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Emergency on 200 North!
No one could miss the wails of the town's shiny new ambulance, but on that terrifying day I heard the call of a different siren.
I was eight years old when I had my first brush with fame. Actually, it was more of a collision, and it taught me some valuable lessons that I’ve never forgotten.
It was July of 1976, which meant my ninth birthday was only a month away. My family lived in Bountiful, Utah, a bustling town not far north of Salt Lake City, on a street evocatively named 200 North. My Cub Scout den had just finished rehearsing the flag ceremony we were due to perform at a big pack meeting later that week. Five or six of us piled into our den mother’s station wagon outside the big white church in the heart of our neighborhood. It was the middle of a bright day. My house was only a few blocks away, Mrs. Benard insisted in seeing us all safely home.
We chattered noisily on the short ride. I was the first stop. Mrs. Benard pulled over to the curb across the street from my house, in the middle of the block. I got out on the passenger side, then edged out in front of the car to try to see around it before crossing.
Apparently I didn’t look hard enough, because the moment I stepped past the station wagon into the street there came a big roar and a screech of brakes. The world went upside-down crazy. I flew through the air, bounced on metal, tumbled around, and slammed against pavement, though I couldn’t have put those sensations in any kind of chronological order.
Mrs. Benard ran to me, ashen-faced, as did the woman driving the car that had just hit me. My mother, having heard the collision, hurried out of the house. The three women helped me to the front lawn and laid me down, fussing and fawning all the while. I was stunned but did not appear to be seriously injured. I was sore all over, especially my knees, and one of my sneakers bore a mysterious tire print, but that was about it.
Mrs. Benard went inside to call an ambulance, just to be safe, while the distraught driver inspected her car. It was a new Lincoln Continental, and it had taken more damage than I had. The hood was dented pretty good, the antenna was bent ninety degrees, and the windshield was spiderwebbed with cracks. “My husband is going to kill me,” the woman moaned.
Meanwhile, my father and his boss happened to be paying a call on the nearby fire station. My father was a shop teacher, and during the summers he took what work he could find. That summer it was fabricating and installing heating and cooling ducts for a sheet metal company owned by one of the lay leaders of our local church congregation. My father’s boss was also a volunteer fireman, so the two of them had wandered over to the fire station on their lunch break to check out the town’s brand-new ambulance.
The ambulance was big news. It had been in the paper for months, ever since the state allotted a special grant for its purchase. It had come all the way from Texas, and public interest was so high that the fire department held a contest to decide which two firemen would get to fly there and drive it home. The lucky pair had just arrived back, so all the other firemen and paramedics were there fussing over their shiny new acquisition. It had yet to be taken out on a single call.
My father and his boss had not been there long when the call from the dispatcher came in: “Child hit by car, Two Hundred North, code three.” The paramedics scrambled into the ambulance. My father, recognizing the street name, said dryly, “That’s probably my dumb kid.”
The ambulance crew had a great time on their three-block race. They took full advantage of the opportunity to test every siren on board. It was like a Keith Emerson solo screaming through the streets at sixty miles an hour. I’m sure they were disappointed that the trip was so short.
An army of paramedics descended on our front lawn. They checked me over and pronounced me fine. That was good news, though it would have been cool to get to ride in the new ambulance myself.
After the day’s excitement, my usual summer routine took over and I forgot about the accident for a few days. But then I heard there was a story in the local weekly about the first days of the new ambulance, and that I was in it. Me! With my name in the paper! Imagine that! Now it would be known far and wide that, on its maiden voyage, Bountiful’s celebrated Chevy Moduvan had attended the miraculous case of the boy who tangled with a Lincoln Continental and walked away unscathed. (Well, except for the huge bruises on his knees.) And the name of that walking legend was—
Unfortunately, when my father showed me the actual article that evening, it turned out the name of that legend was “small boy hit by a car.”
What a downer.
Still, I never forgot those few thrilling hours when I could taste the notoriety that was surely my due, and I never forgot the lessons that it taught me. I learned that, if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth attaching your name in huge screaming neon letters. And I learned to always look both ways before crossing the street, because that way the paparazzi are more likely to catch your good side. ∅