Sunday, August 13, 2006

Bad Luck Trees, Bumper To Bumper And The Golden Gate Bridge

Posted by PicasaPeople always say "Bad luck comes in threes."

People always say a lot of things.

How do we know what rates as "bad luck" and what falls under the category of "That could have been catastrophic. You were very lucky"?

I say who cares? Bad luck can bring us good things in unusual ways. Bad luck, if not too painful, can be funny. Bad luck can remind us of things we've forgotten and give us good ideas. Bad luck can bring us new friends and help us see old friends in new ways...

I had a string of bad luck once. I wasn't aware of it, but people kept pointing it out.

"Ooh, that's bad luck."

"You know what they say... Bad luck comes in threes..."

"That's two in a row. Third one's coming..."

"Whoa, dude. Be careful, like... OK?"

If you people say so.

I met my sister in Occidental California one night. I had a couple of beers. I ate a huge plate of sphaghetti. It was eleven (we ate late) and I decided to take the back way home over the hills, just in case, you know, I saw one of those black and white people.

It had been drizzling, the first actual precipitation after a long, dry, California summer. The first rain brings the oil up that is on the road and floats it. The second rain washes it away. Therefore, the first rain of any year is the slipperiest. And I actually knew this at the time of the accident. Not so the driver of the other car.

But I didn't know she didn't know this the night I had hit her car. In fact, I was surprised to find her car ten feet over the embankment that I had just found myself driving over, her reflectors flashing brief warnings before I crushed them into tiny shards of darkness.

I thought, "Oh shit, here I go" as my truck slid across the oily corner at a hairpin and continued, brakes locked, right across the double yellows (sorry, officers) and right off the road and right over a steep embankment and as I picked up speed and wondered what would stop me, I struck the back end of a Datsun B210 that had also gone over the embankment some time before I did. The flimsy tree that had stopped the Datsun B210 had let it go, and it rumbled down another fifty feet or so and crashed into the thick brush and stopped. The flimsy tree whipped back erect and grabbed me as I slid, stopping me in the same manner as the B210, only now the B210 was somewhere down a steep hill in the dark.

Like an instant replay in slow motion, let me explain that again.

This time... r e a d m o r e s l o w l y.

I was happily driving home, my windshield wipers trying to clear the newly wet dust off my front windshield, the radio playing something I remember liking, as it distracted me a bit. I was singing and cursing the blurry job of my wipers when I suddenly remembered the nasty downhill hairpin that was upon me. I hit the brakes too hard, and my little four wheel drive truck locked up. I tried pumping the brakes, but it was too late. I had too much speed and momentum and Led Zeppelin on the radio to slow enough to stop me from crossing over the double yellows (sorry officers) and do a nose dive over a very dark and steep embankment where I feared the worst and prayed for the best.

Bad luck came out of my not paying attention, and good luck saved my ass.

In my path, exactly squarely in front of me, was the Datsun B210. I munched my bumper striking it, and the mystery car vanished into the darkness as I took its place in the coveted and precarious spot just before oblivion.A small sapling was bent over at a steep angle underneath me, and this was keeping me near the top of the very scary incline.

Nice and easy sapling...

My left rear tire was four feet in the air, still spinning quietly, reminding me that not just fifteen seconds ago, I had been singing and driving the back way home to avoid the fellas in black and white...

I climbed up to the dark corner of the road and started wondering what to do next.

I could hang out and wait. Maybe another car would come by? I could walk back to Occidental and then figure out my next move, maybe call for help?I stood there in the light drizzle with the moon trying to peak through the clouds on a beautiful night in the middle of the downward-canted hairpin curve that seemed a bad engineering goof and thought about all of these things when a pair of lights came toward me from where I had come from, heading for the same slippery turn that had claimed two cars already this night.

I got the heck outta the way.

Basically I ran across the road to the uphill side, and hopped into some bushes to be off the road completely. It was dark. It was slippery. I was safe.

It was a big truck. One of those four-wheel-drives with oversized tires, a stepside, and lots of mud on it. It slowed down much before the turn, and crawled forward to point its lights where I had gone over the edge. I heard a girl yelling.

"It's right... hey! That's not my car! What the hell happened to my car? I swear, it was right there! You believe me, right?"

For some reason my mischievous nature got the better of me. Maybe it was the spaghetti still fat and happy in my stomach? Probably, it was the beer. Instead of just standing out and letting myself be seen, I stood in the dark bushes and cupped my hands to my mouth and changed the normal tone of my voice to include what I thought might be considered "ghostly tones". I called out in this manner.

"Nooooo. Your car is at the booooottom of the hiiiiiill. That's my truuuuuuuuck!"

"What? what? what? what?"

"Your car has been bumped out of the top position..."

"What? What?"

I stepped into their lights. It was two BIG guys and a girl. The big guys were getting a kick out of all of this.The girl wasn't. It was, after all, her car.

She had made the march back to Occidental for me. She had gotten help from her brother and his friend. They had the wherewithal and the power and the available chain, to get me back on the road. For the B210, a tow truck was called. Apparently, this was a busy night for them as well as the black and whites. Friday night. First rain of the season. Lots of slippery slopes...

A cop cruised by and just asked for a status from the tow truck guy. The girl got her car out and she was smashed in front and back pretty good. The girl had no insurance and no legal license. It had been pulled, for, of all things, no insurance. Her car was old and a piece of crap. She wanted no part of the police and their reports. She just wanted to get home and forget it ever happened.

I felt bad for her. I gave her my number and told her I felt bad that I had hit the back end of her car, and that she should call me. I wanted to give her some money.

"You seem awful cheery for someone who had just smashed the front of his truck," said one of the big boys.

"Ahh, watcha gonna do? My first accident. It happened. I got lucky."

"Bad luck comes in threes, you know..."


That was bad luck number one.

I'll call it "The bent sapling adventure with spaghetti in my belly and a B210."

Bad luck number two made me see stars.

Ever watch cartoons and shake your head at the ring of stars that spin around a cartoon's head after they suffer a near fatal blow to their noggin?

I don't shake my head anymore.

When you get conked in the head hard enough to knock you down, turn out your lights temporarily, and make you question what you've still got left in there, meaning your thoughts and stuff, stars do a circle dance around your head. I'm not kidding. And birds come and whistle in a high pitched barber-shop pole style of ascending notes...

You see, I had just met a cute little Hawaiin girl who was a young corporate lawyer in San Francisco. This was a "meet my sister, she broke up with her boyfriend and needs cheering up," type of connection-- one I'm leery of. She was part everything Pacific, like some Hawaiins are these days , and the phrase "petitely cute" fit her like a size four shoe.

I had asked her out on a date in the city (SF), and was preoccupied with trying to figure out what to do with her.

Well, what I meant to say was that I was working with my English friend Young Paul, and we were working for a hippy, musician, engineering friend whose name is Skeer (no last name, just Skeer, pronounced like someone with boards on their feet on the snow) building a soundproof room addition onto his music studio, creating a genuine recording studio out of an ad hoc one, and was also thinking about what to do in the city on a Saturday afternoon--this being monday or tuesday after the crash-- and I screwed up and knocked a four inch by ten inch by eight foot piece of wet lumber off its perch and allowed it to land with a clunk squarely on the back of my head. Paul said it bounced a bit, before I fell over like Foreman in the 7th in Zaire...

The world went black like an old TV does, from the outside of my view of the world inward. I don't remember actually hitting the ground. I know I didn't fall far, because I had been bent over far enough to pull a piece of housing wire (Romex) out from behind what is called a trimmer, the board that props the large chunk of offending wood up (the header, a beam for spanning doors and windows) and in the pulling of this wire, I pulled the unnailed trimmer out from under the header, and the header came down like a big wet chunk of wood is prone to do, at thirty two feet per second squared, and squarely struck my proffered cranium like a knock on a castle door with a battering ram.

Gee, you really DO see stars in a circle...

As I came to (came to what? I always wondered) my vision returned and I was trying to have a thought. I wanted to check the system before I tried to move it.


My first phone number. Gee. That was still in there?

Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, then go for an early Thai Food dinner.

My weekend date dilemma was solved.

I heard Young Paul standing over me and trying to see if I was OK. I know this because he kept asking me "Are you OK?" over and over.

I got my eyes to focus up at him.

"Paulie," I said, my voice weak for effect cause that's how they sound in the movies when they are about to reveal something unique before they die, "...if I start acting normal, take me to the hospital..."

Paulie smiled and shook his head and felt better now that he knew I was as weird as ever. The blow hadn't cured a thing.

But it did give me an hour off.

Skeer was troubled. So were the rest of the people who came to see the new music studio remodel and who all came to look in my eyes and play ER on me.

"Are you sure you are OK?"


"Do you feel anything unusual?"

"My head hurts."

"Bad luck comes in threes, you know..."

"Oh, sheesh..."

That was bad luck number two. I'll call it the "Beam me down, Scotty, episode."

I called J (the girl with the size four shoes) and told her I wanted to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and then have Thai Food back on Lombard. I told her the thought came to me in a moment of repose.

"That's amazing," she said.


"I spent all day last Saturday organizing a bunch of my friends to walk across the bridge. I've always wanted to but I couldn't get anyone to go with me. That's why I broke up with...(boring ex-boyfriend complaints part of story. Deleted for all of our sanities.) ...long story short (oh really?) my friend Mike got a real bad headache and we called it off."

"That's amazing, I said. What a coincidence."

"It is, isn't it?"

"Sure." I said. "Mike had a headache. The idea came to me in a headache. These things are no coincidence. There's a reason for all this."

"I know."

"Like maybe we're supposed to have sex."


My neck was getting stiffer and stiffer on me.The blow had not damaged what I thought so much, but it had messed up my tiny little neck bones a bit and my muscles in my neck had decided that enough was enough. No rubbernecking or girl oggling for me for awhile. It was going to be nothing but straight ahead for at least a week.

I felt like I suddenly had a girlfriend.

And number three was still out there lurking like a shark in dark waters...

If you want to have sex with me and don't want to hear about my date, skip this paragraph and the next. J and I walked across the bridge. I took a towel and made myself a neck brace that I wore like a fancy scarf. It kept my neck warm in the cold and foggy wind (famous, in SF) and it made me appear a bit World War Twoish and one of the Allies... J was so slight and petite the wind kept dancing her around and threatening to blow her off the curb and onto the street, so I gave her a belt loop to hold onto and we traipsed along. We got to the Marin County side of the bridge, used the toilets where the tour buses pull in for their vista views of the city, and then walked back, with me offering up my other belt loop like the chivalrous guy I am.

Thai food was tasty and we argued pleasantly over who was going to pay the tab. She had all the money, being a corporate lawyer. I had the onus, being penis-clad. The rest, as they say, is none of your business.

Sunday arrived and I wanted to get away. It had been a week, alright. Last weekend the crushing of my front bumper. Mid week, the crushing of my temporal region. A date on Saturday with a girl I barely knew.

I decided to head up north to a friend of mine's property, and just hang out by his pond and listen to the bullfrogs and watch the turtles all afternoon by myself.This picture was taken not twenty feet from bad luck number three. That's what reminded me of this tale. I was rummaging through my shopping bag full of photos, and I remembered how much I liked this tree and where this was and the third bad luck happenstance that occured right after number one and number two. There is a small cabin I helped build not sixty feet from this tree. In between the cabin and this tree is a hammock. A great hammock, strung long ago between two fairly rare Buckeyes (for these parts, anyway). Down to the left of this picture, about a hundred feet or so, is a half acre pond. Below that is a valley with quite a view from the comfort of the hammock.The hammock was the place to be on a Sunday mid-morning after a week of misfortune and ill-warnings.

"Bad luck comes in threes, you know..."

Not today it doesn't.

I put a sleeping bag over the roped hammock to make it even cozier. I placed a pillow at the head of my sleeping bag. I kicked my shoes off and made sure I had a beer opened and in my hand as I climbed on board. I wiggled around and settled in, and tilted my head up slowly (my neck was still stiff) and took a sip. Life was at peace with me and I was at peace with life. The frogs burbled and croaked and the turtles climbed up on fallen snags and slept. Dragon flies danced in the air and a red tail hawk circled overhead like a good omen.

The rope broke.

Yes. That is right. The rope on the side with my head just let go. It was done. It had held enough. My shoulders hit the ground first, then my head, then the beer bottle shot toward my forehead but I stopped it, sending its contents all over my face like I had just won the World Series, and my feet stayed suspended up in the air ignominiously, wrapped in rope and sleeping bag and making sure I was pinned to the ground and hoping the ref would count me out but I wasn't out, I was happy and smiling and laughing all by myself on one hundred and forty acres because I had been padded by a double thick folded sleeping bag and a pillow beneath my head and this was number three and I had gotten it out of the way without physically paying any price whatsoever.

It had cost me half a beer, and that was about all. Oh, it had also cost me the price of a triple machine at the laundrymat and some soap.

I had gotten off easy, even though "Bad luck comes in threes, you know..."

Yes, I thought. It sure does.

Addendum-- A couple of weeks later I was dreaming that I was playing soccer and I had juked out several defenders and it was just me and the goalie. All I had to do was chip the ball over his head, as he had left the net. Just a chip shot. A swing of the foot beneath the ball...

I kicked a hole in the sheetrock beside my bed and this woke me up. My toe was jambed painfully and the knuckle on it turned a dark crimson and black.

I refused to quantify this event as "bad luck", not wanting to supercede my third bad luck experience or start the ball rolling again. I put this little mishap in the "little mishap" pile and was happy to tell people about it.

Over and over.

Double Addendum-- I met with the B210 girl and her BIG brother and his friend. I had told her I felt guilty and wanted to give her a few bucks. I was thinking a couple of hundred. She had pretty much totaled her car already, way before I hi the back end.

She showed up with an estimate for "rear damage" that was close to twenty five hundred dollars. It was obvious she was going for what she could get. Her two chaperones looked like they knew what was coming.

"No way." I said. My girlfriend is a lawyer in San Francisco (see how quick on my feet I am?) She said I don't have to pay you anything. You were on the road illegally. You had no license and no insurance. Besides... she said you were illegally parked."

The two big boys got a laugh out of this and the girl seemed completely bummed. I said "C'mon," and walked her across the street to where I had an ATM. I gave her two twenties from fast cash, and wished her luck.


Dogbait said...

Very entertaining missives, Scott. Where do you get the time?

Scott from Oregon said...

Dogbait-- It's rerun season on the telly.

amusing said...

I'm thinking it was Good Luck that the Size 4 Hawaiian lawyer wasn't sleeping with you the night you were playing soccer in your sleep....