The Grim Reaper eventually comes calling on all of us. Depending how you've led your life decides whether he turns left or right at the Crossroad. I've came very close to meeting him face-to-face on several occasions, knowingly and unknowingly, by sheer luck. When I look back at some of those moments, especially in my youth, I ask myself one basic question,"What the Hell was I thinking?"
I think most active boys, especially in the Blue-Collar Steel Town I came from dared each other to feats of athletic prowess as a rite of passage. Kind of a stepped up version of Follow The Leader. I recall several occasions in my pre-teen years of challenging somebody or they challenging me. One stunt involved jumping from the top of a culvert pipe to a creek bed below, a distance of about fifteen feet. I just so happen to be familiar with the area around the creek bed, having walked through the creek many times before. I jumped first landing very close to the wall of the culvert, but in about six inches of soft mud, knowing the mud would cushion my fall. I was a muck-covered mess. Everyone laughed, but I suffered no injuries. My friend wasn't so lucky. He jumped far out and landed on the rocky creek bottom, severely spraining his ankle. I clearly won that round.
The next episode was started by a buddy I think was part Monkey. He was always climbing trees and swinging from limb to limb. He invented a game of "Riding A Tree down". He would pick out a young tree about 25-30 feet tall and 6-8 inches in diameter in a woods we often hung out in. He would climb to the very top of the tree and begin swinging violently back and forth. This would continue for several minutes until the tree would eventually snap from the stress of the bending and he would "ride" it to the ground, totally uninjured. I thought it looked like fun and told him I could do it,too. We picked out a suitable tree and up I climbed. I began swinging and didn't realise my friend had also wrapped his legs around the trunk for added gripping power. After about a minute, my hands lost their grip and I fell down through the tree like a pinball, bouncing off of several branches before landing with a thud on thankfully soft ground. Besides having "My Bell Rung" and some bruised ribs, I was O.K. My friend definitely won that round!
Moving into my Teen Years, stupidity didn't take a holiday. Not long after getting my Driver's License, I was tooling around town with my buddies in my Clunker of a car. For some unknown reason, my friend that was riding Shotgun in the passenger seat hollered out that "You're in last place!" I think it was from a line in a movie, but in any event, I felt obliged to floor the accelerator. Problem was the gas pedal stuck to the floor! I panicked, being a young inexperienced driver. I just started steering like Richard Petty, yelling over and over, "What should I do?" My buddy reached over and simply turned off the ignition and said slowly pull off on to the side of the road. I sheepishly listened to him as we glided to a stop. We popped the gas pedal out that was buried in the carpeting and went on our way. I screamed at my friend to "Never tell me we're in last place again!"
My next act of stupidity was in my adult years. I've had a motorcycle since I've been eighteen. After pulling my bike out of storage from the Winter, I noticed I needed new license plates for it, so I rode it in to town on some winding country roads to avoid detection from police of my expired plates. Something had blown out of my pocket as I tooled down the road. I quickly turned around and retrieved the paper, hopped on the motorcycle and was on my way again.
About a mile down the road, it curved sharply to the left. I leaned the bike into the curve too late to realise I had left the kick stand down. The kick stand dug deeply into the asphalt and I was going to fast to stop in the middle of the curve. Unfortunately, I ran out of road and wound up in a deep ditch. I was vaulted over the windshield and landed in some high grass. I took stock of my situation and attempted to get up. That's when I noticed my right elbow was now where my bicep was. Apparently in shock, I felt no pain, but I couldn't get out of the ditch on my own. I wasn't visible from the road, so every car that passed, I whistled as loud as I could. Eventually someone stopped and found me. Two months later, I was as good as new. Ironically, the next year, all motorcycles were manufactured with a Kill Switch that wouldn't let the bike run with the kick stand down. Gee, I can't imagine why...
As a Fireman, during a benefit softball game we were having, we received a call for an apartment fire above a machine shop. I arrived at the scene and donned my fire gear which consisted of a helmet, coat, gloves, and thigh-high boots. Coming from the ball field, all I had on was shorts and a tee shirt. The upstairs was roaring with fire by now. Fire Hose in hand, I made my way up the steps, extiguishing the flames as I went. Unfortunately, the hot embers found their way into the top of my boots because I had shorts on and they weren't very tight around my thighs. I could only stand the burning sensation for so long, then immediately turned the Fire Hose on myself and squirted water down my boots. We got the fire out quickly and I retreated to the Fire House to tend to several quarter-size blisters on my legs. needless to say, I always made sure I had an extra pair of pants with my Fire Gear.
It's taken me many years to think of the consequences of my actions at the time I'm doing something. By obtaining a Doctorate from The School of Hard Knocks, I hope I can pass along more common sense to my children then I had at their age. As they say, at least at the end of this life, I can slide into home safely and say, 'What A Ride!"