The back window of my 1968 Plymouth Satellite Station Wagon bore testimony to the many times I drove that dirt road as a teenager on the edge of manhood. The view through that dust covered pane may have been obscured but it made my path ahead clearer.
How does a city boy from the San Francisco Peninsula learn from a dirt road?
When I was 16, my parents moved us from Belmont, California to Spring Valley, Virginia. We actually lived on Route 604, another dirt road, but Route 655 was a much longer dirt road that had a deeper role in my coming of age.
The first time I drove down 655, I pulled to the edge to let another car pass.
I misjudged the edge.
My big old wagon with the black California plates was quickly stuck.
I walked to the nearest dwelling with lights on. A small shack of a house that looked like it was held up as much by prayer as by wood offered my only hope.
I stepped onto the porch in my flip-flips, shorts, tank-top, and coat. I was on my way to a Halloween party dressed as a beach bum. I’m not kidding. I really was.
An older man answered the door. He and his twenty something son looked like true hillbillies. They smiled when I explained my costume.
They helped me out of the ditch in no time and refused my offer of payment.
They were some of the nicest people I had met in my young life.
I learned not to judge people by their looks or situation.
I got a job at a farm on that road.
In fact, it was at the farm with the Halloween party – for the people whose car caused me to slide into the ditch. I never told them.
They were business owners from North Carolina who spent a lot of their time away from home. They needed someone to drive their kids and help take care of the farm.
That’s how, one day, I found myself on foot going down the middle of Route 655.
The neighbor’s bull had broken through the fence and I had to prod it back to the neighbor’s farm.
I was scared out of my wits, but I did it.
The bull was more than 10 times my size but it went where I directed and was soon back in the neighbor’s barn.
I learned a little country confidence.
My Plymouth had a similar dashboard to a popular TV car – the General Lee.
The Dukes of Hazzard always drove like their tails were on fire and no one complained but the inept and corrupt police in the show.
I somehow thought that’s how one could drive on dirt roads.
That was dumb.
One day a neighbor flagged me down and tore into me about going too fast. I was caught off guard. I knew I drove fast but had no idea that it upset people.
Yes I was clueless.
I apologized profusely and asked how fast I should take that road (there were no speed limit signs). I think they expected arrogance from me and were taken aback by my attitude.
I learned to try to see things from other’s perspectives.
My old wagon was in bad need of a tune-up the day I crawled it up a hill.
The top of the hill was blind.
The big Plymouth took up two-thirds of the one lane road.
The Ford pickup flying over the top of the hill took up two-thirds.
That math don’t add up!
I was stopped within a second of the sight.
The truck couldn’t stop.
My wide eyes saw the truck veer to my left.
A thick tree stopped it cold right next to me. It leaned steeply over the embankment.
The driver, a young man I vaguely knew, stumbled out and collapsed in pain on the road.
The sight of his passengers shocked me. It was two of the kids from the farm where I worked. The 10-year-old boy had a bloody face. The 13-year-old girl was screaming and holding her wrist.
There were flames under the hood!
They got out with a little help from me.
Thankfully, the flames died out.
I ran to their farm just up the road. As I called the rescue squad, their 16-year-old sister and her boyfriend rushed to the scene.
By the time I got back to the hill, the young couple was about to take the kids to the hospital. They refused to take the driver, a friend of the boyfriend. They were beyond angry.
The driver tried to blame me for the accident. No one but a couple of his friends believed him. I don’t think they believed him long.
I learned the results of unsafe driving.
I could go on about the lessons from that road.
- Don’t listen to peer pressure egging you to go faster.
- Make sure you have the right size chains before driving backroads in the snow.
- Always make sure your spare tire is good.
- Don’t fear the dark that far out in the country.
- Ditches hide under leaves in the Fall.
- Station wagons aren’t made for off-reading!
That last one wasn’t really on Route 655, but you get the point. These were just a few stories that happened on Route 655.
I dare say the two years of country life taught me more about living than the previous 16 in the suburbs!
The next time you’re tempted to complain about a route that takes you over a dirt road, slow down and listen. The road might just teach you something.