Don Stratton: 10 feet tall and bulletproof

I can hear the traffic on the highway about a half mile away, more from my office than from anywhere else in the house. Normal traffic isn’t even noticeable, but the young people from the nearby college, in their junky looking pickup trucks with their ridiculously loud mufflers, or no mufflers at all, can be heard easily. They show their immaturity, their lack of respect for others or just plain stupidity, as they deliberately see how much noise they can make.

A few times lately I have heard a different vehicle, this time not a junky pickup truck but a motorcycle, one with an engine that screamed at high RPM. The sound indicated that the driver was taking the cycle to maximum RPM in each gear, and reaching speeds far in excess of the legal limit.

I heard him the other night, northbound, and as usual, the engine was screaming at high RPM. My experience told me that he had to be running at a speed somewhere around 80 to 90 mph in a 45 mph zone. As I listened, I had a foreboding feeling that something bad was about to happen.

Sometime later as I prepared for bed, I noticed that it was eerily quiet; I could hear no sound at all from the highway. It wasn’t until the next day that I learned the reason for the lack of sound; there had been a fatal motorcycle accident less than a mile from my house, and the road had been shut down.

The fatality occurred when a southbound motorcycle, passing other vehicles at a high rate of speed, lost control and crashed. I have no direct knowledge that it was the same one that I had heard northbound earlier, but if I were a gambling man, I would bet that it was. I do know that I haven’t heard the screaming engine since that night.

That night another family answered a phone call, or most likely a knock on the door, getting the news that their son won’t be coming home alive. They will never again see his smile or hear his voice, probably all because he had that feeling that most young men have at some time during their youth — the feeling of being 10 feet tall and bulletproof. It’s a feeling that bad things will never happen to them, only to other people; a feeling of invincibility that causes them to do stupid things — things that if they survive, they will look back upon later and wonder how they ever avoided death.

In my early years, I too had that feeling. I too felt 10 feet tall and bulletproof, but my recklessness did not involve vehicles, just my occupation and my interactions with people. It involved walking blindly into situations where I could have been killed and not even giving it a thought until it was over.

I don’t believe that I ever was a reckless driver. I worked hard for my cars and motorcycles and didn’t want to abuse them. Unlike some people, I don’t have very many things involving vehicles that I can look back on and wonder how I survived. No matter how many wheels it had, and I have driven everything from two wheels to 18, I always handled a vehicle with a sense of trepidation. I have driven over a million miles, with only one accident that was my fault. That was because I fell asleep at the wheel due to exhaustion from trying to keep up with two jobs.

But there are numerous others, like the dead motorcyclist, who think that they are invincible when operating a vehicle. There are others who will find out, when either they or some innocent person suffers for their stupidity, that 10 feet tall and bulletproof is only a fleeting feeling that cannot be maintained without consequences. A feeling that, if they are lucky enough to reach my age, will make them shudder to even think about what they did in their youth.

We can only pray that they wise up sooner rather than later.

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