My job was simple: drive. Just keep quiet and drive.

I never drive by Exit 32 without remembering that day.

If it had played out as it might have, you’d probably remember the day, as well.

There were five of us in the car; four noisy ten year-olds, and me. Three boys were in the back seat and my son was in the passenger seat. The rear of the car was piled high with hockey bags. We were on our way to Richmond Ice Centre which is just east of Highway 99, where Steveston Highway meets Number 6 Road. The area is an entertainment and recreational mecca with a water park, trampoline park, a theatre complex, along with the multi ice sheet complex. I was happy to drive the boys to their game and their parents were happy to have the day off from driving duties. 

The boys were jubilant. Their team was on a winning streak and they were eager to lace up their skates. Defeat just wasn’t in their vocabulary; life is perfect when you’re ten. My job was simple: drive. Just keep quiet and drive.

My job was simple: drive. Just keep quiet and drive.

I veered off Highway 99 at Exit 32. It was a shimmering spring day; it seemed a shame to be indoors, but there you have it: hockey. There was one car ahead of us at the red light on Steveston Highway. The ice rink was just minutes away and the boys were increasingly restive.  As we sat at the light, the boys hollered for me to play the CD with their team song on it. They were already chanting the lyrics. The light turned green and the car ahead of me moved into the intersection. I took a moment – a heart beat, really – to push the CD into the CD player, took my foot off the brake and began to ease onto Steveston Highway.

Photo by
Roberto Sorin from Unsplash

I can still see the driver in profile, the truck whooshing by me, seemingly over the hood of my car. I gasped and instantly started on the self-recrimination. I must have misread the traffic lights! It must have been red! Fool! Such a fool!

I can still see the driver in profile, the truck whooshing by me, seemingly over the hood of my car.

Photo by Zetong Li from Unsplash

The boys were oblivious.

I drove the short distance to the arena parking lot. I still remember where I parked, facing south. The boys piled out and gathered their bags from the back of the car. I got out and stood alongside my car, scorched with confusion and self-recrimination.

A car pulled up directly behind me. The driver jumped out, leaving his car running and his door open. He ran up to me and grabbed me by the shoulders, exclaiming, “Do you know how lucky you are?!” I managed to get out: “Oh my god, you saw it, too?!” just before I burst into tears. He explained to me that a fully loaded gravel truck had run the stalest of red lights – had run between me and the car that was in line at the light ahead of me. He said that he was surprised that I still had my front fender, let alone my life. He told me that he hadn’t been able to get the truck’s licence plate but that he’d managed to get the name of the trucking firm. He wrote it down and handed it to me. He kept repeating that I had no idea how close it had been.

He ran up to me and grabbed me by the shoulders, exclaiming, “Do you know how lucky you are?!”

I stood immobilized in the parking lot by what had almost happened. Except for the time it took to load a CD, four families would have lost a son on that one day. 

I made inquiries. I discovered that there was a gravel pit not far from this entertainment complex. That the drivers were paid by the load. I wrote to the BC Minor Hockey Association, the arena, the league. I sent a letter to the Richmond RCMP. Months later I was contacted by the RCMP to let me know that they’d looked into the matter and given out something in the neighbourhood of 87 citations and had taken several trucks off the road for violations, as well as removed some of the drivers.

I think about all of this each and every time I pass by Exit 32.

I think about it each and every time I run into one of those boys, all now grown to be men.

Ever wanted to learn how to play the guitar? Maybe the drums have always fascinated you?

Procrastinate no more!

If you’ve always wanted to learn to play, here’s your start!

I picked up the sticks myself and, I have to say, I loved it!  Unlike, say … the violin, right off the bat, you can produce a satisfying result. The guitar, however, has a more difficult learning curve. Still, every journey starts with a single step. Begin!

Register for The Plain Jane newsletter to win one of several introductory music lessons from Rufus Guitar and Drums!

Check out what Rufus is up to on their YouTube channel.

Be sure to add us to your address book. After you sign up you will be sent more details on how to opt-in to this draw!

The contest is open to BC residents and closes on Friday, October 15th at 11:59pm PT. Winners will be selected using a random name generator. Winners will be notified by The Bookless Club.

This week’s question for readers:


Responses to last week’s question:

Are you a life-long learner?  What have you taken up now that you’re all ‘grown up’? What do you regret not having stayed with?

This week’s column made me smile. In my mid-fifties I met a woman in Edmonton who taught drums. She had played with some well and lesser known bands in Canada and the United States in the 60s. I immediately signed myself up for lessons and every Wednesday after work I went to her home for my weekly lesson. It didn’t take long to realize how uncoordinated I am, as well as quickly developing shin splints and carpal tunnel syndrome. Definitely not an old girl’s game! I continued going to my lessons and paid my teacher not only for the lessons, but also for an hour where we often dissolved into hysterics at my feeble attempts. So well worth it! It’s almost two decades later and we remain best of friends, even after I relocated to Vancouver.

Lois Kathnelson

I did my undergrad, mostly through night classes or corresponce, from University of Victoria, Vancouver Community College, Simon Fraser Univ., Fraser Valley College and Okanagan College, as well as the BC Real Estate licensing course (UBC). At age 35, I quit my 15 year banking career, and went to law school. I passed the Bar Admission exams in BC in 1988 and Alberta in 1999 (at age 50). Put simply, I’ve been a “logger, lender, lawyer and leader, laterally in Lumby, Langley, law school and lawyers Lawson Lundell” (that’s 17 L’s!). I am a “poster boy” for life-long learning.

Ian C. MacLeod

I used to tell people that if I ever retired I might take lessons with the hope I’d learn some of those luscious sounds of the professional jazz pianists, never really believing I’d do that.  Well, weeks after I closed my office I actually did take that step.  I registered at the VSO music school, asked for and was assigned my favorite jazz pianist who was on the faculty, and started lessons, first in the school and then for most of last year on Zoom after Covid intervened.  He was a wonderful teacher.  I don’t have talent to do it well, but very often spend a couple of enjoyable hours a day at the piano.

Earl Hardin

During my youth, I had aspirations of becoming a writer.  Life happens and finally, at the age of 44, I completed a degree from SFU.  However, taking the sciences stomped the creativity out of me! After retiring from a fulfilling career, and pondering the future, the pandemic took over the world.  I returned to SFU and am completing my 4th Creative Writing course.  Through that, eight motivated students, like myself, have formed a Zoom writing group. We meet monthly, share and critique our writing and have set a goal of “draft memoirs” by September 2022. Life-long learning and new friendships are a win-win for during the time of Covid-19.  

Sandra Castle

I had always wanted to play the alto sax but never got around to it. When I was 56, I had the opportunity to join an adult concert band called Brass, Wind and Wire. It’s a weekly evening band class created for adults who had never played an instrument or hadn’t played in a long time. I joined as a beginner,  on a borrowed sax. A year later after graduating into the intermediate class, I bought my own instrument. After nine years, band class is still a learning experience as well as a social event and I even enjoy performing at concerts. I have to thank the band’s conductor, Brenda Khoo, for creating this wonderful experience.

Wendy Meloche

15 thoughts on “LIFE AND DEATH AND CDS”

  1. t was two years ago at the crack of dawn on an autumn morning while driving to Seattle for a cheap flight to New Orleans that it happened.We had just exited the Massey tunnel and accelerating when I spied four deer in our lane who were too close to avoid.I cried”Deer”. My husband hit the brakes and because there was just enough space between the two couples and his expert driving he hit the hind of only one.If he had hit any one of them squarely and it flew through our windshield we might have died. If he had lost control of our car we also could have perished. I happened to notice an RCMP car parked a little ways back and as we had no phone he called a tow truck because of the amount of damage to the left front panel. The tow truck dropped us off at the Town and Country motel where we phoned for a cab and arrived home with enough time to fly that day from YVR to our destination.

  2. I travel the 401 regularly, due to grandkids who live ‘out there.’
    A couple of years ago, I noticed I was gaining on a car that had a mattress tied to its roof. It wasn’t windy, but the mattress seemed to have a life of its own, bobbing up and down. As I gained on it, I noticed up and down wasn’t the only way it was moving, and it wouldn’t be very long until it would be air-borne! Instinctively, I moved to the passing lane, and just in time, as I saw the mattress hurtling through the air. My frantic honking had no effect on the young man, and I suspect he was surprised to learn that upon reaching his destination, the mattress was no longer there.

  3. Dear Jane,
    Your story about a very close call brought to mind one my family of 5 had in 2003 when my middle daughter, an N driver, was driving us home from Langley Costco along the number 1 Hwy. Her quick thinking and training from Young Drivers (not to brake suddenly on highway or you’ll roll) saved us plus a little help from above!!!

    In 2003, my 17 year-old daughter drove our family of 5 home on Hwy #1. Just past the 176 on-ramp, a vehicle crossed over 3 lanes heading for us (driver nodded off at the wheel). Somehow, my daughter steered the van over the then-moat ditch and up the median hill, missing a tree and massive hole, bigger than our van. The van was flipping over but somehow righted itself and stopped on the hilltop. Firefighters, who rescued us, couldn’t believe we weren’t killed getting over the ditch and hole. Those who stopped said it looked like angels safely carried our van.

    Post script – Amazingly – other drivers honked and honked at the errant car to wake up the driver and he pulled over. He had just finished a double shift. He arranged to get other transport home. Damages to our van were minor and he paid for all. We made the traffic news that day as the #1 backed up during the rescue of our van. With the widening of Hwy #1, that hill and moat ditch no longer exist.

  4. Many years ago well working at a mill on midnight shift. Me and a co-worker were waiting for a train to pass when it passed. Remembering this is back in the day of cabooses on the back of trains, there was a bright light . As it passed we crossed the tracks but a train was coming in the other direction not knowing because the lights had merged as one. And just missed my bumper by just a few feet. As we both sat there in absolute shock looked at each other and burst out laughing knowing how close we had come to death.

  5. Hi Jane,

    In 2004 I was driving with a friend on the old single lane Sea to Sky highway. A large black bear ran on to the verge to my left to cross the road and I realized I was going to hit him dead center as he crossed in front of me. Suddenly a huge truck appeared around the bend coming my way at speed and hit the bear square on before it could run in front of my car. I can still see the bear filling the front grill of that truck and then seeing its red brake lights disappearing around the bend in my rear view mirror. We still reminisce about that moment when our lives were spared by the luckiest of timing.

  6. In grade 10 , I had arrived, now driving an Austin Mini, I found out just how low it was , when crossing a double set of railway tracks at 2 am, can you imagine the red lights, ringing bells and my panicked friend next to me? we had stalled , but lucky for us, we were on the right set of tracks, and not the wrong ones.
    As a 19-year-old curious young man, I set out for Europe, Stepping out of Gatwick airport, I was crossing the street and someone grabbed my packsack and threw me backward, The bus slid past my face and a stranger saved me, I learned quickly , the traffic was a different direction,
    And finally, The plane incident, On a sunny day in Chaing Mai, I had booked 2 flights for Ko Samui island, my friend and I were in seat 11 A and 11 B
    On a Dash 8 aircraft, my friend was late from trekking in the golden triangle, and I had to re book for the following morning, as I opened the Bangkok Post, there it was, it had crashed during a freak wind storm, I have come to the conclusion , I am always too late for most things, and that I may suffer from a rare condition, Reverse Paranoia ? Is everyone out to help me?

    ps, I love reading your articles

  7. In my earlier part of my life, I was always going fast , in my mind I wanted to achieve lightspeed. Traveling to week-long camp to cook for youth, along hwy 97 going south from Prince George. I attempted to pass 4 vehicles on the downhill, with a blind curve at the bottom. Stupid move. As I rounded the curve there was a logging truck coming north. I took the ditch doing 120 km an hour. Attempting to steer out the vehicle I was driving went suddenly sideways and did a full rollover landing on the wheels. What a shock that was. Wound up with a massive bruise on my left shoulder and cooking for the youth was painful and embarrassing. Today I enjoy saving gas and lives.

  8. Hi Jane, when I was 16 I bought a motorcycle. Much to my chagrin my parents made me take a safe driving course, I had to get up at 6am on Sunday each week to go it. One day I was at 16th and Arbutus with a buddie in the back. I was first in line to go through the intersection. When the light went green I shoulder checked each way, as I was taught at the school to do before entering the intersection, the most dangerous place to be on a motorcycle. A car was running a late red light and ended up smashing into a car turning left. If I had not done that, well we don’t need to go there. I still shoulder check in my car when I’m the first to enter the intersection.

  9. Dear Jane,

    While skiing in Tignes, France at age 17, I fell about 20 metres over a cliff, hitting rocks repeatedly. My bindings and a ski boot tore off. My broken skis resembled a crumpled W, like someone had taken a sledgehammer to them. After I landed on my back, immobile, observers assumed I was dead. Airlifted to hospital, I had no broken bones, only two black eyes, a head wound, and gash on my calf. My father, a dispassionate doctor who called me on my hospital bedside phone, said, “If you’d landed on your head, you wouldn’t be here right now.”

  10. My wife and I will have been married (to each other) for 30 years come next May but it might have been a really short marriage. We were in Spain for our honeymoon, acting like tourists and gawking at the scenery instead of watching where we were going. My wife stepped off a curb to cross the street and by fate or karma or pure luck I reached out to pull her back as a bus went swishing past, a centimetre from our noses. I felt a little weak in the knees for a moment after that (she has saved my life too, so we’re about even).

  11. During the war in Croatia, in the fall of 1991, I was in living in Dubrovnik, a 3rd year student at the Maritime University. There, I lived in the attic of a house with my room mate. There was no running water, no electricity and little to eat. One day, we were in the living room reading when the mortar rounds from the Serbian artillery started to fall nearby. We immediately went towards the door that led to the garden, with the intention of going outside to access the door to the basement of the house where it was much safer. The door was a heavy wooden door with a big window that was covered by a light curtain. We were perhaps 2 meters from the door when a 120 mm mortar round landed in the garden and exploded. The explosion shook the house and broke the windows. The pungent smell of smoke enveloped us and we were showered with the glass from the window. We sustained a few cuts from the flying glass and were shaken from the explosion. We were even more shaken realizing that had we been walking just a little bit faster, we would have been outside, only a few meters from the explosion. It would have been game over for both of us.

  12. Dear Jane,
    I read your story where fate was on your side and reflect upon my own story of our life and death situation. Many years ago, it was a dark, rainy evening. I packed my three young children and golden retriever into our van to pick up my husband from the Vancouver airport as he was returning from a work trip. Travelling home along highway 99 south, at approximately 100 kilometers an hour in the fast lane and approaching the George Massey Tunnel, the largest bang occured. I had just enough time to look sideways at my husband and thought what was that (noise), when I lost all control of steering and immediately I thought the van was going to flip over at high speed. I was able to hold tight onto the steering wheel, but could not break, as any pressure on the breaks caused the car to lurch violently. As we were still travelling in a forward motion, I could see that we were quickly approaching full on the concrete divider with yellow markers that separates the fast lane from the third lane (that opens during rush hour traffic) before the tunnel entrance. I thought for sure we were going to hit that concrete divider head on, thus splitting our car in two and instantly killing my family of five and dog. At one point, I felt like giving up, but I was able to maintain my composure, held tight onto the steering wheel and safely navigate our car while still in the fast lane (without being able to properly steer or apply pressure to the brakes) and wait for the car to slow down on its’ own. My husband was leaning out the window, waving for cars to drive by/around us safely (in the dark and the rain) and I remember one woman screaming at us (as she drove by), “What the hell are you doing?”
    I had just saved my entire family from the most serious life threatening situation in my whole life and that was this stranger’s reaction…?
    I still have PTSD when I approach this concrete divider as I drive south through the tunnel – I don’t think my kids ever knew the dangerous situation we were in, as I never lost composure or cried (in the car) after our car limped to the far side of the road and out of danger. Upon inspection of the car, the entire right wheel had broken off and was bent inward under the car, thus me not being able to steer or brake – the car had to be towed and we got rid of that van shortly afterwards. I too think about this incident and realize how blessed we were that night to be saved, as it was the most dangerous situation I have ever been in…

  13. In the Fall of 1964 I was 17 hears old, and a brand new driver. I had just cleaned out the basement at the request of my father, and I was hauling a small utility trailer full of scrap metal, wood and old pipe joints to the Trail city dump, just a few miles out of town. I was doing about 60 miles per hour on the south-bound highway, and in the distance I noticed a column of about eight cars approaching me. Then I saw, at the back of the line, some Yahoo pull out and accelerate – he wanted to get to the head of the line. I did a quick mental calculation, and I knew that he would not make it to the front before I did. Given my speed, pulling onto the gravel shoulder was too risky, so I slammed on the breaks – full sized station wagon, loaded utility trailer and all. Of course my speed was too great to support this move, and my vehicle began to fishtail. The end was now inevitable, unless something miraculous happened. Out of options, I tried to accept my fate and said a prayer. Then, the vehicle third in line slammed on his breaks and created a gap. The passing car coming at me very deftly pulled into the space, about a quarter of a second before we would have collided head on. Being seventeen, and hot-headed, my first impulse was to lean on the horn and scream curses at the guy. Minutes later, when I pulled into the dump area, I got out of the car, and my whole body began to shake. My legs were so weak I was barely able to stand. I managed to get rid of my load, take some deep breaths and say a prayer of gratitude. I made it home safely. I didn’t tell my father, just to spare him the agony of having almost lost a son.

  14. Summer of 1976 I was working in the Whitehorse area. Several of us loaded into a heavy old Chevy Suburban bound for Discovery Days festivities in Dawson City. Along the way we stopped for lunch and a game of pool As it was a hot, dry day, the others had a beer. and that left me as the designated driver for the final stretch to Dawson. Back in the 70’s the ‘highways’ in the north were generally still all gravel and every summer the government would apply a calcium chloride solution to stabilize the ball bearing effect of the loose gravel.
    80 miles outside of Dawson we hit a corner with loose gravel on washboard. The Suburban flew off the road, apparently spinning around and facing back in the direction towards Whitehorse. I was thrown out landing on my back with my legs drawn up and the wind knocked out of me. I was just getting my bearings and wondering where everyone was when I looked up to see the Suburban rolling sideways toward me. Writing this I can still feel the dust filling my lungs and hear the crashing as it came towards me, landed on my legs, splaying them outwards, and rolling up my body.
    At that split second I believe I was given two choices: one was to do nothing and that would be it–no pain, no nothing. The other choice was to live, carry on with life and all of the uncertainties it would bring. I intrinsically knew that I had to protect my head. To that end I raised my arms……the Suburban stopped at my armpits, with my arms and hands pressing against the roof, where the vehicle rocked to a stop.
    We have all heard of stories of superhuman strength in times of crisis….an extreme adrenaline rush…..doesn’t really matter now what it was. I suffered a concussion, extensive bruising to my arms, and couldn’t raise them above elbow level for several months. Most of my ribs were fractured, and surprisingly to the doctors, no broken pelvis or leg damage, beyond soft tissue, it did take awhile to regain my mobility. One side of my skeleton was shifted permanently which really freaks out doctors and physios when they examine me. I have a few visual reminders of that day, a small scar on my right hand and elbow and some mechanical issues. But I am still here and what a ride it has been. For the past decade I have been battling complex cancer and I see that as just the hand I was dealt when I made the choice to live. I won’t dwell on the metaphysical aspect, or whatever you might call it, of that moment, but it was a conscious, split second choice and mine alone…or was it fate?. As for the other passengers, as far as I recall some were treated for bumps and bruises, a couple spent overnight in hospital but overall were good. We were not wearing seatbelts, but I do now!! By the way, we found out later that the previous week there had been a fatal accident on that same corner under similar circumstances.

  15. February 24, 1981, I had a premonition that my wife Betty would have a very serious accident. April 1, 1981, I found myself saying out loud that this would be over by April 30, 1981. April 11, 1981, my mother had a fall in a retail store and died from this the next day. My mother’s name is also Betty. I will never forget this unfortunate premonition!

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