February 21, 2014

Driving Dangerous…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:40 pm


How do you rate yourself as a driver?
No, that’s a stupid question. You rate yourself above average.
It’s a well-known fact that all humans consider themselves to
be above-average drivers, including primitive Amazonian mud
people who have not yet discovered the wheel.

—Dave Barry

I’ve grumped about it all before. Lancaster County is full of people, as least compared to the places I come from. A lot of people means there’s a lot of traffic, doesn’t matter where you go. On the main roads and the back roads. And you mix in those buggies and crazy wild horses they drive around here, and it’s a mess at any time of the year. But you mix that clogged mess with the winter we’ve been having, and it’s just downright an obstacle course out there. And there are a lot of idiot drivers out there, too. And maybe it’s all that cold and snow that’s freaking me out, but this winter I joined the ranks of local really stupid drivers. Because last Saturday I came as close as I’ve ever come to totaling my truck because of how I was driving.

The thing is, I have never had an accident. Never. Not even a fender bender. (Except a lady nudged and dented my bumper, once, but that wasn’t my fault. Her insurance company was all concerned about whether the air bags went off, and whether I felt any whiplash. I told them I was fine, because I was.) And I’m not a putzer, when it comes to driving, either. I mean, I move along. But I’m very careful. Always. I keep my eyes on the road. Drive defensively, that’s my motto. Pay attention. There are a lot of idiots out there. And you never know what the other guy’s gonna do.

And that’s why I’ve always had a reputation for being rude, when it came to waving at friends I meet on the road. They waved at me, they told me a hundred times. Some of them claimed to have leaned out the window as we passed, gesticulating wildly, because they wanted to see me wave back. And I never did wave back, because I didn’t see them. And I told them. I wasn’t ignoring you. I just didn’t see you. I was looking at the road in front of me. That’s what you do, when you’re driving. You don’t lollygag around, looking at the sights. You’re on the road, driving. You got to focus, when you’re doing that.

It’s been close, a few times through the years. I’ve done some stupid things, pulled out in front of people. Once, maybe ten years back, I didn’t see a stop sign. In my defense, it was obscured by some bushes, and I didn’t know it was there. And I pulled up and turned right. A little old 80s car swished right by. Missed me by maybe a foot. Talk about being startled. That was the close call that’s made me shiver, thinking about what might have happened, up until the thing that came down last Saturday.

We never saw a whole lot of car crashes, growing up. Our world was pretty restricted. And it was rare to hear of an accident in it. We read about such things in the paper, but rarely saw them. The one that I remember happened when I was very young, maybe four or five. A guy on a Harley crashed at the crossroads just west of our house, less than half a mile away. It happened around dusk. I think my brother Joseph heard the abrupt halt of the bike’s growl. The guy came up to the crossroad from the south, on the road leading to the print shop. Problem was, it was offset, the crossing, not straight. He never saw it. And he crashed into the ditch, and lay there all night. The next morning, I remember seeing the flashing lights of the ambulance when we got up. We all rushed up to see. The ambulance was gone, by then. And we heard the story, from people standing around. The Fehr boys were on their way to work, and were the first to see it. I think the guy survived. I remember seeing the motorcycle, there in the ditch. I think it was blue, although I can’t say for sure. What I remember clearly was the saddle seat. And we talked about that accident for many years, in my childhood world. It was a thing that stood out to us. And of course there was a lesson, down there, all buried in the talk. That’s what can happen, when you drive a thing with a motor on it.

I’ve never even been a passenger in an accident, except once. And that was way back in the eighties, back when I lived in Bloomfield. My old buddy Chuck Leonard (of Chuck’s Café) took a few of us up to Waterloo to see Titus in rehab, one Sunday morning. I don’t remember who all went, but I remember who all came back. It was Chuck and me and Dad and Ruth, heading home. Mom stayed with Titus when we left, late that afternoon. And it was snowing and sleeting, right on down. And it was getting dark. Chuck fussed about the road as we crept along in the slush on the four-lane highway. And then, just like that, his old boat of a car spun out. It turned completely at least once, and we slid down a long gradual embankment into the ditch. I think the bank was gradual, because we didn’t roll. But it sure seemed steep at that moment. I don’t remember anyone saying a whole lot of anything until the car settled to a stop. We took stock. No one was hurt. I don’t think our emotions exploded, or anything. We were pretty much in a state of disbelief and shock. Then Chuck broke that tension. He laughed and explained. The car just slid out. He couldn’t control it. Somehow a tow truck showed up an hour or so later and pulled us out. Other than one little turn signal light, nothing was damaged. We headed on home. I never forgot how helpless it felt as that car was spinning out on that ice, and spinning down into that ditch. I’ve never felt that helplessness as a driver, though. Except last Saturday, it came very close.

I’ve even had a cop tell me how good a driver I was. That happened a couple of summers ago, one fine sunny Saturday afternoon as I was heading over to a friend’s house for coffee. And just down the road a few miles, about six cars were lined up by the Turkey Hill, waiting for the first car in line to turn left. Problem was, there was a lot of traffic coming from the other way. And we just sat and sat, waiting. And more traffic came at us. And there we sat and sat. Why in the world weren’t those backed-up cars passing the first one, on the shoulder? I mean, that’s pretty simple. I looked the situation over carefully. Wide shoulder, six cars to pass. Should be no problem. I edged my way on by, and broke free out front. And just as I was breaking free, I saw him sitting way back off to the right, in a little lane. A local cop. That’s why those other cars weren’t moving. He instantly glided out and tailed me. About a quarter of a mile down the road, he pulled me over. Good grief. Now I’d get a ticket. I fumbled for my driver’s license and handed it through the window. I didn’t say anything, just handed it over. I don’t have a habit of talking to cops much.

He was a young guy, just a kid, really. Mid-twenties, probably. All puffed up in his big old uniform and official hat. But he was friendly enough. “Look,” he told me, as I sat there, silent. “It’s Saturday afternoon. There’s a lot of traffic out here. I don’t like accidents.” He handed me back my license, and I realized he wasn’t going to ticket me. “You had your eyes on the road, and you were driving very carefully,” he said. As he turned away, I broke my little rule and spoke to him. Obviously, I wouldn’t have passed those cars if I had seen you, I said. He chuckled. “Yeah, I know that,” he said. And just like that, I was free to move on. I was pretty astonished, that he didn’t ticket me. But that was as it should have been. I had done nothing wrong.

And that’s the way it’s been, with my driving. I’ve always been careful, and always felt relatively safe. Until this winter. It’s brutal out there. Half the time, it seems, there’s snow and ice on the roads, when you need to get to work. And with all that snow, they’ve piled up the banks everywhere. It’s not safe, to pull out in a lot of intersections. Because you can’t see what’s coming at you. Black ice, and frozen snow on the roads make it all that much more dangerous. The buggies rattle and clop along, right on the main drags. There’s no room for them to pull off on the shoulders. Too much snow piled up. And the traffic clogs up behind them. And sometimes, the road is so bad that it’s hard to even pass a buggy. It’s all enough to drive anyone a little nutty.

And last Saturday, I had a few errands to run, here and there. Light snow in the morning, that’s all they claimed we’d get. It didn’t start, though, until about midday. And the one place I was stopping at was right on the edge of Lancaster. A light snow was spitting down when I left the house. That should have been an omen, right there. This is a sign. Stay far away from all evil cities in weather like this. Nothing good will come of it. But I ignored the premonitions. The snow was light, and it might stop soon. So I drove right out into that mess, all blithe and confident. It wasn’t all that important to get to where I was going. I just felt like heading out.

I wasn’t quite sure how to get there, so I plugged in my GPS. It’s a few years old, and has been mostly good to me. It has an annoying habit of trying to drag me off main roads onto back roads, for the shortest distance. And when you don’t know where you’re going for sure, that gets a little tricky sometimes.

The snow kept spitting down. Not real bad, but steady. I had my pallet of pole pills on the back, and I could feel the solid weight. My truck was anchored. The GPS led me over toward the west side of the city, then guided me onto some real back roads. And again, it was OK. The thing that always irritates me during stressful driving is the pushy drivers that come up behind you. And sure enough, as soon as I turned off onto what should have been a deserted back road, an SUV got all uppity. Followed me way too close. I plugged along, and it finally turned off. Then another slid right in to take its place. And soon enough, I pulled up to the main highway, close to where I was going. I turned right. And the GPS claimed I was there.

But there was nothing “there” except a tiny little opening in the snow, off onto a tiny little side street. And a large sign that screamed ONE WAY. So what now? Irritated and nervous, I drove on down the highway, looking for a street to turn left onto. There was none, in the first half mile. I turned left into a business parking lot, to figure out what to do. Traffic was pretty light, for such a busy road. Snow was still spitting. Sideways, windswept. What to do? The GPS had clearly told me to go down that one way road. I thought about it. I’ll head on back and look it over. Maybe I can make that hard right turn. I’ll look it over. I was pretty tense.

And I pulled out to the right and drove on back. Approached the sign. No Right Turn. Well, I thought. You can ignore signs like that if no one’s watching. I looked around. No cops anywhere. No traffic coming at me. I approached the hard right turn. Glanced at my rear view mirror. No traffic coming from behind, either. I switched on my turn signal. Turning right, here. Swung way left, then turned for the hard right. Right across the right lane. And right there is where I almost lost my truck.

I was turning, edging slowly. The side street was narrow. Edging, edging, halfway across the right lane I’d come from. And just like that, a little white car whooshed past, on my right. The driver avoided me by hitting the snow piled along the side. It will always be frozen in my mind, that instant. Snow spitting down, snow spattering from the banks, and that little white car skedaddling from underfoot like a frightened rabbit. He missed me by less than an inch, I will always claim to my dying day. Had I turned half a second earlier, that car would have smashed into Big Blue’s right front side, by the tire. And at that speed, probably thirty-five miles an hour, there would have been some serious damage, not only to my truck and the car, but probably to the car’s driver. Who knows? About anything could have happened. It all still just makes me shiver.

You think about it, how close that was. This was my truck, my pride and joy. Big Blue. And I came just that close, to losing him. Not to mention all kinds of associated costs. The illegal right turn. I have no moral qualms about making such turns at all. But there are consequences, if something bad happens. There would have been tickets. Points against my license. Insurance costs would have shot straight up. And who knows what all kinds of litigation?

And it all would have happened because I was an idiot driver. That’s the real heart of it. I was a stupid idiot. Sure, my truck might get all smashed up next week. You really don’t have a whole lot of control over that, because something might happen that’s not your fault. That would be hard enough to take. But if you smash up your truck because you’re an idiot, that would make it so much harder to deal with.

And you look at such a thing, that happens in your life. A really stupid mistake, and you walk away unscratched. Not because you deserved to. But because that’s just how it all came down. It’s all so random, mathematically. And maybe it really is all random. But I’ll tell you what I did, right after it happened, right after I quit freaking out. And I’ll tell you what I’m still doing today.

I’m talking to God a lot, in my heart and in my mind. And with my voice, too, yeah, some. But mostly inside. And I’m thanking Him from the bottom of my heart for looking out for me.

Yesterday, we were short in help at the office. Which means Rosita took a day off. So I was the main guy answering the phone. And it wasn’t all that busy, and we managed just fine. About midmorning, the phone rang, and I answered. It was my brother, Titus. I was surprised and pleased. He calls, oh, every few weeks or so, just to chat. But today, he was calling to tell me some news.

“Well, Sollie died,” he said, after we had greeted each other. I grasped at the name. And I asked. Sollie who? “Sollie Herrfort,” he answered. And it all flooded through me, the emotions that always come when I hear that name. Solomon Herrfort. The father of Nicholas in the book. Ah my, I said. When? Are you going to the funeral? “He died yesterday,” Titus said. “I would like to go, but it’s way up in Wisconsin, and it’ll just be too cold.” Yeah, I sure understand that, I told him. Do you think the Aylmer people will go? “Yes,” Titus said. “Yes, a lot of them will go.” And we talked a bit about who the man was. He was 92 years old, close to my father’s age. He had a hard life. And a lot of pain.

I haven’t seen anyone in that family since the mid-eighties, the last time I visited Aylmer as a young Amish man. I know almost nothing of the details of their lives, the Herrforts. I know they moved from Bland, Virginia, sometime after Nicholas died. Way up north, to another real plain community in Hillsboro, Wisconsin. I heard little snippets, now and then, through the years. Esther got real sick one time, got all delirious. They thought she was passing on. And in that delirium, from some deep well of loss and pain and sorrow, she cried out again and again the name of her firstborn. “Nicholas!” And then, somehow, she pulled out of it. Came back. She survives her husband. She had a hard life, too. And there they lived, in Hillsboro, for all these years.

I’ve heard, too, that Solomon got a pretty good price for his little farm when he moved out of Aylmer. He had it paid off. So maybe they weren’t quite as destitute as I remembered them as a child. I just don’t know quite what all is true and what isn’t.

Solomon had been blind for a good many years before he died, they tell me. I can’t even begin to imagine what his existence was like in that darkness. Or what it was like back when he could see, for that matter. Whatever it was, he lived his full range of years.

And now he is gone. And now he is reunited with his son.

He was ignored as a nobody like no other Amish man ever was, at least in the world I grew up in. There is no reason, really, that anyone outside the boundaries of his world would remember many details of his life. Or that anyone, anywhere, will long remember his name. But here, with my voice, I speak of who he was. And I speak of his passing.

Solomon Herrfort, Rest in Peace.



  1. Great blog. I’m glad you’re safe. I rear-ended someone once. They had stopped on a curve on a street late at night and I just hit them. I almost got stopped, but not quite. It took me a long time to trust my own judgment again. Maybe I’ll pray for Spring for y’all.

    Comment by Rhonda — February 21, 2014 @ 10:23 pm

  2. You can make a near-miss accident about as exciting as the real thing! I’ve often wondered if God will show us a video in Heaven of all the near misses we’ve had in life and didn’t realize His hand was watching over us. And thanks for sharing about Solomon Herrfort. Great blog!

    Comment by John Schmid — February 21, 2014 @ 11:17 pm

  3. Your “crazy wild horses” reminds me of a mural my husband and I always marveled at, as long as we could see it. There was a pseudo-Amish restaurant in Danville, OH, called “Der Dutchman.” Owned–it was said–by an ex-Amishman, and staffed by young Amish women. An impressive hand-painted mural covered the long wall in front of you as you entered. It depicted an Amish family in a buggy, but what was unforgettable was that horse. “Crazy wild.” That was him. Probably had a mind of his own. The restaurant is gone, but the vacant building still stands at the intersection of Knox County 514 and US 62. We wonder if the mural is still there.

    Comment by cynthia r chase — February 22, 2014 @ 7:37 am

  4. Whoa! Close call! Guess it wasn’t your time yet. And will you please stop calling yourself an idiot driver. It doesn’t set well. You had no way of knowing what lie ahead. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Besides, it gave you a renewed connection with the Almighty.

    I’ve had many scrapes on the road, myself. I don’t know which drivers are worse, New Jersey or Chicago. I remember once in NJ while on a highway, seeing a guy snort a line off his dashboard. Then he started beating on his steering wheel as if he were having his own personal rock concert. He was flying high.

    Here in Chicago you get your morons, bullies, and wall-to-wall semis. It can be snowing, icy, whatever, and there will always be, always, some person driving way over the speed limit, lane gliding, totally oblivious to the lives of other people. As you can see moronic road ragers really put me over the edge.

    My heart sank instantly when you mentioned the name Nicholas. His poor, dear mother. God be with that woman. I relate with her in some ways. The deep painful stabs of witnessing cruelty towards her son. Her special boy.

    When you were describing Nicholas in some of your previous writings I wondered if he were autistic or had autistic characteristics. Poor little thing.

    Well…back on a more positive note, I’m glad you’re safe and sound and that Big Blue is without blemish. Let’s see…there’s “a boy and his dog”, “a man and his horse”, and “Ira and his truck.” Have a wonderful Saturday. Just think, there was the possibility that you may not have seen this day. Live it up!

    Comment by Francine — February 22, 2014 @ 8:45 am

  5. You left out the dangers of deer leaping in front of a car. Ruined my Subaru this week. I know too well the dangers of wild horses and buggies in with impatient truck drivers. The north-south road in Daviess is being widened to prevent the many accidents that happen on that extremely busy road.

    Comment by Linda Ault — February 22, 2014 @ 9:20 am

  6. Sounds like the traffic here in West Texas. With the economy here booming, people have moved in from all over. We get a kick out of identifying all the out-of-state license plates. Our infrastructure wasn’t prepared for the influx, and the nutty drivers are everywhere. And then add a day of snow or ice. It really does get you caught up on your prayer life. Stay safe!

    Comment by Jenifer W — February 22, 2014 @ 9:30 am

  7. Ira, you’re not alone. Every driver can relate to incidents like this, but only you can write a perfect story about it. Some people seriously drive crazy on a daily basis on purpose. I hope they too are having talks with God. Life is short and tomorrow isn’t promised, so get on with that next book already!

    Comment by Karen — February 22, 2014 @ 10:46 am

  8. I can sure relate to that, I pulled out of a gas station on to a highway on the lower side of a low hill and did not see this car comming, he was at about 60 mph IT swerved around me and did a 180 and never stopped. I think it did 2 180s but i’m not sure. JLW

    Comment by Johnny Wood — February 22, 2014 @ 9:09 pm

  9. I got the spins wrong it was two 360s and I’m not kidding JLW

    Comment by Johnny Wood — February 22, 2014 @ 11:47 pm

  10. In the city, everything’s in walking distance so a person can leave his or her car home during inclement weather. It’s quite convenient! Of course, crossing the street is hellaciously hazardous.

    Great description of the car going in the ditch. Had a similar experience.

    Comment by Margaret — February 23, 2014 @ 12:52 am

  11. We have all been idiot drivers at one time or another. Thank God you and Big Blue are safe and thank God the other driver is safe. Think how much more awful it would have been if another human being had been hurt. Your guardian angel and that other fellow’s guardian angel were working overtime that day. Keep on thanking God. He was in control. What a blessing!

    Comment by Rosanna — February 23, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

  12. We were standing still in a traffic jam on interstate 69 on the way home from Utah last June when we were hit from the rear at 70 mph (according to the police report). Cars where stacked 5 wide and there was no where to go………That helpless feeling you have when you see it coming and can do nothing is not soon forgotten. When it was over 7 vehicles lay scattered across the road and median. 8 of the eleven people in our vehicle were hospitalized including 3 of my 4 children and my wife who was 6 months pregnant at the time. That was a rough 45 minutes for this ole boy believe me. The helicopter pilot promised to call when they got to the hospital with an update (with my ten year old daughter and twelve year old son). I told my wife in the ambulance they would not call if things are as bad as they think. I’ll never forget us humming along with the siren blaring and the doctors working on my wife and all i did was stare at my phone and will it to ring. But it never did, instead the message light came on and it was the pilot. He simply said we’re here and they have your children in the ER and they are beginning to stabilize……..at first i was ticked off thinking I helped you guys through everything because they (the medics) were stretched so thin at the scene, remaining clear headed and calm through it all and you haven’t got the nerve to talk to me? But in hindsight I’d have done the same thing were I in his shoes and I’m glad he did what he did because I’ve listened to that message a hundred times since then. In fact I’ve never been more inspired by two sentences in my life.

    Today everybody is home, the surgeries are all over now, things are back to normal and we have a brand new baby thats sleeps all night. And I, well I have a new perspective on what ‘blessed’ is……..

    Comment by VB — February 24, 2014 @ 7:36 pm

  13. A lot of memories flooded thru my head spanning over 40 years when I read about the close calls and near misses. The yellow 1968 Road Runner that was rear ended on the little rough country bridge by the neighbors’ house where Amish church service was being held. My dad walked down to see what was going on, I didn’t want him there. My first car, the straw that broke the camel’s back. The one that when I drove it home he said you can’t have that here, get your clothes and go. And I did, moved in with my cousin Rueben for the summer and then he let me move back home. An uneasy truce that did not last. The next one, a 1969 Mustang Mach 1, a 428 Cobra Jet Drag pack, way to much car for the 18 year old Amish kid that was me, a horse an buggy pilot. I survived that one, the late night drag races with the Beachy and Mennonite boys and their muscle, that quarter mile we had marked off east of town on Illinois 133. I won a lot,but no guarantee, there is always somebody badder then you. And so it went, the Cuda, the Corvette, the Charger and Challenger and others. A few minor fender benders, too many traffic tickets.

    I believe the angel was working overtime during those years, had too be. And he is still there, for I live in Phoenix. Have for several decades now and it has turned into a little L A, rivers of flowing metal during rush hour, relatively peaceful otherwise and I try to stay out of that. The driving on my part is more sedate, the old four door work car that a friends father had purchased in Wooster Ohio. And it suits me fine most of the time. Until I start thinking about that other car in my garage under the cover, the red plastic bodied 2 seater with the the speedometer that goes to 200. It wouldn’t quite make it there and today I don’t want to go there. No use tempting fate, my higher power still has me here for a reason and I’m grateful. Maybe there is a little growth on my part, I like to think so. Thanks, Ira, for putting it out there.

    Comment by Lenny — February 25, 2014 @ 1:21 pm

  14. When I was a young driver, just sixteen, I misjudged the distance/speed of a car. One fine Sunday morning, I pulled out in front of her from a side street. She had to brake, hard, to avoid hitting me, but it wasn’t really a near miss, as I sped up as soon as I realized my mistake.

    The lady went absolutely ape, chased me with her car and forced me off the road. She got out of her car and came to my window, screaming and shouting obscenities at me. I was terrified and apologized profusely, but she was having none of it. She called me horrible names and finally stomped back to her car and squealed off in a major huff.

    How ironic it was, when I realized I was following her to attend the very same church! It was very creepy indeed to see her happily socializing at the after-service coffee hour!

    Comment by Selah Gitlin — February 25, 2014 @ 4:22 pm

  15. Solomon

    And 6 Billion others like him

    Comment by LeRoy — February 26, 2014 @ 11:40 pm

  16. Nearly halfway through a borrowed edition of GROWING UP AMISH and felt compelled to check out your website…indeed, thank you for “putting it out there”. What a joy to read such unpretentious musings.

    Comment by Marie Fantasia — February 28, 2014 @ 4:04 am

  17. Quote: “He was ignored as a nobody like no other Amish man ever was,…”

    So sad. Such things should not be.

    Makes me think of the Lazarus, from the story of the rich man and Lazarus…

    Comment by Cy — March 4, 2014 @ 1:47 am

  18. Solomon Herrfort. Bless his heart.

    I know he’s not ignored in Heaven.

    Comment by Nance — March 28, 2014 @ 10:01 pm

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