Train Wreck

The Cast: Chris (the driver), Lisa (the driven), and Myself (the surprised).

At worst, we were going to die. At best, we were going to be broken—very broken. This was going to suck—big time.

Distracted driving is one of the struggles of modern-day highways, by-ways, and every other roadway. When I was younger, the big concerns were drunk driving and drunk driving. Yes, I know I mentioned the same point twice, but I felt that given the seriousness of the topic (and the fact that it really was the only concern you heard or read about on a regular basis) I felt it was appropriate to mention it twice.

I’ve never had hard liquor in my life. The only thing close to an ‘after hours’ beverage is the occasional sip of NyQuil before bed when I am under the weather. Add to that that I didn’t get my driving license until I was 19 meant that I also didn’t have the opportunity to do any underage drinking and driving. Perfect.

What any of that has to do with this week’s story is simply this: The driving. More specifically, being in a car. Even more specifically, being in a car that is being driven. Okay, probably more accurately: Distracted driving.

Yeah, that should clear things up.

So, during my senior year in high school my buddy, Chris, and I were hired by a ballet company in a city a few hours away from where we lived. So, several days out of the week, after school, we would drive North to Springville, Utah, for rehearsals. The drive sucked. Especially afterward. Chris would understandably get upset every time I would fall asleep in the passenger seat on the long, late-night drive back home, leaving him alone in the struggle for alertness. I always felt bad about it, and now knowing that I have narcolepsy explains why it happened. But that’s something else altogether.

Exit number 261, on Interstate 15, would be the most direct route to the rehearsal hall in Springville. After a brief stretch, there is a railroad crossing before getting into town. It now has an overpass above the tracks. It used to have the older signs, lights, bells, and drop-down barricades to warn you for when a train would come through. In all the time I had used that exit, I never saw a train. And, after a few months of Chris and I driving down that passageway, we never did either. Statistically, we should have seen at least one train either nearing, just leaving, or running through. But, alas, we did not.

I-15 Exit 261 on the left, the newer overpass of the train tracks on the right.
The overpass has successfully cut down on the number of accidents that had previously occurred.

Don’t ask why this became a fixation for us because I couldn’t give you a proper answer. All I knew then—and now—is that it was. The both of us really wanted to see a train using those tracks. I guess there is something born into those of us from in the West that still calls back to the fascination of our past. The horse and buggy… railcars… the farmers and cowboy settlers, as well as the American Indian… Maybe that’s all this was? Just an inborn call to a heritage that we never experienced first-hand. Oddly enough, being the son of an immigrant, one might think that I might be removed from that connection—as it is not that closely connected to me. That person would be wrong.

With each passing trip—and no passing train—we began to think that we might never see a train using those tracks. That maybe those tracks were decommissioned. It does happen. Then, one day, it did happen. A train came a rumblin’ through.

Lisa was the name of Chris’s Camaro. I believe it was a 1970-something Camaro. He had bought it when he was in middle school and had spent the years before he gained his driver’s license fixing it up and getting it ready to drive. When he first got his hands on it, it was a mess. It was full of junk, it was dirty, and the interior was falling apart. A serious mess. Still, after years of a little work here and a little more there, Lisa was set up and beautiful. She was a grand car. Chris took exceptional care of her. If ever I hitched a ride, I would chip in for gas (because it’s the right thing to do). Lisa was a great car. Truly.

A white 1970s Camaro, very much like Lisa (down to the fin).
Image found at

This is where worlds would collide.

After months of these trips, we finally had an instant where desire and reality met and shook hands—then slapped us silly.

We were coming off the off-ramp, from the freeway, we had already spotted the train. The both of us were more than excited by this. And, bonus: There was a lengthy strip of straight road that we would drive on, before the railroad crossing, so as to provide ample time to watch the train roll by. Fixated on that massive marvel of metal engineering, Chris and I looked both North and South in an effort to see an end and soak it all in. We were gobsmacked at the stupendous length of it all. There was no end in sight for that monster. Instantly there was one for us.

Long before our last moments on Earth, Chris and I had known that the few cars in front of us were so far ahead that they might as well be inconsequential. The road was open to us. We could spectate the railcars rolling by, uninterrupted for hours. Or, so it seemed. We really only had seconds, apparently. Oops.

Before I could realize what Chris was reacting to, he had spun the steering wheel hard, to the right, slammed on the brakes, and said, “Uhp…!” in a slightly panicked (terrified)—but still quiet—voice. It was this rapid series of reactions that prompted me to turn my head to the front to see what had caused such panic. I spotted it. That aforementioned line of cars was no longer far, far away. It was right there. Right there! We hit it and died.

No. No, we did not. Think about it. If we had hit it and died, I would not be writing this now. Unless I was a ghost… But, I’m not.

Seriously though, the last car in the line was instantly upon us. Next thing I knew Lisa was learning to fly off the road (maybe only a foot off the ground, but, still…), and working on her dance skills (we missed the car by inches. inches!). Chris and I had been so caught up in the panoramic view of the dirty, graffity-covered train that we had not paid attention to the road and the fact that traffic had stopped. Fortunately for us, Chris turned his head at the last possible second—literally. We shot off the road, caught some air, hit the ground, and slid to a stop.

As I attempted to pry my hands free from the dashboard, the dust cloud we had kicked up was billowing past. As it did, the four of us turned to look at each other: Chris and I turned to our left. The man and woman in the other car turned to their right. All of us with eyes the size of saucers. Lisa had stopped, parallel, right alongside the other car. Right next to it! Nose lined up with nose. Rearview mirrors were a mere inch apart. Chris and I just smiled sheepishly and waved hello to our new, panic-stricken friends.

After a minute of staring at each other, the other car drove away. In those precious seconds of almost death, the train had completed its passage, the barricades had lifted, and traffic began to flow once more. Lisa, however, remained still, for just a moment longer. Chris needed a second to process what had almost happened to us.

Once cool and collected, we got out, checked over the car, examined the almost damage from flying between the delineators (instead of into them), rough measured the skid marks in the dirt, got back into the car, thanked God for our survival (no mockery here, we literally took a moment to pray and thank the Lord above), then drove off to rehearsal.

We never saw a train on those tracks again. And, we were okay with that.

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