8 Ball In The Wind

Thursday, February 3, 2011

They'd Never Believe It If This Were A Movie

I was thinking earlier today, about some of the numerous times I have somehow  escaped major problems and at times death by some small twist of fate.  What I suppose could be called a “But for the Grace of God, there go I” moments.  That may sound odd, but it is true.  There have been a number of times in my life, when plans have for some unforeseen reason been altered, and I realize how precious life is.  I was telling a friend on Facebook, that if they tried to make a movie of my life, and the things I have survived, and sidestepped, it would be unbelievable.  Mt St Helens is by far the most dramatic of those times, but not the most deadly. 

When you look at that picture, take a moment to realize that the land down in the valley was 200 ft lower before May 18th.  That all the land you can see was a densely forested area before the landslide and eruption that followed.  This photo was taken 3 miles from the mountain, and the devastation goes one for miles farther.
Gerald Martin was a Ham Radio Operator manning a volunteer observation post 8 miles to the northwest of Mt St Helens.  My Dad was scheduled to relieve Gerald the weekend of the 17th-18th of May.  I was going to drive him there, and spend a few days with him before coming back up to Tacoma.  I realized the week before that it was Armed Forces weekend, and my destroyer was one of two Navy ships “visiting” Seattle for  those two days.  So I had to have my Dad to ask Gerald if I could bring him down on Sunday night or early Monday morning.  Gerald said no problem, he wasn’t in the “Red Zone” anyway so no big deal.
At 8:32 AM on Sunday morning, Gerald was on the radio describing the “whole north side” of the mountain sliding away.  He described it as it swept over  the observation post on what is now called Johnston’s Ridge.  Gerald signed off the radio, saying he was going to “get out of here”, only to return to the airwaves a few seconds later to state the was no way out.
Gerald’s body was never recovered, nor was his RV.  Had I not been obligated to be in Seattle aboard the ship that morning; it would have been myself and my Dad, who were never found.  That is why I have such a connection with Mt St Helens.  It is for that reason, there is a photo of St Helens on the top of this blog.  That is also why I lead a motorcycle ride up to the mountain every year for the anniversary of the eruption.
As I said, that may have been the most dramatic, but not the only time, or the most deadly.   In September of 1978, a few of us decided to take a trip up to Los Angeles for the weekend.   We took a PSA shuttle flight up on Friday, and the plan was to make the return flight Monday morning.   Being the young, and spontaneous sailors we were; by Sunday we were back at the airport trying to get a return flight.  I do not remember why, but for some reason we had decided to come back Sunday and not wait until Monday.  We cashed in our tickets, and rented a car back to San Diego.  Monday morning we all reported in for duty.
The week before I had volunteered for plane crash detail…a real gravy duty because we only had to muster ever four hours and then go back to whatever we were doing… how often does a plane crash in San Diego? 
I went up to the smoking deck of the building my “A” School was in, and was looking around before the school started at the rising smoke from several large grassfires.  I remember looking at the smoke rising up as I finished my cigarette before going down for muster, and school to begin.  A couple hours later, I was again up on the smoking deck, but this time there was a fresh column of smoke to the southeast.  It wouldn’t be long before word was passed for the plane crash detail to assemble.  The PSA jet we were originally scheduled to return on had been struck in mid-air by a Cessna 176 whose pilot was undergoing instrument only training.  The PSA jet then crashed into a San Diego neighborhood.  So my first day on plane crash detail, the plane that crashes is the one I was supposed to be on.
In the early 1980s, I rode a chopped BSA that I used to joke was “possessed”. .  It is also the only bike I have ever laid completely on her side in a turn and still came back up out of the turn.   I remember one time actually rubbing the rubber off the end of the left foot-peg, and grinding the peg from pivoting on it doing about 40 mph.  There were times she wouldn’t start no matter what I did for up to a half hour, then she would fire up first kick.  Then, at other times she would just stop running and wouldn’t start for awhile.  But it seemed that every time this happened, there was a reason for it.  Either someone came over while I was trying to get the bike started that I would have missed otherwise, or someone wouldn’t have been where I was going had I arrived when I had planned.  There were also a few times that the delay ended up keeping me out of the middle of an accident that had occurred when I would have been reaching that point if I hadn’t been delayed.
The most remarkable time to me though, was when I was returning home to Port Orchard after a weekend out of town up on the Olympic Peninsula.  As I pulled up to the toll booth, the bike just died.  The motor quit, and I ended up having to push it to the parking lot.  By the time I had the bike pushed to the side of the parking lot under a light, even the bikes electrics had gone dead.  After working on the bike without even finding anything wrong for almost an hour, I decided to just chain the bike to the lamp post and hitch the last 30 miles home.  I’d get a truck to haul the bike back the next day.
Within a couple minutes of having made the decision to hitch, the first car coming by stopped.  It was the young gal from the tollbooth.  She had just gotten off work at midnight, and was going right into Port Orchard.  This seemed like my lucky night.  More than I knew, because the fact of her picking me up when and where she did ended up giving me a ironclad alibis for an assault someone else tried pinning on me.  If J.C. hadn’t broken down when and where she did, I would have had absolutely no way of proving I wasn’t in town.  But because she did breakdown, when and where she did, I had a state employee, who vouched for me when the cops asked.
I ended up having to rent a Uhaul to go get the bike.  Seems everyone’s truck was either busy or broke down for a few days.  When I got back to the parking lot at the Hood Canal Bridge, just for shits and grins, I decided to try to start the bike.  She coughed on the first kick, and roared to life on the second.  After that, I never had a problem with J.C. not running properly, until I had to trade her for a car…I should have never done that…I still kick myself for it almost 30 years later.
These are only a small portion of the times things have somehow stepped in my path and made me change what was going on only to find out it was some sort of weird twist of fate.  I do not know what it is, but I firmly believe there is a reason I am here on this earth.  It might be some small thing, and I may never even know what it is.  But I have had too many things happen for me to believe any other way.  Many of them I won’t talk about.  Either because they are too personal, or for legal reasons, but the things I have posted here will give you an idea.
I am not sure what tomorrow will bring, but I am sure it will bring something.  Until I have served whatever purpose I may have in this life.  I am no one special, but I do believe there is someone or something watching over me.  I just hope it keeps on watching for a long time to come.


  1. Damn! What a story. I've had a few episodes like that, but nothing on the scale of what you've had. You are being watched over that is for sure!

  2. just wish I knew what the reason is...but then sometimes, I dont want to know