red to green leaving all the other cars sitting in my dust.
So cool! Yeah well, this was a dumb practice even when I was sober.
So here we are, Wayne and me, driving along in my shiny new red Honda Civic. I approach one of my favorite intersections. It was a favorite because there was a little curve leading up to the intersection, so I had a clear view of the traffic lights for the cross traffic.
As we approached the intersection, I could see the green light for the other side change to yellow…then to red. Slow count: One. Two. Three. Gun it and blast through the intersection just as my light turns green, a hero!
Then, out of nowhere, a huge, solid car appeared in front of us. I can still hear the crunch of metal and the sound of glass shattering. I had T-boned a young couple in another car. Wayne still had a drink in his hand, and upon impact, his glass smashed, and alcohol coated the dashboard. The young lady in the other car had been sitting in the middle seat to be close to her fellow, and when my car crashed into them, their heads collided.
Both of them were bleeding.
Why had he run the red light? WTF?
Then the truth occurred to me. In my inebriated state, I had misjudged my heroic “jump the light” move a little bit. Well, a lot. As it turns out, I had been watching my traffic light change from green, to yellow, to red. I had gunned it into the intersection after MY light had turned RED, not green.
In an odd twist of fate or serendipity, or maybe because it was only 5 pm, the police officer attending the scene did not notice the smell of alcohol on Wayne or me. And thankfully the young couple were okay after the head bumps.
But sadly, my shiny new Honda Civic was a goner.
Stupid behavior? Yes, absolutely. The universe taking care of me? Definitely.
What is the moral of the story? Not everything is as you think it is, or as it appears. I was convinced that my light was green and charged ahead with all confidence. I was angry because I was quite sure that the other driver had run a red light.
How often in life do we know we are right and charge ahead, only to learn later that there was an alternate version of the truth?
Also, please never, ever, drink and drive.
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