MY DEADMAN’S CURVE NIGHTMARE AND OTHER HIGH JINKS
The European Sports Car Fascination
A steadfast fascination with European sports cars and racing circuits was one of my passions early in life. I loved the idea of owning either an MG, Austin Healy, Triumph, Alfa Romeo, or Porsche for my very own. But I had to wait.
Those vehicles were expensive and I was living by myself as a teenager while working odd jobs and putting myself through college. I was 18 yrs old when I got my first car which was a VW (Volkswagen) bug. It had a stick shift transmission and I didn’t even know how to operate one when I first got behind the wheel of the blamed thing. So, I faked it until I could learn the proper technique of engaging the clutch while stepping on the gas. That effort was assisted via an illustrated section in the owner’s manual that showed me how.
Unfortunately, that car turned out to be a “lemon”. As a result of that dubious character trait, I wound up having endless repairs done on the engine. Valves kept burning out and the local mechanic I found that gave me a halfway decent price to make things right was a snotty S.O.B. So I got tired of dealing with all that nonsense and taught myself the finer points of fixing the stupid thing myself.
The word “lemon” was used to describe unpleasant people or things in the 19th Century, and the term was inspired by the sour flavor of a lemon. Over time the same term came to be used to define anything that was not in working order (or always breaking down). Wikipedia
Since it had inferior performance, I eventually installed some modifications to get more horsepower. A larger carburetor, tuned exhaust, and other fixes were bolted on, but that was a useless endeavor at best. Somehow, older VW’s full of people would pass me on a hill while I was pressing my pedal to the floor, so that was very discouraging, to say the least, and I desperately wanted something better.
Big German To The Rescue
I was living in an apartment building in Santa Monica at the time. A few years after buying the VW, I sold it because I figured it was time to find something else, even if that meant settling for a big ‘ol cumbersome American barge. Since I had a side job selling cars for friends of my dad at the time, I almost opted for one of them as a replacement vehicle. Uggh!
During my search, it wasn’t long before I noticed that an older Porsche was consistently showing up in front of my building. While it sat parked on the curbside with the owner nowhere in sight, I would go and peek through the windows and have a look inside. The one thing I noticed while doing so was is that it had plenty of leg and headroom, a feature that would readily accommodate someone like me with my 6’4″ body frame.
When I made an inquiry to find out who the owner was, it surprised me to learn that this mysterious individual was a really “Big” German fellow who was taller than me and was the boyfriend of a lady who lived in my building.
At some point in time, he discovered that I was interested in his car. So, we met one day, test drove the car, and I agreed to give him his asking price which was $800. That was $400 less than what I paid for the VW, a car which is now worth about $10,000 to collectors.
Back then, those cars were going for $1,500 to $2,000, so I got a really good deal. Today, similar ones (1956 Porsche 356A Coupe) are valued at $80,000 to $95,000. Sad to say, that car would eventually succumb to my speed demon driving machinations and not be around long enough to reach that lofty valuation. This story reveals my various hijinks with that car and the harrowing tale that eventually sealed it’s fate.
Insanity Behind The Wheel
I loved driving fast, so when I was challenged by other sports car drivers who just wanted to test my resolve and have some fun, I played into their game. One venue for that endeavor was on Sunset Boulevard, a roadway made famous by the TV series “77 Sunset Strip and a character named Kookie Burns”. I traveled it often, and the winding section of that thoroughfare was a favorite hangout of mine. British or Italian sports car drivers were endlessly challenging the boulevard’s long sweeping curves for joy rides and I became the German car entry into that fray for good measure. Often coaxing me to engage them in a duel of sorts, I was more than eager to oblige.
One time I was “innocently” waiting at a stoplight on a straight section of that boulevard. A Corvette came up alongside me and the driver started blipping his throttle while looking at me. When the light changed, I couldn’t help myself and we both took off in a burst of speed. Even though he had way more power, I felt I could take him on the curves ahead. Sad to say, that anticipated finale never materialized.
Ad we raced forward, water on the roadway ahead negated the grip of my big smooth treaded rear tires on the pavement. Before I knew it, I lost traction and began to spin around like a top. Fortunately, I did not have an accident when I went out of control because approaching cars swerved out of the way. I was sure my adversary laughed his fool head off as he drove away and disappeared around the bend. Bummer!
Jail Time Courtesy Of The Highway Patrol
Los Angeles County had a statute at that time (and probably still does} that required anyone caught speeding at over 85 mph to spend some time in the county jail. I mention this because I was always getting traffic citations by repeatedly driving my Porsche on the fringes of the law. In other words, I was constantly asking for it. The added fact that I had a bright “red” sports car didn’t help matters any because the color was like a beacon light that beckoned the cops in.
Since I had become a halfway decent Porsche mechanic by that time, I was always tinkering with the car. Transmission rebuilds, motor repairs, and speed shop modifications were always on tap. After a recent engine overhaul, I took her out for a test run and chose the I-4 Interstate highway section near Santa Monica, California for my evaluation.
While bringing her up to speed, I think I was traveling at a rate of about 90 mph when I saw a big black and white highway patrol car flashing those big nasty lights in my rearview mirror. After coming to a stop, the pursuing officer had a bit of an attitude when he confronted me.
The first words out of his mouth were not what I wanted to hear. He said that anyone caught speeding over 85 miles per hour is automatically required by county ordinance to spend 2 weekends in jail. Upon hearing this dictum, I immediately realized that I had just positioned myself to become a jailbird in the county slammer?
Fortunately, he did not haul me off right then and there and let me stay with my car. Instead, his citation required me to report to a court hearing a few weeks later, and when I complied, the presiding judge enforced that heart wrenching sentence on my person. His orders had me report to a brand new facility in Orange County for a decisive Saturday and Sunday incarceration 2 consecutive weekends in a row.
When I followed that order and showed up at the stated facility, the mind numbing ordeal of that stint bored me more than I could have ever imagined. Still, the first weekend let me see what a prison looked like in person, and a brand new one at that. Since it was fully automated and operated with a centralized control panel, I also witnessed the mishandling of all the cell doors at once by rookie personnel.
After that, I did my second term at a so-called “Honor Farm”. At least there, I was able to read books from an in house library or catch some rays from the sun. Phew!
The Mulholland Drive Seduction
Between the coastal cities located west of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley is the Santa Monica Mountain Range. The main drag above the canyons below is a winding roadway called Mulholland Drive. Back then, scads of sports car drivers tested their mettle on that roadway, often with disastrous outcomes. This edict enticed owners of souped-up Porsches more often than not. Racing events late at night with police-spotters on lookout nearby we’re regular occurrences.
I didn’t realize what kind of history Mulholland Drive had in place until I did some research for this blog. Famous actors and international race car drivers used that stretch of road to hone their early driving skills. You can find the details in an article written by Michael Jordan entitled “The Ghosts On Mulholland Drive“.
On one occasion, during daylight hours, I was following a slow waste removal truck and was intent on finding a section of that road whereby I could jut out and get around it because there were no viable passing lanes available. I knew that maneuver came with a great deal of risk involved as you can never see oncoming traffic until it’s too late. Before long, I was joined by another Porsche who followed close behind me. I figured he wanted to get around the both of us and kept my eye on his car.
Not wanting to be outdone by his antics, I decided that I would take a fool’s chance and go for it. A few moments later, I guesstimated my best opportunity was at hand and darted out around the truck and made it back into my lane without incident. Fortunately, for me at least, I barely missed another car coming in the other direction. Anticipating the other Porsche would soon duplicate my maneuver, I never saw him again.
The next day, I read in the paper that a car just like his was involved in a fatal accident near where I had been driving at the same time as me. The report stated that it had crashed into another waste management truck coming head on. A photograph of the mangled wreck appeared in the publication along with details of that accident which noted that the drivers life was snuffed out upon impact. I shuddered when I read that article because I figured that driver was probably the one that was following me.
Flying Off Dead Man’s Curve
I remember a song made famous by the singing duo known as Jan and Dean. It went by the moniker “Dead Man’s Curve” and the Key phrase was that “You Won’t Come Back From Dead Man’s Curve“. I was once told by others that there is a long sweeping curve on Mulholland Drive that has been given that moniker, even though the song was actually inspired by the name given to a stretch on Sunset Boulevard that almost claimed the life of one of the members of that duo.
Anyhow, I was working at a gas station in West Los Angeles on my sports car late one night because no one in the vicinity needed my services. All of a sudden, a friend of mine, Dave, showed up after attending a party at the UCLA campus nearby and he was decidedly inebriated.
As we conversed, I found myself being lured into a late joyride night and was not too thrilled about the idea since it was so late at night. However, after much prodding, he managed to coax me into taking a moonlight spin on Mulholland.
As we drove to the area, we entered the roadway via an off ramp that exits from the adjoining interstate going up through and over a mountain pass. This was the starting point of our infamous sojourn and eventual ride into hell.
Soon, the aforementioned “Curve” was approaching and I wanted to impress him by taking it at a very high rate of speed. Since there were no street lights for a visual determination, I did not realize that something had previously happened there. It turned out that a vehicle sometime beforehand had run onto the shoulder and kicked out sand all over the pavement ahead.
Fearless and naïve, I entered the sweeping curve at an ungodly rate of speed. Once my tires hit the loose sand, I started to slide sideways. After bumping hard against the curbside, the car hopped up and was flung into mid-air. Following a few seconds of silence, a loud thud was felt as the car slammed against the angled side of the cliff going down into a deep ravine. We then rolled over and over for some 300 feet down the steep embankment before coming to a stop.
My Rolled And Crushed Porsche
When It was over, I thought I was dead. It was pitch black outside and I was feeling delirious. My beloved Porsche was crumbled but still intact Thanks to the monocoque (one piece) body construction, the car body held together and that feature helped keep me from being crushed to death.
Before long, I started moving about and undid my seat belt, a restraining device that I hated and rarely used. When the latch broke free, I immediately hit the roof of the car. Then I noticed that the passenger door was in the “flung open” position, and Dave was nowhere in sight.
As I climbed out through a broken side window, I called out his name and heard him respond off in the distance. It turned out that he had been thrown out before the car stopped tumbling and was now laying somewhere on the hillside with a broken leg.
I said I would go for help and climbed back up the cliff. After awhile, I flagged down another vehicle for a ride. I made it to the nearest pay phone (no cell phones back then), and called for help. Shortly thereafter, a fire truck and ambulance showed up in short order, but it wasn’t much fun dealing with the rescue personnel. They soon became irritated that I had actually lost track of the spot where the crash occurred.
After repeated attempts at calling out Dave’s name in the darkness while listening to angry firemen berate me for losing track of the exact location, we finally heard his voice ring out. Special gear was then used to pull him up the sides of the canyon and we both were taken to the nearest hospital once he was secured.
As I lay in the ER (Emergency Room), I heard an officer come in to talk to Dave’s parents. They were notified by hospital personnel and had arrived by the time we both had been treated for injuries and were situated in adjoining beds. I pretended to be asleep as I listened to the conversation that ensued. I didn’t want to get a citation for whatever violation I may have made.
It wasn’t long before I was shocked into reality. I heard the officer tell them that “this was the first time that anyone had been pulled out of that canyon alive”. I then realized some divine interaction had taken place and gave me and my friend the chance to keep breathing and live another day. Putting it mildly, I can honestly say we both had just come back from dead man’s curve!
Following this catastrophe, I soon went back to work at that station where the journey began. Days later, a tow truck pulled in with my wreck of a car and dropped it off there. Crushed throughout the entire body, it was an awful sight. Knowing it was beyond repair, I wound up tearfully dividing it up into pieces with an air-operated cutting tool. For good measure, I removed the engine ahead of time and sold it for parts.
It haunted me for days embracing the fact that I actually did not know how severe the crash actually was and needed more input. Eventually, I made a trek to the area, and climbed down the cliff slope to the bottom of the ravine. I then located the spot where my Porsche came to rest. There, I saw an “eerie” graveyard that contained other crushed vehicles laying nearby and rusting away. It was a scary moment in time to witness a place such as this.
As I stated in two other blogs, Mississippi Death Road and Crashing A Sailplane, I should have been D-E-A-D. I had no idea why someone like me had survived the type of terrifying incident that claimed the lives of everyone before me. I thought that maybe, at this stage in my life, I could begin putting some of my past experiences and mishaps into perspective.
Through it all, I could see that a distant God was now getting some traction in my life and sought after attention from me. Real spiritual enlightenment was still years away, but it was heading in my direction, nevertheless! With this third near fatal catastrophe behind me, I found myself still alive paving the way for that futuristic awakening to gain a foothold in my soul and embrace the vey fabric of my life. “Vivre Et Apprendre”!
I am requesting that my readers click on the links provided and download a sample read of each book and give a review on Amazon. You will have free access to the first four chapters of each book. My hope is that you will like the story lines enough to obtain either an eBook version or a paperback copy that you can put on your bookshelf as a masterpiece when you are done. FATE STALKS A HERO I: RESURGENCE, FATE STALKS A HERO II:THE FIJI FULCRUM, and THE SAGA OF HERACLES PENOIT. I will be giving excerpts on these works in upcoming blogs to familiarize you the reader with exciting details about the contents of each one. Thank you!