Friday, January 8, 2010

Was it real or Memorex?

This post isn’t about Buddhism. Rather, it is about inexplicable phenomenon. It is about a story from my past that after you hear it, you will likely think, “Sure Rich, I bet that’s how it happened. Sure you weren’t smoking something that night?”

As a matter of fact, I probably had been. I know for a fact that I had been drinking. I did quite a bit of that when I lived in Montana during the early 1990s. Sometimes we measured driving distance by the number of beers consumed during the trip. And despite all the drinking and driving I did back then, I was always lucky.

In fact, several years prior to the incident I am about to describe, a companion and I (a note, I was deep in the closet at the time, so there is no innuendo when I use the term “companion”) drove all night from Pecos, N.M., to Telluride, Colo., for the bluegrass festival that year. Needless to say we drank all night while I did all of the driving. We were going through the last little mountain town before descending the pass down into Telluride when I was pulled over, apparently for speeding. Inside my car were empty beer bottles, an empty black rum bottle; it stank of stale alcohol and hops. And then there was the issue that I had a car with a New Mexico license plate, registration from Arizona, and my driver’s license was issued by the state of Michigan. Oh, and when I went to get the registration, a bag of pot fell out of the glove box.

When the officer examined the documents I handed to him, his plaintive reply was, “Who owns this car?”

“I do.” I tried to explain the situation. “I’m sorry for the speeding. We’re on our way to the bluegrass festival and we’re so close, I guess I got a bit impatient.”

He went back to his patrol car and started to radio in the information. I can still recall that beautiful sunny day, and as I looked at the steep mountainsides, heard the Alpine air breezing through the trees, and watched as the officer held his head in his hand in despair, I thought to myself, “I hope my jail cell has a window.”

I had completely surrendered myself to the situation. I had been nabbed. There was nothing for me to say. I still had enough alcohol in my body to qualify as being drunk, although I hadn’t had anything to drink for a few hours. There was marijuana in my car. The ownership documents were dubious. And I was speeding.

The officer got out of his car, walked up to me to hand me my license. As he did so, he said, “Drive carefully Mr. Harrold.”

Did I already say that I’ve always been lucky in these matters?

In 1977 when I was a sophomore in college, I and my two very close friends who were also my roommates drove from Kalamazoo, Mich., to Holland, Mich., to Hope College, a very conservative college affiliated with the Reformed Church in America in one of the most conservative counties in the state. We snuck in a keg of beer into the men’s dorm where another friend of ours was living. We also snuck in a bunch of girls. After the keg was killed, all the pot was smoked, and we’d listened to enough Supertramp and Boz Scaggs to keep us going for another 12 hours, we decided to take a small group to the “warm water channel” for a swim. About 10 miles north of Holland is Port Sheldon where there is a power plant. The water used to cool the turbines is discharged into Lake Michigan, creating a region of warm water. It also creates some treacherous currents.

Eight of us got into a Chevy Vega. This car had bucket seats up front, so two were in the front. Three of us were crowded in the back seat; I was among these three. And three others rode in the back with the hatch open, dangling their legs out the back.

I recall everything with strange lucidity. For some inexplicable reason, the passenger up front grabbed the steering wheel and gave it a yank. The driver yelled some expletive at the passenger, but it was too late. The Vega was sent into a swerve on the pavement moist from the mist in the air, as we were quite near the lake. The driver counter-steered to the right, then to the left, then to the right again as he lost complete control and the Vega slammed its side into a huge tree. Glass shattered and scattered all over me, as the impact was just 15 inches ahead of me on my side of the vehicle.

No body was hurt. Not even a scratch. The car was even drivable, although the girls said we were crazy assholes and they were going to walk the 10 miles back to Holland.

But I digress. I was going to tell you about an incident in Montana. It was 1990, mid-winter. My companion and I (I’m still in the closet then) were out in my pickup driving about the mountains of Montana, drinking and listening to music. It was night and snowing like crazy and we were car skiing. What this entails is as the driver is driving on the snow-covered roadway, the passenger opens his door, and while holding on to the door, steps out onto the road way to slide along on the snow pulled by the vehicle. And then you hop back into the vehicle. All of this is happening while you are driving as fast as conditions will allow.

Yeah, I know, really fucking stupid.

My companion was driving as it was my turn to hop out and ski for a bit. We were travelling down a long hill that had some curves, but not sharp ones. After I hopped back into the truck, we reached the bottom of the hill and we started to slide. My companion attempted to counter-steer to bring the pickup back under control, but he could not and the truck went off the roadway, headed for a road sign with enough momentum we would likely crash into it. It was one of those road signs mounted on two posts. My companion was apologizing profusely to me for losing control of my truck. I again just surrendered, and without thinking, said to him, “Don’t worry, we’ll be just fine.”

The truck went off the road through the snow at the sign and went under the sign right between the two posts. Within a matter of minutes another truck showed up that had a chain and a winch that pulled us out.

Two days later I drove by that sign. I stopped to look at it because it still amazed me how lucky we were to go between the two posts. But when I got out of my truck to look at the sign, I quickly realized that the space between those two posts was too narrow for my truck to pass.

And yet, that’s exactly what happened that night.

The following summer I stopped drinking for a bit. Well, for five years anyway. And I came out, acknowledged my sexuality. When I did that, come out to people, well, any words I try to use to describe that feeling of release will just be hackneyed. And shortly after that, I met the Buddha.

I still drink, but not nearly as much as I used to. Perhaps still too much, however. But these things, over time, have a manner of dropping away, like flotsam and jetsam cast away from a ship that is in danger of foundering.

Well, I guess this post is about Buddhism. If you see how, explain it to me.


  1. Wonderful story, and who would have thought that you, Richard of all people have stories like this. hehe We need to hear more of them!

  2. Great stories...perhaps it was about Intention?

    I have a similar story:

  3. @Was Once, so you worked at Keystone? What year was that? I'm still thinking about your suggestion it's about intention. A bit befuddled by that. But anyway, like the reference to Dr. Bong. Very nice.

  4. I just thought your story was about intention referring to your last question in the post.

    '77,'78 1/2 of '79 worked there.