High School – 2004
I lost many friends during the transition from middle school to high school; they turned to alcohol and who knows what else. High school was a rather lonely time, especially after being quite popular in middle school. To compensate for my solitude, I spent a lot of time playing computer games. One could say it was my social outlet. Counter-Strike, Starcraft and Warcraft 3. I played so much, I used to skip school to play more. On days that I did go to school, I would go home for lunch and while the panini sandwich was cooking on the George Foreman (and later the Krups), I’d snag a few frags in a few rounds of CS. Maybe this was how I developed my dexterity and eye-hand coordination for the mouse surgery I would do 6 years later as a lab technician at Temple University. Maybe if I hadn’t had this outlet, I wouldn’t have made it to one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation.
I was a junior in high school when I played far too late into the night one particular Friday. The next morning I had a soccer game. Soccer was my other outlet that was a huge driving force in my life.
I’m on the freeway in the middle lane driving myself to the soccer game in Mom’s navy blue Crown Victoria. If the windows had been tinted, I would have looked like a police officer. I sure didn’t drive like one that day.
My eyes are heavy with hours of Counter-Strike the night before as I struggle to stay awake. Alternating between rolling the windows down and blasting the air condition are two techniques I employ to attempt to free myself from the straps of fatigue. I turn up the music hoping this would keep me from drifting off to sleep. I learn the hard way that sleep is really important.
I fall asleep at the wheel. Luckily my foot eases off the gas pedal rather than adds more pressure. I drift from the middle lane to the fast lane on my left and then over the lane line onto the shoulder. Just before hitting the median, I wake up without my cat-like reflexes that made me stellar as a Counter-Strike player. With my hands still on the wheel, Mom’s hand-me-down Crown Victoria bounces off the metal barricade of the freeway median – talk about being brought back to my senses.
I look in the rear view mirror behind me and there are 4 – 5 cars about 30 feet behind me. They probably noticed me drifting on the road and decided to hang back rather than try to pass me.
Thankfully I don’t hit anyone. I keep driving to the game as if nothing had happened. I roll down the window to see and feel the damage I had caused to my Mom’s car. The adrenaline was flowing. I curse myself and ask myself, why? why? why?
I get to the game and play the whole soccer game. It turns out to be one of my worst performances – probably due to the fact that I had no more adrenaline left after the car accident. After the game, I show my teammate what had happened.
“Dude, you’re in deep shit man.”
Houston – 2014
I’m on the freeway headed home with a crate full of organic fruits and vegetables. I just finished picking up groceries at Kristina’s Fully Raw organic produce farmer’s market co-op. Houston is only a year old to me. I had spent much of that year not driving because I didn’t have a car until Mom and Step-Dad gave me their old Honda CR-V.
Not being too familiar with the network of freeways would be a minor reason why my life would change on February 8.
I chose to take the left fork and as I ascend towards the sky, I look over my right shoulder only to realize I should have taken the right fork. I drove 1 second too long with my eyes off the road.
When I returned to facing forward the wheels on the left side of the car were already over the line and grinding the gravel and salt that had been strewn onto the freeway because of the wintry-like weather from January.
I slammed on the breaks which only made me lose control of the car.
This is when slow-motion kicks in and I see everything as if I were watching a sloth race a tortoise. (Who would win?)
The car fish-tailed and I began to slide as if the direction of my car were perpendicular with the direction of the road. I released the break only to slam into the concrete barrier with the front of my car. The tiny fragments of shattered windshield fly towards my face as the airbag deploys into my chest. The cat-like reflexes were there this time to close my eyes just before the glass bounced off my skin.
The car barrel rolled onto its right side and continued for one more turn and stopped rotating when the hood of the car came into contact with the road. The car slid to a halt. I was hanging from my seatbelt. I took a second to assess my body; everything felt fine. I undid my seat belt without thinking twice only to slam my head and shoulder into the roof of the car.
I climbed out of the driver side window that had shattered in the mayhem as well. I stood up to reassess my body – no damage. I’m totally calm.
A guy pulled up in his car and told me he saw the whole thing happen from behind. He’s shocked at how peaceful I am.
Just like in high school, I didn’t hit anyone. Just me and the road.
Kind of a miracle if you think about it – how the car didn’t go over the barrier and plummet down the several stories onto the traffic below.
I had work at Whole Foods later that day. After being towed home, I sat down on the carpet floor of my apartment to finish soaking in what had just happened.
I ran to work later that day. Had to keep life moving forward.
Lesson: face forward.
Mom taught me one of the greatest lessons after my first accident in high school. She made sure I got back on the road as soon as possible and that I didn’t let one accident traumatize me.
“Here, you’re driving.”
“What are you going to do, not drive anymore for the rest of your life?”
I took the keys and I drove her to do her errands.
… Years after the high school accident it was difficult for me to sleep in any car as a passenger…
A sign that I had been lucky two months before.
Hero – 2016
It’s Thanksgiving break 2016. It’s the first time spending time with family after being out in the world for 7-ish months. Cleveland, Ohio tends to have a lot of wintry weather at this time of year, but this year we were in a patch of mild weather.
The day Cousin and Bro’s Girlfriend need to be picked up from the airport, it’s drizzling and the temperature is hovering around freezing. Bro is occupied with work so I offer to make the trip to the airport in front of the family in the kitchen.
“You don’t have the greatest track record for driving. You probably shouldn’t be the one to pick them up.” – The-who-must-not-be-named
The fire is lit. Inside, I’m fuming. Outside, I’m like I had just stepped out of a Transformer.
There’s a bit of discussion of who should go to pick them up. No one really offers to drive (family likes comfort, it’s nice being at home where its warm and cozy) which makes me re-nominate myself with more assertiveness. I ask Bro if I can drive his car to pick them up. He looks at me for one second as the rest of the family looks at him and gauges his next move. He hands me the keys to his car.
“I’ll come with you. I can be your navigator.” – Cousin
As I’m on the freeway to the airport, some thoughts flicker past me: …what if I do get into another accident?… why do people put so much weight on history?… am I my experiences?… … My family doesn’t know that in April I flew on the Autobahn in Germany or that in May I weaved through traffic on the freeway in India at night (there are no rules on the road) or that in July in Nepal I maneuvered a scooter (again, no rules) or that in October I drove a farmer’s manual pick-up truck regularly…
I’m extra careful with my speed as I drive through the light drizzle. We talk about Cousin’s plans for the future. We get to the airport with no problem. Mission: halfway there.
Once the car is fully loaded, passengers and luggage, we begin the journey home. As I drive, I am calm and cordial while having conversations with a cousin I hadn’t seen in years and a new person in my life. It’s still drizzling but it is no longer something I’m concerned about. The only concern I have is getting Bro’s car back onto Aunt’s driveway.
The ride back home is just another day in the park. I hand back the keys to Bro with a feeling that I had maintained his trust. I had driven his Acura countless of times before. Maybe that’s why he had been willing to let me go pick up his girlfriend and our cousin at the airport. Maybe he was living Mom’s lesson of not letting my past haunt me.
Car: more mileage, less gas.
Lesson: move on.
I stumbled upon this video recently and realized I have my own musecage without even knowing what it was:
Michael Jordan had his musecage too. What many people don’t realize is that throughout his childhood and his career he had his slough of naysayers. He had a father that told him to ‘go back inside with the women’ because he didn’t know which tool from the toolbox his father wanted. He was told that he would be a bench warmer at UNC. He was fueled by his emotions and he used his emotions to light fires in his teammates and the people around him. That’s how he knew how to succeed, that’s how he thought he could inspire other people to succeed. Every negative comment remained in his psyche and drove him to prove people wrong.
The negativity around you can help you achieve just as much as the positive support. Don’t let it bring you down to their level. Let the steam from your boiling blood raise elevate you higher than their limiting vision.
I think the same thing happened to me this past Thanksgiving where a negative comment stoked me up for the driving challenge. I didn’t want to let my poor history of driving dictate my future on the road. Your history makes you who you are. I am more careful on the road because of my accidents. Have a growth-mindset.
I was recently told that, “your standards are too high. No one is going to reach for the bar you have set. You can’t expect people to perform at the level you want them to.” After getting fired, I thought about what the level of standards would be without me working there anymore…
A mentor in Houston once told me, “Never lower your standards. For anything.”