It just dawned on me that a couple days ago was the 10th anniversary of The Worst Birthday Of My Life. Sure, a lot of people have a lot of subjective reasons why a birthday might blow, but I guarantee you that my 33rd sucked in an empirical and impenetrably definitive sense.
Let’s go take a look, shall we?
On May 29, 1997, I was working at a magazine called Pool & Spa News as an associate editor. I’d been there a couple months and was charged with doing all sorts of things and none of them very well. I was the publication’s webmaster, I oversaw their annual nationwide design contest, I managed their continuing education curriculum. And on top of that I was writing features and columns too on whatever whim the editor, who never thought I had enough to do, would assign them to me. In short I was stuck doing the jobs of several people and I attempted this juggling act while working for the aforementioned editor who was the most micro of micromanagers. If I had an idea she would find a way to modify it. And she was never satisfied unless she made me rewrite every rewrite of everything I wrote. Once she marked up a memo I’d written to her and sent it back to me for revisions. I responded by throwing her and her red pen out the 4th floor window of the old building we worked in on the corner of 6th and Western in Koreatown.
Living in Encino the commute to mid-Wilshire was hellish more often than it was not. Hellish trek, hellish job, hellish boss. It made me relish my lunch hours and on May 29 when lunchtime came I hopped into my beloved blue 1994 Honda Civic LX for a run a few blocks west to to the nearest ATM on Wilshire and Irving to get some cash for something to eat.
Motoring west down 6th I arrived at Irving and noted the familiar mayor’s mansion on the southwest corner as I pulled into the intersection to turn south. Facing me was a Sparkletts truck in the left lane blocking my view of the oncoming traffic while waiting to make a left and go north on Irving. Inching forward a few feet I tried to get a peek around it to see if the lane next to the truck was clear and when I thought it was at pretty much the same moment I punched it I saw the Mercedes sedan bearing down on me and I braced myself knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wouldn’t be able to clear its path and a collision was imminent.
And it was. Boom.
The Mercedes struck the rear passenger side quarter panel of my beloved Honda with enough impact to push her laterally back across the intersection and then spin her clockwise around a full 180 degrees, and then some. By “and then some” I mean that after that jalf-circle was fdrawn and the Honda was now pointing north the leftover centrifugal forces still at work were enough to peel the passenger side wheels up off the ground and power tilt the car slowly up onto its driver side where it thankfully came to rest without rolling fully over and going belly up.
So there I am, still belted into the driver’s seat. Hands deathgripped on the wheel. Engine running hard with the RPMs climbing angrily. Radio on. I turn my head to the left and I’m staring at broken driver’s side window glass and the street pavement. I look to the right out the front passenger window and I see blue sky. I do a quick faculty check and I seem miraculously and entirely uninjured. Calmly and casually I reach over and turn the radio off. Then I turn the ignition key and things go peaceful, odd angle notwithstanding. Then I reach down and unclasp my seatbelt and manage to get my feet onto the street where in a crouch I unlock the front passenger door and pop it open like it’s the hatch of a submarine. Standing up fully my head and shoulders extend out the window and I take a quick look around before boosting myself up out of the compartment like a stripper climbing out of a birthday cake and grabbing a seat on the door. After another brief body assessment and all-clear I swing my legs out and over the side and I execute a clean dismount, sticking the landing to make things look all the more like it wasn’t anything but a well-choreographed stuntthat went off flawlessly.
There are already various people gathered and gaping at my nimble lack of injury. A woman comes out of the mayor’s mansion with a cordless phone in her hand calling 911 no doubt. She motions for me and I walk toward her amazed that there’s not so much as a nick or a cut or a strain or a bruise on me. I get to the sidewalk and she asks me if I’m all right and I tell her I am. I ask her if it’s possible to make a call and she invites me inside where I follow her to the kitchen and she points me to a phone.
“Can I get you anything?” she asks.
“I could use some water.” She brings a bottle. I dial my boss and give her the news that I just wrecked my car and I’m going to be a little late in coming back from lunch. My boss can’t believe it. She asks if I’m OK and I tell her I am but my car is not.
I hang up and thank the woman for the water and the use of the phone. As we head back outside I make mention of how this isn’t my first time in the mayor’s mansion, that while trick-or-treating during my last Halloweens as a costumed door-to-door participant in the mid-70s we knocked and were invited inside by Tom Bradley who was brandishing a big smile and a bigger bowl of candy. She smiles and says something about how lucky I am considering what just happened.
By now an LAPD motorcycle officer is on scene and talking with the driver of the Mercedes who’s unhurt as well. A tow truck is in the process of righting my beloved Honda and hooking it up. I wonder how the tow service got there so fast. I don’t think of saying no to them and calling AAA because I’m just glad things are getting cleaned up so quickly.
Since there are no injuries on either side the officer directs us to exchange info and after retrieving my wallet from the Honda I give her the requisite ID and insurance data and I get hers. The cop splits, The tow truck operator gives me a card with the address where my car will be and he splits. I take one more look at my beloved Honda thinking the damage might not be so bad, but it is. The entire car is bent and the rear bumper is completely off and the rear axle is broken and the driver’s side rear wheel is at such an ungodly angle I’m wondering how it’s still attached.
The Mercedes? Despite some front end damage it’s still driveable and the woman who I caused to hit me was kind enough to give me a ride the eight blocks or so back to work where I thanked her and told her I was glad she was OK. Back at my desk amidst the sideways glances of my boss and coworkers I surprised myself by getting some work done rather than sitting there wallowing in shock or self pity. And when quitting time came I grabbed the Red Line from Wilshire and Western to Union Station (this is all before the Red Line went to North Hollywood) where I caught the Metrolink train out to the Northridge station and was met by my ex-girlfriend who’d only recently broken up with me. There wasn’t anyone else at the time I could call to come meet me and give me a ride the rest of the way home. I was thankful she did even if it was a little painful.
Instead of taking me home it was her idea to take me out and try to end the horrific day on a good note. I actually abstained from getting shitfaced at dinner because I knew I would’ve lost it thinking about being suddenly carless in L.A. and stuck relying on mass transit to get me to and from a shit job, and having dinner with the woman who’d unceremoniously dumped me.
All on the day I turned 33.
The next day I borrowed my mom’s car and drove down to the impound lot on Washington Boulevard where my beloved Honda was stowed. Somehow the charges for the two days came to almost $300. Nice. I called AAA to have it towed closer to home and the driver who showed up said he was a mechanic so I asked him for his honest opinion on whether I should tow it to be repaired or just sign the title over to the impound lot. He seemed pretty sincere when he looked it over and told me the car was toast. So since I only had the basic insurance required and couldn’t collect anything on it I bid him thanks and farewell and then did the same to my beloved and deceased Honda Civic LX for the sum of $284.
Here’s what she looked like our last day together:
I was forced to commute via the combo of bike and bus and train for six weeks between Encino and Mid-Wilshire until with help from my mom in the form of a down payment I got my beloved 1997 Nissan Truck, which I still have today and just rolled her past 100,000 miles earlier this month. Accident-free.
I left Pool & Spa News two months after that.