Today, my friends, I am going to tell you another story of my near escapes from Death. That winged reaper has danced a scintillating tango with me since I was a child, coming close, so close, but never quite touching. I’ve already written about one of these times, in my near miss through strep throat. Here’s another memory.
My 1979 Camaro Berlinetta was not my first car. That honor went to the 1943 Volkswagen Bug that I had used, abused, and ultimately, well, blew up. With the death of that little German War Machine (ah, to be a stupid punk teenager and not realize the implications and power of names), I had decided I wanted something newer, but still affordable for the shoestring budget of an odd-job working teenager. I also wanted something cooler, and as the Dead Milkmen would be happy to endorse, fewer things are cooler than a bitchin’ Camaro.
Alas, this Camaro was more rustin’ than bitchin’, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care that the power windows were broken. That the AC was broken. That the heater was stuck on permanent full blast. That the interior of the car was stripped of everything, including insulation, down to bare metal. That the tires were all bald as hell, and the whole care rust brown. From actual rust, not paint. No, what I cared about was speed – and boy, let me tell you, that Camaro could fly. Even if you did had to open the doors at every stoplight to keep from getting heatstroke in the summer. I drove that Camaro for a good year, despite its scrap-heapitude, and you know? It was fun. Fast and loud and broken, which fit my punker/thug reputation.
The second summer I had it, my best friend and I landed a shit job working at a tree farm in the mountains of Colorado. Our job was pretty simple – we arrived at the farm, and took the trees that were dug up already, wrapped their roots in burlap, and loaded them on a flatbed for delivery. We were usually the only ones on site – the migrant workers who dug up the trees did so early (to beat any heat of the day) and our boss usually showed up at the end of the week to verify the count of trees we’d bagged and give us cash for our paycheck. Anyway, it was late May, almost June. We got up to the tree farm around nine in the morning, and the weather was fucking gorgeous. T-shirts and shorts weather, the way a day in late May should be. We were a bit miserable to say the least – the work pretty much required jeans and flannel shirts, so we were hot and not happy about it. We got to work, bullshitting about this and that. Then around one in the afternoon, the temperature dropped a good 20-30 degrees in minutes.
This put me on edge, instantly. My car was not ready for winter conditions. Basically, a death trap sled in car form. I turned to my buddy and said, “Dude, if it starts snowing, I am off this fucking mountain.” He bitched because he wanted to wait for the boss to show up with our pay, and I told him he was welcome to wait in the snow, but I would be getting off that mountain. He agreed, reluctantly. We kept bagging for a half hour, when this big, fat snowflake came drifting down between us.
“Seeya!” I said, and got up and went to my car. My buddy followed, jumped in, and we made our way down the dirt road to the mountain highway that would take us back to the city at the base of the mountain.
It took us about five minutes to get to the road. In that time, around 4-5″ of snow had already fallen. It was crazy how hard it was coming down; the windshield wipers on the not-so-bitchin’ Camaro were almost worthless. Every time they’d swipe one direction, enough snow would fall that the back swing would build it up against the base of the windshield, and the wipers would become worthless in minutes. So every few hundred yards, I’d have to stop and get out, clear the snow from the backswing, and keep going. To make it even more fun, the roads were getting slicker and slicker, so that it was a bit like driving on the ice level of Mario cart. Except on a mountain, with no little helper in a balloon/cloud with a crane to help drag you back on track. To make it even more fun, the freakin’ heater? The one stuck permanently on that turned my car into an Easy Bake Berlinetta for the previous year? It gave out as soon as we hit the paved road.
So there we are, slipping and sliding in my deathtrap Camaro down the mountain, and after a few wild fishtails I finally get the car to stop so I can clean off the windshield again. I was sick of getting out of the car, and had resolved to fuck with the heater controls to see if I could get it to work, so I told my buddy it was his turn to get out and clear the windshield while I did so. He obliged, opening his door and stepping out of the car. Except he didn’t get out. Instead, he slammed the door, and began scrambling over me as if he had opened the door to a prison shower scene and he was dressed in clothes with pedophile written all over them. He was screaming and in a blind panic, clawing at my door handle, and he opened it, causing us both to tumble out. I started yelling at him, asking what the fuck his problem was. He was whiter than the falling snow, catching his breath. Finally, he grabs my hand, and escorts me gingerly around to the front of the car.
Now, I know this is the internet and people are prone to exaggerate here, but I am telling you the honest-to-God truth: my car had stopped a scant few inches from the edge of a 200+ foot drop into a gorge. When my buddy opened the door to step out, he literally put his foot into empty air, had looked down, and nearly passed out before scrambling over me, screaming like a little girl. I was instantly struck by a wave of dizziness myself. My buddy refused to get back in the car. He said he’d rather freeze to death. I wasn’t so anxious either, but I didn’t want to try to hike my way off a mountain during a freak blizzard. Thankfully, a big rig truck came down the highway as we were debating what to do, and the trucker gave us a lift down the mountain.
My dad and I went back up a week later, when the snow had cleared, to get the car. A plow had pushed it even closer to the edge, enough so that my dad didn’t even want to attempt to drive it, since it still had some ice underneath. We hooked a tow chain to the front, pulled it free, and I drove it home.
And traded it in that week on a newer, less death-trappy car.