Maker’s Marks

In the 1993 thriller Cliffhanger, the opening scene is truly disturbing. Having summited a mountaintop for a little adventure, young climbers suspend a cable across a deep chasm to a nearby peak, then cross the open space one by one in zip-line fashion. One climber, terrified to cross the void, gets caught in the middle of the fraying cable, holding on by her fingers for dear life. Despite Sylvester Stallone’s valiant efforts, she shockingly loses her grip, plunging untold feet into the abyss. I remember envisioning myself as her and thinking, “I’m going to die”.

Almost sixty years into life as I know it, I have three unforgettable, take-it-to-the-grave moments where I thought, “I’m going to die”.  One of them happened two nights ago.

Returning from a Rockies baseball game in downtown Denver, I drove myself and a friend through a long stretch of interstate road construction.  We chatted about nothing and everything as we eyed the late-night traffic around us.  I’ve driven this stretch countless times, so much so my brain moves to a certain degree of autopilot.  However, I was not prepared for one unexpected moment.  As we ascended a rise in the divided two-lane highway, the lane to our right began to disappear without warning.  Orange cones cut across its width too quickly, with no signage or blinking lights to grab our attention.

All would’ve been fine were it not for the well-lit semi-trailer truck already occupying the disappearing lane.  He was just enough ahead of me he wasn’t going to back off.  I don’t think he could even see my car was occupying the lane into which he was about to merge.  Instinctively, I pressed the brake pedal, but not before realizing how much of his trailer was still trailing my car.  How the back of his trailer didn’t merge directly with the hood of my car is beyond me.  As he swung over into my lane there couldn’t have been two inches between his bumper and mine.

This miracle of a no-accident is an example of a “shoulda died” moment.  The semi was at least four times the length of my car (and three times as high).  It’s safe to say he and his truck would’ve survived the collision (me, not so much).  It’s also safe to say providence of a higher being was present at that very moment.

The two other “shoulda” moments in my life are etched into my brain as clear as crystal.  When I was a kid, I once hit a tennis ball over my neighbor’s fence and into their backyard.  It was easy enough to sneak through their side gate and down the side of their house.  Then I ran into their tall grass to the approximate location of the ball.  Just short of it, I leaped instinctively over a fully coiled rattlesnake, ready to strike.  No question, the most terrifying moment of my young life.  I remember yelling and screaming until our neighbor came out and killed the snake.  “Shoulda died?”  Maybe not, but tell that to a ten-year-old who was sure he’d be bitten by a poisonous snake.  To this day I’m convinced there was an angel nearby telling me to “JUMP!” at just the right moment.

My one other “shoulda” happened in my twenties.  Driving back to my college after a road trip, I fell asleep at the wheel in the early-morning hours of an almost deserted divided highway.  My car drove itself into the road’s grass median at 60 mph, where I awoke to the horrifying realization I was completely out of control.  Struggling to get the car in hand, I swerved this way and that until finally crossing three lanes of oncoming traffic, plunging into a ditch, completely rolling the car, and finally skidding to a stop, adding the flourish of a 180° spin.  How was the hospital?  Never saw it.  I walked away from my totaled car with just cuts and bruises, in an understandable state of shock.  Why wasn’t I hit by oncoming traffic?  Why didn’t I perish in the remains of my car?  Another dose of providence, I think.

We all have one or two of these “shoulda” moments in our lives.  They leave an indelible stamp on our memory as if to say, “Nope, not done with this life just yet.”  Now let’s add “coulda” and “woulda” moments.

“Coulda died” moments are all over the map:

I coulda died if I didn’t catch my balance on the edge of that cliff.

I coulda died if I hadn’t been strong enough to swim out of that riptide.

I coulda died if I rode my bicycle on that busy highway.

And so on.

Woulda died” moments are even worse because you know the life-or-death consequences beforehand.  “Woulda’s” are typically fraught with ignorance.  Choosing to drag race down a busy city street.  Choosing to scale the steep roof of your house in shorts and sandals.  Choosing to act on your road rage.  Have I done any of these “woulda’s” myself?  No. I choose to live instead.

Maker’s Mark is a small-batch bourbon whiskey produced in Loretto, Kentucky by the company Beam Suntory. Maker’s marks, by my definition, are those “shoulda” moments where we emerge on the other side, a sweating bundle of nerves, thankful to be alive.

That semi and I had a “shoulda” moment the other night, but divine providence chose to play a part.

Thanks be to God.

Author: Dave

Three hundred posts would suggest I have something to say… This blog was born from a desire to elevate the English language, highlighting eloquent words from days gone by. The stories I share are snippets of life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a dusted-off word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read “Deutschland-ish Improvements” to learn about my backyard European wish list. Try “Slush Fun” for the throwback years of the 7-Eleven convenience store. Or drink in "Iced Coffee" to discover the plight of the rural French cafe. On the lighter side, read "Late Night Racquet Sports" for my adventures with our latest moth invasion. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to Life In A Word.

18 thoughts on “Maker’s Marks”

  1. Wow Dave, so glad you’re ok! I remember both of those other events, and I’m grateful that you’ve come through all of them safely! You are the reason I’m so conscientious about wearing my seatbelt!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to know something constructive came out of my asleep-at-the-wheel experience, brother. Terrible decision by me to hit the road in that condition. Truly a miracle I walked away in one piece.


  2. Wow – that is a SCARY moment!! Glad you are SAFE! I had something similar when I was driving from Seattle to Chicago. I was in Wisconsin, pouring rain, semi’s driving so fast around me. LIKE YOU, suddenly the right lane disappeared and merged, no real warning. I was going fast to keep up with traffic. I ended up screeching to a STOP just before one of those road trucks with the orange flashing signs – NEXT to a police car! My heart was racing, I could have died. When the policeman came to my door, ANGRY, to give me a ticket — I was ANGRY TOO. There should have been more warning ahead of time. During this time those semi’s were still going over 80 mph. This was the FIRST TIME, I happily took the ticket. My Guardian Angel had saved me… paying a ticket was the price to pay — my heart raced for days after that. DAVE – a near death experience is really powerful, divine intervention for sure. I get it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to know you went through a similar experience, else I’d be questioning my driving skills. Heck, I’m STILL questioning my driving skills after a life/death moment like that…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh wow! Thanks be to God, indeed!

    When I was 16-17 years old I drove like a maniac and hung out with other kids as bad as I was. I can think of a dozen times when I could have killed myself or (worse) could have killed someone else.

    I absolutely agree that there is a guardian angel who walks with each of us. At a pre-ordination retreat my son attended in Louisiana, one of his classmates was on a long walk in the wood, about a half hour from anywhere. He came inches from a water moccasin on the edge of the path. He said he felt an instinct that said “STOP”, and avoided stepping on it. A local Dominican brother later told him (in his Louisiana drawl) “Ya wouln’t a maide ‘t.” based on the distance they would have to go for help. So, yeah.

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    1. This is another of those “don’t like” comments, but “like” is all I have, J.P. My childhood experience with the rattlesnake has borne a lifelong fear of all snakes. I played golf in North Carolina several years ago, on a course home to water moccasins. My fellow players just laughed and said “ignore ’em” as they slithered across the fairways. Could barely swing the clubs. Your son’s classmate’s story reminds me of a nightmare scene from the television series “Lonesome Dove” when several riders were crossing a stream on their horses. Know the scene? If not, best I don’t describe it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You certainly have a guardian angel perched on your shoulder Dave. I’ve not had anything scary like that happen to me. You have cheated death several times … you are living right, just like the lobster fisherman in Cape Cod who was recently swallowed by the humpback whale. Words could no describe how he felt as he ended up in that whale’s mouth along with the plankton and who knows what else? The whale freaked out and spat him out. 🙂 And that lucky lobster fisherman lived to tell about it, just like the horrible plane crash he was in twenty years before. Three people died in that crash and that man spent two days in a steamy jungle in Costa Rica, with multiple broken bones and major injuries … one more night and he would have perished. He has someone above to thank for his good fortune as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I knew about the humpbacked whale but not the plane crash! Wow. Surviving those kinds of incidents suggests this person has a greater purpose in this world. Hope he finds it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t hear about the plane crash when the story initially broke, but then there were many dubious people and so there was a second, more in-depth story on him in “The New York Post” and how he had cheated death before. Other fishermen came to his defense to discredit a few doctors who did not believe him since he had few injuries.


  5. Wow Dave….those all sound scary. It reminds me of why I never do major expressway driving like to Toronto…..the constant stream of trucks scare me and I know my limitations for big city driving, having little experience with it I let someone else drive or take the train. I’ve had some minor close calls with car accidents, including recently a motorcycle going way too fast reving his engine down a residential street who almost drove into the back of my car because he didn’t see my turn signal and was going way too fast – I could hear him swearing as he drove off. But nothing that where I thought this is it, I’m done for, thank God. If you were a cat, you’d still have six lives left!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The plus in these experiences is, I’m generally a more defensive driver. I’m amazed how many people run red lights around here, or merge when there’s really not enough room, or just drive as if they’re off to a fire. It helps to anticipate the poor driving habits of others.

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  6. PS. Pulling over when feeling sleepy can be risky too if you don’t chose a safe enough place…..a classmate of mine pulled over on the side of the road to catch a few winks and was hit by a big truck and spent the next year in a body cast!

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    1. Absolutely true. I’ve heard about pullovers getting hit (including police cars), and many times I pass a car and wonder, “why did you stop at such a dangerous place in the road?”

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, that college driving accident terrified me just to read it! I’m glad you made it through all of these moments and are here to entertain us with your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

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