Was it good luck or bad, that made me choose as a target an older man, wise in years, who set the matter straight in a few simple sentences? All I have concluded since is that he may have been the brains behind an enigmatic bumper sticker I puzzled out. In dramatic bold print, it proclaimed, "KWITCHERBELLIAKIN!" It didn't need the exclamation mark. The man to whom I attribute this work of art was a worldly 30 years old.
I no longer remember what I was worried about. All I recall is that my luck had been running a little short for a very long time (about a week) and I think what I said started with "All I need now is for (whatever it was) to get me." He responded immediately.
"Use your head," he told me. "Think. Of all the bad things that could have happened in the world, all the calamities that people worry about, probably 98 per cent never happen. Before you waste any more time (and charitably, he didn't mention wasting any of his time), consider the odds." Period.
Now I know he was right. I only wish that his sage counsel would come to mind more often, before spending a restless, sleepless night worrying about something that fell far away from the two percent that haunted me.
Not long after that, I found myself in the 98 per cent range, but just barely. It was back in the days when all the cars we see with antique license plates were simply used cars. Most of them would run about as well as they ever had, which is not saying very much.
The designer of most of today's cars is a wind tunnel. Streamlining, to create a shape with minimal wind resistance for better gas mileage. That's why most cars resemble not only some sort of half-melted spaceship but each other.
Modern car names evoke no mystery. Taurus? There used to be more interesting names like the Hudson Terraplane, whose streamlining made it look like a turtle shell, and the DeSoto, with a small statue of the Spanish explorer for a hood ornament and no streamlining at all. One afternoon, I was helping a friend work on one of the early compact cars, a Nash Rambler, a cheap but ugly and uncomfortable little beast.
To isolate passengers from bumps in the road, most cars rode on the top of huge coil springs, something like overgrown bed springs, strongly compressed and restrained. Cars were big and heavy so that the springs would work properly. Little cars were generally terrible to ride in. But not the Nash Rambler. Its super-long coil springs nearly filled the front fender wells. The ride was nice and soft. But even bed springs wear out. Car springs even faster.
My job was to remove the front wheel, climb inside the fender well,where the spring lived and remove it. No one told me that all its life, the spring wanted freedom to become twice as long. I almost learned the hard way how bad it wanted to.
I loosened some nuts. Just as I loosened the last one, the spring started to move, and I jumped. Just as I popped out of the wheel well, there was a terrific noise, lots of dust, and the unleashed spring was taking the space I had been using. I still have no idea who removed the spring on the other side. I just know it wasn't me. I knew about the two percent.
It was a long time later, when I wasn't worried at all, that the other two percent showed up. I probably should have seen it coming, but even if I had, it wouldn't have mattered at all.
I was a part-time school bus driver, working an afternoon shift. There was no route; following an athletic event, students who needed rides boarded the big 75 passenger bus and I took them all home. This time I had about 40.
I was a little edgy for two reasons. The same day, another driver had had a collision with a parked car. He had been driving on the same narrow streets in the same size bus. Accidents provoke uneasy thoughts.
And I had a very strange feeling as I headed out with my passengers. I can only describe it as some primitive function of the human brain, that senses danger and responds by sharpening the senses. I could hear more, feel more, and most of all see more. All colors seemed brighter, and for a moment I thought I could see the air as it passed over the hood in front of me. Then the feeling faded. A premonition.
Finally, I had one passenger left, a junior high boy who lived some distance out of town. Friendly kid, asked questions about how safe the bus was to ride in. I pointed out some safety features like all the mirrors and lights, and how the bus was almost tank-like with all its armor. I told him about the welded steel cage that surrounded the fuel tank, and the black stripe along the yellow side that was really reinforced steel to protect from side collisions.
What happened next came without warning. We were on a four-lane highway, just leaving town. The speed limit was 45, so I drove 40, as per instructions. A car just ahead was even slower. It signaled a right turn, then a left turn, and then canceled its turn signals. With all my bright lights, including the interior ones, I started to pass in the inside lane. The car receded behind me, on the right. Then just at my steel-caged fuel tank, the driver tried to turn left.
The crunch and grinding sound, the scraping along the side, and the sudden sway of the bus told me what had happened. The elderly lady who was driving the car wasn't hurt, but her car lost its entire front end. I lost about an hour and my peace of mind filling out the paperwork. Only my sole passenger thought it was cool. He had a story to tell his friends the next day, and a demonstration of just how strong a school bus really is.
Since then, I have thought of the 98 percent of accidents that never happen. And the two percent that do. And I realized that while the odds are overwhelmingly in our favor, sometimes the two percent shows up. And we never get to know when that will happen.