I have this still photograph in my mind.
Like one of those iPhone photos where it shows you a snippet of action before the photo settles.
And I see this white passenger car aimed at me, perhaps half over the double yellow line, traveling at a 5-5:30 p.m. angle towards me.
I’m just past the Hawthorne turnoff traveling north on Highway 395. Two-lane section – one lane each way. Broad daylight. 1:45 p.m. I know the road well – I’ve driven it a thousand times.
My mind rolls through a few split second calculations. I don’t have a shoulder to escape to. There’s maybe two feet of asphalt and a few feet of soft tuff and then the roadway falls away ten feet or more down into the sagebrush.
So drive off to the right and I might as well be Thelma and Louise. I’m gonna die, but with a lot less flight time.
Try to yank it left and I’m going to hit him full force and we’re all going to die.
The only decision to make was to veer slightly right – as far right as I could while remaining on the asphalt, accepting there would be impact.
And then I was in the wash cycle. I distinctly recall the cab spinning in a clockwise direction. The air bags deployed, but I don’t recall anything about that.
My daughter later asked me what I had done with my hands during the rollover.
I think I just kept holding onto the wheel.
I don’t recall any sense of fear. Rather, it was more of a “this is happening, and I wonder when it will stop.”
The spinning cab felt akin to one of those carnival rides that I’ve stopped riding.
No objects inside the cab hit me during my three spins.
I landed wheels down. Stuck the landing like an Olympic gymnast in soft dirt on the opposite road shoulder. The glass was all intact, if kaleidoscopic, save for the back window, which had blown out.
I tried my driver’s door but it didn’t budge.
I didn’t try the passenger door because I assumed it was stuck, too. Figured I could crawl through the back. As I began to contort my body through, there was a guy rushing up to the truck to help. He looked at me as if I were Baby Jesus himself. It was just so … improbable.
He asked me if there was anyone else in the vehicle. No.
So many people stopped. So many kind people. Literally, the second person on-scene was an ICU nurse. She started mopping my head, which was dripping blood, trying to clean me up.
One guy lent me a phone to call my wife. I felt bad because I bled all over it. He didn’t seem to mind.
There was this young guy Diego who stayed with me for a bit. Now this was interesting to me, because Diego really did look like a classical depiction of Jesus. He was a shorter guy with long hair, aquiline nose. He was the one who told me I’d rolled three times.
There was something about this guy. He said he and his girlfriend were camping off 120. I wished I’d had a chance to talk to him some more, but I was preoccupied trying to remember what auto insurance company Brett Walters has me with. The power of advertising. I ticked through Geico and Progressive and Allstate before I remembered it was Nationwide.
The car that hit me turned out to be a Prius. It was driven by a young Hispanic couple in their 20s. Both were conscious. The girlfriend, who had been in the passenger seat, was pretty much unharmed. The driver, whose name was Sergio, looked like a vanilla cone with strawberry sauce dripping in rivulets. He took the first ambulance.
I grabbed the second ambulance, and was glad I did, because I was greeted by smiling local EMT Ray McGrale.
We caught up on the ambulance ride to Mammoth as he checked my blood pressure and heart rate and looked at my head and asked me questions and made sure I was okay.
It’s always fun to get a peek at someone doing their job firsthand. It was obvious in his demeanor and how he carries himself that he’s really, really good at what he does.
Everyone on that call was.
He did say it was the first time in his career that anyone had talked him into loading their golf clubs into the ambulance. Hey, I didn’t want ‘em stolen at the impound yard.
A few days later, I checked my email.
There was a message from Caltrans dated Friday afternoon about a traffic accident. My accident. Said it was a four-vehicle accident. I didn’t even know about the other two cars.
The photos on the cover are from the tow yard at the Lee Vining Shell. I took ‘em the next day.
By then, I had added different ways I should’ve died to the list. There was a lot of traffic that day. How come there wasn’t a guy driving behind the Prius who should have hit me while I bounced across the road? How did the Prius just miss hitting my driver’s side door? That would’ve finished me instantly. How did the impact spin me back onto the highway in the perfect direction?
That’s why you’ll notice that my gas tank is loaded into the pickup bed. That’s what the Prius took out. It was apparently recovered on the highway. Along with a tire and the front grill and a whole bunch of detritus.
Neck’s sore. Brain’s intact. Sheet lives.