Tuesday, January 18, 2011


A very dead rabbit

Any of you who have been following my posts, I said I would tell you more about this accident.  Debbie, this makes the Pantera accident seem like a fun day.  This happened at the end of a three month trip Gail and I took to Mexico and Guatemala.  Originally, we were planning to go to school in Jalapa, a University town near Veracruz.  But, when we got there, the gentleman who had told us he had made all our arrangements looked at us kind of like, "and you are....who?"  He was a professor there and the brother of one of Gail's good friends.  But, we soon found out he was nothing like his brother.  By the next day, we did our usual, sync-think and at the same time looked at each other and basically said, "You know, we have the Summer free...a car that will go almost 1,000 miles on a $5 fill-up, and...we were kids and sleeping in the car seemed reasonable.  That has always been one of the greatest things about Gail.  As long as what I suggest doesn't appear to involve painful death, she is up for it.  So, we had a great Summer...drove all over.  One of the dumbest things I did was:  One night in Cristobal de las Casas, the only place we could stay, which was actually very nice, didn't take credit cards, and I felt we were running very low on pesos.  These were the days when there wasn't an ATM on every corner.  You had to find a Western Union office or knock over a fruit vendor.  And...Villahermosa was just on the other side of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.  The facts that crossing the Isthmus required climbing thousands of feet on the south side and then descending same on the north and none of the roads were paved and it was raining so hard that Noah would have been nervous just didn't seem like deterrents.  Then, one night we stayed in Palenque and we were truly enjoying ourselves because we were the only ones there. Thus, we decided to wash our car.  Just as soon as I borrowed a hose from the gardener and found some implements to complete said task, and Gail donned a bikini in anticipation of the inevitable water fight our sense of well being vanished.  A VW van and a water truck pulled in and 8 guys piled out, all carrying Uzis, MAC-10s and M-16s.  They looked at Gail the way one might expect and those that looked at me seemed to be contemplating how best to remove me from the picture.  We ended up being left alone.  Apparently Tequila was sufficient to entertain these guys who seemed to be drug runners or some of the early members of what became the Zapatistas.  

A few days later, we really were just about out of money so we decided to get on home.  On the very last day, after we crossed the bay of Tampico on the same ferry that was in the 1948 Bogart movie Treasure of the Sierra Madre and were patiently awaiting our turn to exit, a very impatient vaquero in a Ford F-150 just floored it and dragged his bumper all down the side our car and sped away.  Fortunately,  la rubia looks at such thing far more philosophically than do I.  As she attempted to calm me, out of nowhere, she suggested that we pull over and put on our seat belts.  It seemed odd, as these were pre-seatbelt law days and we essentially never wore them.  But I do not question her in such situations.  Not 10 minutes later, a 2 1/2 ton cattle truck that appeared to be parked on the side of the road, but was actually idling, waiting to make a U-turn, failed to see us and went for it.  Then, he saw us and slammed on his brakes, totally blocking the road.  You know how they say your life passes before your eyes?  I didn't experience that, but is was strange how many thoughts passed through my head in that millisecond.  Its an odd decision to have to make.  I had two options.  I possibly could have pulled hard to the left, which would more than likely resulted in us cartwheeling across a soccer field with some boys playing on it.  I couldn't do that one.  The other option was very strange because in that very short period of time I distinctly recall thinking that if we went underneath the truck, we would just be decapitated.  So, I did my best to hit his rear duals as squarely as possible.  There was an explosion like I've never experienced, despite other similar collisions.  Lights out.

I don't really know how long I was unconscious.  But, I awoke to Gail saying, "Are we going to catch fire?"  She was hearing the radiator dripping on the exhaust manifold.  The engine was actually underneath us.  I didn't stop to reason, I just realized that my door was jammed shut.  Ironically, my worst injury came from knocking that door open with my left shoulder.  When I got out, I realized what Gail had been hearing and it occurred to me that the car was a diesel and fire was not likely.  Then, I noticed the cattle truck, upside down in the ditch.  After checking on Gail, I went over to see how the truck driver was.  He was gone is how he was.  Then I noticed that there were two guys checking on Gail.  I realized that they were the guys who had been driving alongside us, passing and getting passed for the last couple of hours.  They were in a car identical to ours and I remembered that I had seen them pull over just before the impact.  Turns out, they had picked that very moment to change drivers and were like 300 yards back from the impact site.  They were brothers and the older one was a hospital administrator in Tampico.  He told me that God had saved them...that they should have been to ones that it the truck.  Oh, he also informed me that the truck driver was muy drunk and had taken off running.

So, as we were trying to figure out what to do, everybody that drove by asked me where the bodies were.  Then, a big crew-cab pickup pulled up.  A very pleasant woman climbed out.  It was very comforting for Gail to finally hear English.  Judy was an American.  Her husband, Rafael, worked for the Department of Agriculture.  They both stressed what we all already knew.  Time to get the hell out of there before the federales showed and tossed us in jail until they figured out what happened.  So, we threw our stuff in the back of their pickup (they had three kids), so we rode with the brothers.  It was all a bit disconcerting.  We just left our car in the middle of the road, having paid the local cop to take care of it.  But, Gail had hit her head on the dashboard and was hit in the back of the head with something heavy.  I broke the steering column with my chest and the windshield with the top of my head.  And we had no idea how badly hurt we were.  Many, many hours later we crossed the border into McAllen, Texas.  The border guard looked at us like, "Do I really want to know what this story is?"  Because, the brothers couldn't take their car across.  We weren't supposed to leave our car in the country.  So, their brother came across the border and picked us up.  Gail and I just tossed our tourist cards and showed out passports like we were just visiting for the day.  The fact that we were with three Mexican nationals and covered with blood wasn't going to be easily explained.  Fortunately, the guard decided that he was probably better off remaining ignorant of our circumstances.  We met up with Rafael and Judy the next day.  Fortunately, we didn't have any serious injuries, so we just hung out with our new friends for three days until we could get a flight home.  The second evening, we eventually got around to actually introducing ourselves.  Judy said, "You're not related to a Lester Braun from Chowchilla, are you?"  Turns out Judy grew up in that little Central Valley town where my uncle was the only doctor and he actually delivered her .  She and Rafael met in college at University of Tucson.  And, as I said in the first post, that close of a brush with death made us reevaluate our timetable on going forth and multiplying.  Nine months later, we had a goofy little baby girl.

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