I actually had a few more close calls with death, than the six on which I comment; there are actually another 2 or 3, along with a few experiences that came THIS CLOSE ][ to being one of those nasties. This one was the last of the six, which took place on a night, in Long Beach, California, that was raining like I would imagine it would be in Bombay, India, during the Monsoon season. It was the heaviest rain that I’ve ever had to drive in.
I was working the night shift at ADT’s Station 9, at the corner of Wardlow and Santa Fe, where I had practiced drawing, firing, and reloading my personally-owned gat, a museum-quality Smith & Wesson Model 27, .357 Magnum, with a 5″ barrel, for scores of hours. I worked that station first, after I started working in the field. Besides training myself in the fundamentals of pistolcraft, I also schooled myself in what I should do, in hundreds of different situations, in which I might find myself. I had speedloaders on my Sam Brown belt, something that a lot of cops didn’t have, even many years later, when every cop-shop in the country, went to semi-autos. Some were still using drop pouches, in the 70s, and I was proficient with MY speedloaders in early 1965.
The Long Beach Station was usually slow, and sometimes VERY slow. Thankfully, this night was so slow, that I had been in the station since 4:30 pm and, around 9 pm, I got my first call. It was something in Hawthorne or El Segundo or I don’t know where, but I had to take the San Diego Freeway, the on-ramp to which, was about 100 yards from the station. As I said, it was raining hard, but I had no idea just HOW hard. I got on the freeway and this, boys and girls, was THE GOOD OL’ DAYS; I’m talking NOBODY on the freeway. There were probably 5 cars, total, on the entire freeway, between the Long Beach Freeway and the Harbor Freeway, which are about 5 miles apart, but the fastest I felt that I could go, on this particular deserted freeway, was 25 mph. With the wipers set on FAST, it was still almost impossible to see . I was heading west and the end of the storm was heading east and, as I drove to the west, it quickly lightened up in the intensity department. I moved up to 35, 45, and finally, to exactly 50 mph, when I had passed the storm. It had totally stopped raining, but the roadway was still wet, of course, and 50 was a safe speed under those conditions. I could see two cars, about a mile behind me, as I approached the interchange with the Harbor Freeway. I was continuing on the S.D. Fwy, and was driving in a straight line, with both hands firmly grasping the steering wheel, when the back of that Plymouth 2-door’s rear-end started to come around, to the left, in a clock-wise rotation, as viewed from above. Two things happened: Time slowed down. It actually happens, and there’s even a scientific name to describe the phenomenon. And the other thing was actually something NOT happening. I did not panic. I was in a state of Zen consciousness. The car had come around 180 degrees, in a pretty short time, and stopped turning, but still sliding, now backwards, at 50 mph. As I was curious as to the direction in which my car was headed, I looked over my left shoulder, and saw that I was headed directly at a metal pole, about 5 feet in diameter; one of those babies that hold up the inverted “L” signs, which hang over the freeway, with catwalks on them. Those poles could anchor Mount Rushmore. Not just the car was headed toward that stronger-than-Gibraltar pole but, more specifically, the driver’s door was on a collision course with that thing. Micro-seconds after hitting that thing, I would have been completely dead; no brain, heart, or any other system in my body would be working; dead. I had cranked that wheel, while in the initial spin, from lock-to-lock several times, with no effect, so I knew that turning the wheel was useless, but I had to find some way to change the direction of my car or I would die. I had never even thought about using the brakes, when I was in the spin, but thought that maybe the brakes could do something; anything.
I started pumping that pedal, as hard and as fast as I could, as I was getting closer and closer to that pole. I must have pumped it 15 or more times, with no effect, when suddenly the car started to spin again, doing a 360 this time, ending up still backing towards that pole, but slowed, just enough, by the spin, not the brakes, that no part of the car hit the pole. Instead, my rear bumper cleared that pole by just a foot or two; the side of the car taking out a bunch of very cheap-ass guard-rail, but that’s all that was needed there. The guard-rail was twisted around the big pole, at a 90 degree angle to the direction of the freeway, pointing in the general direction of the Goodyear Blimp, which was moored just a couple of hundred yards away. Three or four 6 X 6 wooden posts were pulled out of the muddy ground, still attached to the metal guard-rail. I rolled down a 75 foot, almost vertical, muddy-ass hill; left side, roof, right side, wheels, rinse and repeat several times, coming to rest, UPSIDE DOWN, hanging from my seat belt. The engine had died and I turned off the ignition switch.
The only thing that concerned me was fire. I hung, upside down, for 2 or 3 minutes, surveying the scene. The roof was smashed down to within about a foot of the front passenger seat. Someone sitting there would have been killed. There was no way to get out of the car through the right-side door. The windshield was still in place, and was unbroken right in front of me, while it was all broken-up, but still in place, in front of the passenger seat. That left my door and the rear window as the only two avenues of egress. My window had popped out, leaving enough room to crawl out the window, but with the roof resting on some very mushy mud, which partially blocked the window opening, I would have gotten covered, completely, with mud. The driver’s door was jammed shut. Not getting all muddy had a certain appeal, so I released the seat belt, dropped onto the roof, got on my hands and knees, and crawled to the back of the car. The rear window was completely undamaged, so I thought that as kicking it would probably not work, I would have to SHOOT the sumbitch. I took my gun out of the holster, cocked it, aimed it at the window, and was just about to pull the trigger, when I looked through the muddy, streaked, dirty window, and saw that my bullets would be hitting the slow lane on the Harbor Freeway, and I thought, I’d better not do that. I put my gun back in the holster, and tunneled through the mud that was partially blocking the window, then played slip-and-slide on that fucking 75 foot hill.
It took about 5 minutes to get up that damned hill. About 2 minutes after I reached the level of the freeway, I was sitting in the back of a CHP car. The driver was an older guy who must have had 20+ years as a copper. The other guy had to be a jew. What a fucking asshole. “Were you scared?” Fuck no, I wasn’t scared. It took two tow trucks to get that car up onto the freeway and the older cop immediately checked the tire pressure on all my tires. The left rear one had SEVENTY pounds of pressure in it and a one-inch bald spot, right down the middle of the tire. It was a brand-new tire, being only one week old, and that’s what caused me to aquaplane.