Death On The Highway

Al Billings

The actor Paul Walker and his buddy died in a gruesome car crash a few days ago near Los Angeles, both of them roasted into charred meat. A Porsche Carrera GT is a rolling death car, and more than anything, its only desire is to take your life. One tiny flick of the wheel and you’re on the path to oblivion. But one does not need a high-priced sports car to depart this life in style.

In the summer of 1966, I was hanging around a a friend’s cabin in the San Bernardino mountains, all of us young and reckless. I bet my friend Doug that my Suzuki X-6 hustler motorcycle would out-perform his Austin Healy Sprite. From zero to sixty miles per hour, the  X-6 was the fastest machine on the planet. Doug and I taunted each other, and we decided to race down a winding two-lane highway in the San Bernardino mountains, from five thousand feet above sea level to the valley floor. And just to ratchet up the tension, we’d taken some fairly strong doses of LSD. Someone waved a flag, and we were off.

As I expected, Doug’s Sprite was no match for my Suzuki. I was enjoying the thrill of eminent victory, flying along the highway like a banshee when I happened to look down, towards my left, and saw that I had veered off of the highway at close to a hundred miles an hour, and I was now screaming along a hefty chain link fence and granite wall barrier meant to stop people from driving their cars off the cliff. I had no control left, and only fate and the baby Jesus in my hands. Once I’d dismounted, I looked over the edge of the mountain and saw that if I’d gone over, I’d have fallen several thousand feet almost straight down to the valley floor below. I drank a lot of beer that night, and for a few weeks, my friends avoided me.

Doug and I hadn’t talked in years, but we reconnected a few months ago. Doug mentioned the race and my near-brush with death. I thought that he might have had something poetic to say about that night, but all he could say was “Man, you’re crazy!”

December 4, 2013 9:34 pm

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