Where am I? Winner Holly Snell

By Susan Swan

One second’s difference

Holly Snell of Vancouver, Washington, speaks her truth with a candor you don’t run across every day. She doesn’t gloss over or sugarcoat her story; she’s smart, funny and practical, seeming to take in life through the honest lens of, “It is what it is.”

At age 49 she’s in fitter trim than when she had her son three decades ago, and she’s living with a man she describes as “my knight in squeaky leather.” They met five years ago when Holly began driving for C-Tran, a transit service operating in and between Vancouver and Portland, Oregon. A former hire by eight months, Holly explained that her partner Patrick is an older man “by 11 days.”

Holly was raised in Buffalo, New York, her British parents arriving in America as a young married couple. Holly was born two years later, in 1969. Her parents’ childhoods, indelibly shaped by the ravages of World War II, resulted in what Holly considered “conservative values” in their household. This was only contradicted by divorce in the early ’80s. Holly remained in her father’s home until the behavioral lane he passed down proved too narrow. By the age of 17 she broke out on her own “much to my father’s disapproval” and in rebellion, “was going to make a train wreck of myself for a while.”

Landing in Spokane, Washington, in 1988, a city chosen to be near where her mother had settled, it would be the Deja Vu strip club where Holly would find employment and a network of friends. In 1992 she moved southwest across Washington State to Vancouver, continuing to work in clubs in the Portland area. In that city, hanging out with other dancers put her in contact with their boyfriends who were bikers.

She loved getting out into the wind.

After her shift one night, the man she was dating, essentially her ride home, was pulled over and taken into custody for a fourth DUI. This left Holly at the side of the road with his motorcycle. She straddled the bike and “kind of walked it” to a nearby convenience store where she called a friend back at the bar who came to her rescue.

The free-spirited Holly wouldn’t be straddle-walking a bike again and bought a brand-new ’98 Fat Boy a few years after the incident. Undeniably adventurous, Holly swapped the bike for a hot rod car years later. That rod turned out to be a money pit so she sold it to friends to finish the project. Several years passed before she’d be on two wheels of her own again.

Employment tenures have been all over the map, from waitress, bartender, cook while still in the hospitality industry, then office work “and other pointless jobs which didn’t suit me.” She trained for and became a union electrician but ladder work proved a problem for her back.

She learned that C-Tran offered the training to obtain a Class 3 commercial driver’s license (CDL). That was five years ago, and where she met Patrick.

Riding quads on their days off, Patrick commented how well Holly handled the ORV and asked if she missed riding a bike. Her response resulted in sale of the trailer and quads and a trip to Paradise Harley-Davidson in Tigard to put money down on a 2011 Dyna Super Glide Custom.

In June of 2015, just two weeks after purchase of the Dyna, she and Patrick decided to take a putt; go out for lunch. Out ahead, on Highway 14 as they rode east past Washougal, Washington, a hay hauler/semi was stopped in the single westbound lane, waiting to turn south across the roadway Holly, Patrick and a Kia Soul just in front of the riders occupied. A 91-year-old man driving a westbound pickup truck realized too late that the traffic in front of him had stopped for the hay hauler. He turned into the oncoming traffic and hit the Kia Soul head on, killing two kids in their 20s and sending three others to the hospital.

Holly and Patrick were in staggered formation, him in front and left, Holly to the rear and right. They took different actions and routes to avoid injury, parking, then calling 911. They stopped traffic and took to the vehicles to assess the situation.

“I can still hear the sound of all those miscellaneous car parts landing on the pavement and the smell of the antifreeze escaping the wrecked vehicles,” she said.

Holly doesn’t wax poetic or claim divine intervention on the outcome, saying, “We were lucky enough to have that 00:00:01 to not be the ones killed. I wouldn’t wish that experience, any facet of it, on anyone.”

In recognition of how close the call, they designed a crest to be tattooed with their initials and the single second that separated them from another fate.

“It is what it is.”

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