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Posts Tagged ‘vets’

It was New Years Eve eve, and I had just one passenger left: a short run across town in Oakland that required a 45-minute logjam getting to the Bay Bridge from San Francisco’s Sea Cliff neighborhood.

Then that passenger was transferred to another driver, and I would no longer be subjected to the prolonged frustrations of getting to the Bay Bridge along with those that would use dying lanes to cut in front of hundreds. I would, though, have at least four hours added to my shift by bringing a passenger to southeast of Placerville in the Sierra foothills.

I didn’t mind. Places I haven’t been are always an adventure, and my passenger proved to be very good company. He had just finished his third dose of chemotherapy with another three to go in the coming weeks. It was a brain tumor that had previously been arrested years before.

In his late ’60s, he had been a successful lawyer, a partner in a firm that fought insurance companies. He was a particularly formidable foe, in that for years he had worded for insurance companies. He knew their angles, the framework of their methods of getting what they wanted which always ended with individuals missing out on what they deserved.

Then one day in 2009 he drove off the road. A brain seizure left him going straight when Highway 50 curved gently to the left. He went down a 20-foot embankment and hit a tree that probably kept him from visiting a business without using the designated entrances.

He didn’t wake up for eight hours. And when he was conscious he found out that he’d never drive again. The threat of seizures ended his driving privileges. And he loved to drive; he had had plenty of cars that were guaranteed to deliver copious amounts of adrenaline if asked. There was his split-window ’63 Corvette. A Sunbeam Tiger, a tiny sports car with a big V-8 wedged into it like a Shelby Cobra only smaller. And less manageable. His last high-performance car was an all-wheel-drive, turbocharged Dodge Stealth. It ruptured an oil line in Garberville, in redwoods country along the Eel River, a good 70 miles from anyone with the expertise and parts to fix it.

A lawyer without a driver’s license, or the means for a perpetual chauffeur, is like a pool hustler missing a hand. He retired, and his firm of 50 that he shared with a half-dozen partners imploded. Being right in the middle of a relocation, holding an expiring lease, probably helped make the decision easier.

Outside of the subject of cars, we talked about a lot. He used to ski at Stow, Vermont and raced at the same time on the mountain as Billy Kidd, one of America’s first skiing sensations on the international scene. We reminisced about skiing’s heroes of old, Franz Klammer, Pirmin Zurbriggen, and Herman Maier, and the amazement of witnessing their skills on ESPN back when they readily broadcast World Cup ski racing.

We talked about politics, with much in common. He was liberal too, in most ways except regarding gun restrictions. He was wary of the corporate control of the Republican Party, and didn’t want to see AK-47s banned because he saw that as being his last defense against a government that he saw that, in the wrong hands, would be more than willing to take away any remaining freedoms by force.

I understood his sentiment. And I voiced my take. As a liberal and a pacifist, I loath AK-47s and what they represent in our society: a pathway to indiscriminate killing. But on the other hand, I do understand the “second amendment” cries, particularly in light of my passenger’s perspective. But I do not see any logical reason for clips that can carry 30 rounds or more. The only place I can see these weapons used is on a shooting range, and limiting clips to 15 rounds isn’t that much of a hardship. Forcing gun enthusiasts to take a few seconds to change clips is a reasonable restriction, when the alternative is more people being killed on deadly days which are happening more and more frequently. And then I also floated the notion of putting serial numbers inside every single shell, which was an angle he hadn’t considered that made total sense to him.

Of course the NRA wouldn’t allow that to happen. That begs the question of what possible downside could there be for that action. And of course there is only one: ammo and gun manufacturers might see a slight decrease in sales. It’s a pity that change for the better always is clipped by the needs of a few to make just a tiny bit more money. The social benefits of being able to trace the original owners of every bullet don’t stand a chance against bloated profits these days.

When we finally got to the two-lane roads, the drive took on an entertaining rhythm. Like a slalom skier on a bunny slope, we dipped and swung through the night. Within a couple miles of his home, he started to tell me of a particularly senseless tragedy involving the roadway ahead.

Bad judgement and worse luck combined for fatal consequences. A 17-year-old boy was rip-roaring drunk at a party about a mile from his house. The good news: at least he didn’t drive home. The bad news: he attempted to walk home alone, dressed entirely in black. A couple hundred yards from his bedroom he passed out. He ended up in the middle of the road at a corner. A driver came down the hill as the road dipped then swung uphill to the right, and the darkened shape caught him by surprise.

Right then we came to the scene, with a wreath and weathered pictures, bows, and flowers attached to a tree across the road from the spot where a young life ended. It had happened a year ago. And no one ever gets a chance to forget.

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