Crash brings everything to a sudden halt

IMG_20180520_181911600_HDR[1]You never know when God will holler “Stop!” He did it in spades yesterday afternoon when a head-on collision brought everything to a halt on Highway 101 just before the turnoff to my house in South Beach.

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, great beach weather, with lots of tourists making local traffic thicker than usual. For me, it was a regular Sunday. I led the choir at church in the morning, had lunch and mowed the front lawn in the middle of the day, and returned to Newport for a Willamette Writers coast branch meeting.

The meeting with writer “Tex” Thompson was great. We left at 4:15, happy and full of ideas. At the meeting, I had drunk a big cup of lemon-ginger tea. Despite my hummingbird bladder, I decided I could wait for the bathroom till I got home. After all, it’s only a 15 minute drive, 12 if all the traffic lights are green. My friend Wiley and I talked about how we might walk our dogs or mow more lawns when we got home. Plenty of daylight left.

Just south of the Yaquina Bridge, traffic came to a halt. Not good. I checked Newslincolncounty.com on my cell phone. The crash was near 98th Street, my exit. Probable fatality. People in a car in a ditch. Life Flight called. We weren’t moving any time soon.

We sat in our cars, trucks and RVs, filling the air with exhaust fumes. We took our vehicles out of gear and eased our feet off the brakes. We turned off our engines, stunned by the silence. Once in a while, we turned our engines back on to move forward a car length as people pulled out of line, turned around and headed back to Newport via the empty northbound lane. Impatience? An appointment? A full bladder like mine? On that section of 101, with one lane in each direction, ocean on one side, hillside on the other, there is no place to go, no possible detour.

Time clicked by. An hour. Two hours. I was so close to home I could have walked if I had somewhere to put my car. I told myself repeatedly that my inconvenience was nothing compared to that of the people involved in the accident. One person was dead, maybe more. The others were badly hurt. Life had changed forever for them while eventually I would get home, eat dinner, and watch American Idol.

Meanwhile, I had time to study the houses, trees, and signs I usually whoosh by at 60 miles an hour. I got glimpses of late-afternoon sun sparkling on the blue ocean. Roadside rhododendrons bloomed in every color. My God, I thought, it’s beautiful here. Not so much for the accident victims. For them, it will always be: This is where it happened.

A few northbound cars trickled by. Police cars and ambulances passed. An “incident response” truck flashed a sign that said “Highway closed one to two hours.”

People got out of their cars to stretch. One guy ahead of me launched a drone. It looked like a white box with legs. It hovered above the car for a while before he brought it back down. Two teenage girls walked back and forth chatting as if this was a parade.

I thought about leaving my car long enough to go knock on somebody’s door and beg to use their bathroom. But what if the line started moving?

It’s illegal in Oregon to do anything with your cell phone in your car, but we weren’t moving, and all the cops were busy. I kept checking my phone for more information. I answered a text. I read a few emails. I took pictures and started making notes for this blog. This was a perfect opportunity to meditate, but I’m not good at sitting still.

When cars are on the highway with no brake lights, they’re usually in motion. Now it was like the video got frozen with a bad Wi-Fi signal.

Last year in California, I waited four hours on the 205 freeway near Tracy while a truck vs. bus collision blocked the road. I hated sitting there surrounded by eighteen-wheelers, with no way out. People died there, too, while I suffered only a full bladder and bollixed schedule.

Everything we count on is so fragile. We all know—in our minds—that if something happens to the bridges that box in our part of the coast, we will be stuck. If an accident, a mudslide, or a gathering of wild elk blocks the road, we’re stuck. I had water, three leftover brownies, blankets and a good book in the car, but I never planned to get stuck between the library and home for hours. Nobody ever plans these things.

I had left the lawnmower out, assuming I’d mow the back lawn. I had left my computer on, figuring I wouldn’t be gone long. I had told my dog I’d be “right back.”

Every time the cars moved forward a little, I felt myself becoming furious at the one guy ahead who didn’t move, which meant I didn’t get to move. It was only a few feet, but I wanted to move those few feet. Move, idiot! I was losing my sense of humor.

Finally movement. 82nd Street. The airport. Cones, flaggers, a tow truck and a smashed car, a pile of what looked like clothes on the pavement, 95th Street, oh my God, 98th. I got in the left-turn lane and contemplated the solid line of northbound cars blocking my way. A man in a red car got out of line to make room for me to turn. And then there was my street, wide open, my neighbor’s house, my neighbor’s dog, my house, my dog. 6:40 p.m. Praise God and hurry to the bathroom.

Oregon state police reported  the following:

Preliminary investigation revealed that a blue 2007 Toyota Corolla, driven by Shane Larson, age 44, of Tillamook, and also occupied by Tyann Walker, age 32, from Beaver, was traveling northbound when the vehicle crossed into the southbound lane of travel on a relatively straight section of the highway.  The vehicle struck a southbound silver 2014 Buick Verano head on.  The Buick Verano was driven by Sean Compton, age 50, from Springfield.  Following the initial collision, the Toyota Corolla traveled over an embankment west of the roadway and rolled onto its top.  The Buick Verano spun across the northbound lane and came to rest with the rear of the vehicle against the guardrail facing west.  

Larson and Compton were transported by ambulance to Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital in Newport.  Larson was later transported by Life Flight helicopter to Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis due to the extent of his injuries. 

Walker suffered fatal injuries and was pronounced deceased at the scene.        

Please pray for all involved in this horrible end to a day at the beach. Be careful out there, never assume things will go as planned, be grateful when they do, and don’t drink anything and drive.

 

 

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Celebrating Twenty Years in Paradise

Annie at South Beach 22315C

We are gathered here today to ponder me being in Oregon for 20 years.

On July 26, 1996, Fred and I left our home in San Jose, California to start a new life in Oregon. He drove a Ryder rental truck, and I followed in the Honda with the dog, my guitars and my Chatty Cathy doll in the back seat. We had no idea what we were getting into.

I had never lived more than an hour away from my family. I had never lived in a small town. I had never lived where it rains 80 inches a year. If we had not moved, I would never have known that the whole world is not like San Jose. Attention suburbanites: There’s a whole other world out there.

For years, we had vacationed on the Oregon Coast and batted around the idea of moving here. After Fred retired from the city and his youngest son graduated from high school, it seemed like we were free to go.

It happened so quickly we didn’t have time for second thoughts until it was too late. Our house sold in five days. We’d expected it to take months. Suddenly we were quitting our jobs, packing and saying goodbye. If I had to do it again, I probably wouldn’t. Certainly if I had known everything that would happen—my mother’s death, Fred’s long illness and death, me ending up alone—I would have stayed on Safari Drive amid the smog, gangs and traffic roaring right behind us on Santa Teresa Boulevard.

I loved my newspaper job and our house. I loved the music groups I belonged to and the church where I played guitar every Sunday. I had finished my term as president at California Writers and had just been elected vice president of the Santa Clara County chapter of the National League of American Pen Women. Life was pretty good. But the money we made at our various jobs wasn’t enough and the Oregon coast called to us. Up here, we could live by the beach in a more affordable house. I could write and play music. Fred could volunteer at the aquarium. As for the rain, we’d buy raincoats.

So, 20 years. Nearly one-third of my life. If we divide it up, the first third was growing up, the second being a young professional, and the third starting over in Oregon.

Let me toss out a few more numbers:

We lived in Lincoln City one year, Newport one year, and South Beach 18 years. I have been walking dogs along Thiel Creek for 18 years. Six days a week, 1.5 miles a day, times 18 years=2,496 walks and 3,744 miles or all the way across the U.S. and partway back. Add the miles we walked in Newport and Lincoln City, and we’re at least back to Utah.

I have made approximately 50 trips back to San Jose, mostly by car. At 1,400 miles a trip, say 45 trips, that’s 63,000 miles and about 90 overnight stays at the Best Western Miner’s Inn in Yreka, California. I should get a gold plaque or something.

I was 44 when we arrived. Fred was 59, younger than I am now. Later this year, I have to sign up for Medicare. What???

Oregon has given me a lot. Six published books. My MFA degree in creative writing. Twenty years as a church musician. I get to spend my days writing and playing music, which has always been my dream. I have a house with a large, private yard only a block and a half from the Pacific Ocean. I can go to the beach or walk in the woods whenever I want. The air is clean, the traffic is minimal, and the temperature rarely gets over 70 degrees. Of course, we don’t have a shopping mall, serious medical issues require a trip to Corvallis or Portland, and full-time jobs are hard to find, but there’s online shopping, I don’t mind a trip to the valley, and I don’t need a full-time job. I’m already working full-time at work that I love. In other words, we got what we came for.

A week ago Sunday, I attended a concert at Newport’s Performing Arts Center. Walking through the lobby, I kept running into friends from music, writing and church. Lots of smiles, lots of hugs. We knew just about everybody on stage as well as in the seats. I have spent many hours in that auditorium, in the audience and on the stage. I felt this huge sense of belonging as my friend Pat and I settled into our seats. I would not get that kind of feeling in San Jose in a massive venue where everyone was strangers.

Fred and I lived together here for almost 13 years. He spent two years in nursing homes and died five years ago. He absolutely loved Oregon, never had a moment of regret. Over the years, we have lost many family members, including my mother, both of Fred’s parents, Aunt Edna, cousin Jerry, cousin Candi, cousin Dale, Cousin Irene, Uncle Bob, and more. We have also welcomed Candace, Courtney, Riley, Peyton, Keira, Clarabelinda, Kai and Kaleo, Eddie and Wyatt, and more. The cycle of life includes our four-legged loved ones. We lost our dog Sadie in 2007. We gained Chico and Annie in 2009, then I lost Chico in 2010.

My dad, now 94, has survived heart surgery, a broken wrist and a broken hip. My biggest regret of this Oregon journey is not being close to him all the time instead of just a few days or weeks when I visit. When he complains about crime, traffic and heat in San Jose, I encourage him to join me up here, but he is firmly rooted in the city where he was born.

Over the years, I have thought about going home. I miss my family. I get tired of the endless cold, gray winter days. Why am I in this big house alone now that Fred is gone? Most widows seem to move close to their families, usually their children.

But I stay. Why? The opportunities for connections with writers and musicians are huge here. I am allowed to play, sing and lead the choir every week at church even though I have no music degree and I am not a concert pianist. Yes, there are more opportunities in big cities, but you’re one of a crowd.

I might have better luck finding a new man (do I want one?) somewhere else, but when I sit writing on my deck with the dog sleeping at my side, warm sun on my face and a light breeze tousling my hair, I don’t want to leave. It’s peaceful here.

Lots of other people have moved to the Oregon coast since Fred and I came. I’m an old-timer now. California retirees are still falling in love with the place and moving in. But we are unlikely to see our population grow to the point that it’s a problem. Our weather is too challenging, and there’s no easy way to get to the rest of the world–tough roads, minimal bus service, no plane or train service. Also, jobs and housing are scarce. Good. Keeps the riff-raff out.

I like this place where I know lots of people, where the rain has dirt to sink into, where strangers wave at me and Annie as they drive by in their pickup trucks, where I hear the ocean at night instead of freeway noise and sirens, where I can slip away to the beach in five minutes if I feel like it or doze on my loveseat with the dog sleeping beside me. Driving over the Yaquina Bridge into Newport, I look down at the blue waters of the bay, the white boats bobbing there, and the green hills around it and am still awed by how beautiful it is.

On our anniversaries, Fred and I used to ask each other if we were willing to stay together another year. We’d click our wine glasses and pledge not just a year, but forever. It’s time to ask myself that about Oregon and this house. I can’t pledge forever or even a year. Things happen. But for now, I’m staying. It’s home.

***

You can read the story of our journey to Oregon and what followed in my book Shoes Full of Sand. Follow this blog to continue the story.