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Southern Rail: Attention deficit dummy

By Robert Filla

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I was rolling south from Lubbock, my last day on the road after a long week at the 75th Black Hills Classic. I was tired, aboard a sketchy rental bike and eager for home. And while those factors can make for a deadly combination, I then committed the cardinal error of motorcycling. I had a lull in my attention span.

Exiting Interstate 20 at a high rate of speed, I failed to notice the road-sign warning of a 90-degree right-hand turn 100 yards down the ramp. Then an emergency road truck came barreling across the grassy berm separating the exit ramp and feeder road, all lights flashing. As I barreled past the truck, the exaggerated expressions on the occupants’ faces confused me. Were they shouting? Were they shouting at me? Snapping back to focus on my exit, I noticed the car ahead of me began to fishtail. More confusion followed as my road-addled brain clicked too slowly to fully comprehend the severity of the situation. Suddenly the rental went batshit crazy as I hit a long patch of fuel oil that some trucker had lost along the entire exit ramp. I was in deep doo-doo as the bike went into a high-speed wobble, the front end banging madly from one fork stop to the other. And then… I finally saw the 90-degree turn just ahead with its picket fence of steel posts. Yep, I was going to end today’s grand performance with a 60-mph face plant into a steel guardrail. Time to kiss the world goodbye.

Racing dirt bikes as a kid, crashes and injuries became part of the norm, something to be avoided but something that came with the territory. Once I took to the streets for my motorcycling thrills, I quickly realized the increase in danger (at least on a track everyone is going in the same direction). I totaled my first Harley at age 19 when an oncoming Cadillac turned left in front of my Electra Glide. I soared over the car’s trunk about 40 feet before landing right in front of the hospital, making it quite convenient for the emergency room staff to simply push a gurney across the parking lot and pick me up, saving the cost of an ambulance ride.

Years later, an underage gal in a Ford Pinto pulled left in front of me at an intersection. I slammed into the passenger front quarter panel at 50 mph. Unfortunately I didn’t quite clear this car and ended up on the roof before sliding down the windshield onto the hood. One of the last things I remember was the driver screaming at the top of her lungs—very dramatic. The Harley wedged itself so tightly between the fender and tire that they had to use crowbars to extract it. And then the car had to be towed away. Take that, ya dang Pinto.

My last motorcycle accident was while encountering a stupid driver in the middle of long sweeper on an extremely foggy night. And of course he had his high beams on. I lost track of the road and tried to make it to the shoulder with the intent of dropping down into the ditch and riding it out. But before that scenario could be fully played, I plowed into a stop sign at an intersecting road. Ass over teakettle I flew, landing on my helmet and right shoulder. The helmet split and I had to have my arm reattached with some weird internal webbing and a handful of stainless pins.

That was my last motorcycle crash and burn and occurred more than 20 years ago. And while I’d like to think the underlying explanation for this extended period of safe motorcycling has to do with maturity and even a possible increase in sanity, more than likely it is the result of a vigilant and expanded awareness of my surroundings, both animate (blind drivers) and inanimate (90-degree off ramps).

But coming off I-20 that afternoon I wasn’t paying attention; I just wanted to get home. Somehow the car in front of me safely navigated the turn (probably because they were exiting at a reasonable speed). So with my boots sliding on the slick pavement and keeping my hand clear of the brake, I fought like a madman for control of the front end as a thousand thoughts flooded my head. Thoughts about my wife, my kids and grandkids; would my boss show up for the funeral or just send flowers? Would my headstone read, “Died Due to an Overdose of Dumbass?”

And then, somehow, I was through it (not only the right-hand 90 but also the left-hand 90 onto the feeder) and pulled up to the traffic light at the intersection where I promptly lost my lunch, literally. Looking back up the ramp I saw the road crew shutting down the exit and initiating cleanup of the spill.

Since then I’ve relived the event many times and can’t attribute my escape to anything I personally did; no special maneuver, no secret Ninja skills. I can only believe that I was being watched over that day. And while I’m faithful in saying my prayers, being in a rush and neglecting my duty of constant awareness is certainly a fast track to meeting my maker early. So pay attention, don’t ride exhausted and slow down—home will still be there even if you are a day late.

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