When my husband looked over at me at the end of the day and said, “You look like you’ve been run over by a 4-wheeler,” I didn’t take it as an insult (at least not at first). But ouch.
It started out when I was driving north on the freeway, praying that the construction traffic backup in Mt Shasta wouldn’t make me late for work. I was hosting my radio program out of the Ashland studios that day, and if I wasn’t there before noon, I might as well start looking for another job. Ironically, the roads were mostly clear the whole way, and at the moment I was considering myself pretty lucky. The last time I’d traveled between Redding and Ashland, it took six hours.
That’s when my daughter called me from Portland to ask if I’d seen the photo she’d just sent me. She and her boyfriend had just moved in to an apartment in the middle of the city, in the heart of the Pearl District. After they signed the lease they found out how expensive it was to keep a car in the city, over $300 to store both cars in a secure lot. Still mulling over whether it was worth the expense, she left her car overnight in a space on the street near their apartment. The photo was of her windshield the next morning, bashed in. It looked like someone had crashed their bicycle into the front of her car, flipped up onto the hood, and crashed helmet first into the glass.
There were knuckle deep gouges and long scrapes on three panels of her vehicle as well, most likely from pedals, gears and handlebars. Paying the one thousand dollar deductible to fix the body damage didn’t seem worth it for a car that’s almost as old as she is, seeing as how this is probably something that’s going to happen again. And again. Instead, we paid the hundred dollar deductible and got a new windshield, and her car now bears the battle scars of its rude introduction to the big city.
Moments after getting off the phone with the insurance company (while still on my journey to Ashland), I got another phone call, this time from my husband. If you’ve been following our lives recently, then you probably already know he’s been in the far northeastern corner of Oregon for the past several months making a dangerous hairpin curve not so dangerous. But on this particular weekend, he had taken some time off, and was meeting me to camp out on our waterfront property near Coos Bay. He was calling to tell me that he’d already arrived. Arrived to find that someone else had broken into our storage container on the property by destroying the lock. They’d stolen everything they could carry off, mostly yard maintenance tools. Gone were our canopy tent, weed eater, chain saw, leaf blower, and a five gallon can of gas. They were nice enough to leave behind a pair of panties (DNA evidence, not that the sheriff cared), three cigarette butts and a random dollar bill. Pretty much the only things they didn’t take were the things that couldn’t fit into a car, like both of our 4-wheelers, even though we had foolishly left our keys right in the ignition. But they took my helmet.
I arrived in Ashland, pulled music, and got into my radio show, trying not to obsess about the things I couldn’t do anything about. I felt my cell phone vibrating on the counter top next to the production console, and saw that it was my trusty radio sidekick, Good Rockin’ Derral, our blues host back down in Redding. Most of the time if Derral calls me while I’m out of town, its to tell me that there’s trouble down in River City. I figured we were off the air.
Distracted, I held the phone up to my ear to answer it, but didn’t realize that I’d hit the speaker phone button. The speaker volume was as high as it could go. Of course I didn’t know that until Derral yelled, “HI BOSS!!”
It felt like a gun had been shot right next to my head. There was an explosion of sound in my ear that was so loud and so painful that I yelled and dropped the phone. It was one of the most excruciating things I have ever experienced, right up there with childbirth and a gallstone attack.
Although the pain subsided pretty quickly, it immediately dawned on me that I was completely deaf in my right ear. I couldn’t hear anything from that side. My ears are my life. Well, they’re my livelihood. Sure, Beethoven was able to write his 9th Symphony after he’d gone completely deaf, but if I can’t hear, I can’t do most of what I’m paid to do.
Slowly, over the course of the rest of the day, my hearing came back in that ear, but it wasn’t the same. And its still not the same. When I walk I hear a metallic bouncing sound in my ear, and I hear a strange echo that is not painful any longer, but extraordinarily distracting and…odd. Sometimes it helps to wear an earplug in my right ear so that I’m not uncomfortably distracted. Things don’t sound the same anymore. And that makes me nervous. I think maybe I need to see a doctor. But it feels like the damage is done.
I finally arrived at the coast, and we spent one uncomfortable mosquito-riddled night camping out at the property before deciding to bail and head to my sister-in-law’s home. We loaded up our 4-wheelers into the truck (and everything else the thieves hadn’t stolen from our container van) and re-located everything to somewhere more secure. But first…we took the 4-wheelers across the street for a joyride on the dunes. I mean, what could go wrong?
So there I was, a beginner at this stuff, wearing my nine year old grandniece’s helmet, holding onto the handlebars of a sand monster. I was following my husband, who has been riding the dunes for decades and is as familiar as someone could be with a hilly moonscape that shifts with every strong wind. Every once in awhile he would turn around to make sure I was still there, giving me the thumbs up, or stopping to give me advice.
Then he took off up the side of a hill and along a trail. I dutifully followed him as he zoomed along the path, a narrow ridge held together by tufts of long grass and the occasional shrub. Then after he came around a bend in the trail, my husband stopped and looked back to make sure I was still there. Yes, of course I was. I was right in the middle of the bend, and when he slowed down, I had no choice but to slow down or risk plowing into him. He gave the me thumbs up and turned around again, jetting off down the hill. When I accelerated, my machine started sliding off the sand mountain, tipping to the right.
There was nothing I could do to stop it. I was tipping too far to the right to try to ditch to the left. If I surrendered to gravity, I was going to do the cartwheel dance with my 4-wheeler and most likely be crushed in the process. So in a split-second I made the only other decision I could, which was to catapult myself forward and try to get over the top of the thing, and as far away from the danger of the rolling vehicle. And I almost made it.
A moment later I was laying face down, halfway down the slope, helmet still suctioned to my head, but one of my shoes was gone. My left arm was somewhat pinned underneath one of the tires, so basically I really did run myself over with a 4-wheeler. I tried to gently pry my arm loose, barely breaking skin in the process, but leaving me with grimy tread marks and a heck of a bruise that allowed me the opportunity to tell my story over and over again for a week or two until it finally faded away.
The next time Eddie turned around to see if I was behind him, and of course I wasn’t, he turned around and came back to find me still patting myself down to make sure nothing was bleeding or broken. Later, after his initial panic was over and we were back at the house he said, “Babe, you can’t lose your momentum when you’re going around a corner like that on sand. You gotta keep your speed up.”
I told him I tried, honest I did, but the rider in front of me had stopped, rendering it impossible for me to keep my momentum up without rear-ending him. I wonder who that might’ve been?
And it might’ve been right around that moment when – as I was still shaking sand out of my hair, my nose holes, my bra and my pants pockets – that he literally added insult to injury by telling me that I looked like I’ve been run over by a 4-wheeler. But I barely heard him, because my ear was still ringing.
There’s a line from my a song I’ve been listening to lately that sort of sums up how I feel about that weekend: “100 bad days made 100 good stories. 100 good stories make me interesting at parties.” I hope you don’t have as many painful stories to tell you the next time someone at a party asks what you did last weekend. And with that, I leave you Ouch, a streaming playlist full of songs about pain, hurt and damage.