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Posted by on Jun 8, 2023 in Blog | 0 comments

Every Picture Tells a Story: Hymns to the Silence — Newark, DE (1998)




Close to midnight on a Friday night in the spring of 1998, my life flashed in front of my eyes and I knew I was about to die.

Anyone who’s been in a near-death experience will understand the “flash”……an instant bombardment of adrenaline, fear, imagery, memories, and electricity that floods the brain and body when you believe everything is about to turn to black. The mind can’t comprehend the rush, nor make sense of it all, but the moment is strangely one of clarity and peace.

That night, I was driving north on I-95 from Washington to Atlantic City, one of the busiest highways in the U.S., a route I’d taken many, many times before. Ten miles south of the Delaware Memorial Bridge which crosses over into New Jersey, the stereo was blasting Van Morrison’s “Hymns to the Silence.” I was in a new car that I’d just purchased–a Cadillac Sedan de Ville. My first Caddy. What a sweet smell of success.

It was drizzling. And foggy. I-95 is six lanes wide each way in Deleware because that’s a huge trucking depot and a high-traffic area. The sign indicated the toll booth into NJ was 8 miles ahead.

“And I keep on, ’cause I can’t sleep at night
Until the daylight comes through
And I just, and I just, have to sing
Sing my hymns to the silence.”

It was a sight of horror. A blur that quickly came into focus. A metal car-boat tombstone.

Driving 60 mph in the far left lane, my speed was reduced because of the drizzle and thick fog. Normally, cars and trucks would be screaming past at 75-80 mph. Traffic was unusually light.

All I recall is the rear bumper of a 1980s-era Mercury Grand Marquis approaching through the fog. The Mercury Grand Marquis was parked…..PARKED….in the passing lane of I-95. The car was at a complete stop, a standstill, with no flashers, but instead of parking either to the shoulder or the far left indentation, which also had an embankment, the driver had stopped his Mercury Grand Marquis in the passing lane of I-95.

I don’t remember having enough time to scream.

The car swerved violently to the left, hoping to avoid the road hazard. A car breakdown? A heart attack? Why was that car parked in the PASSING LANE!!!

The Caddy swerved back and forth and spun out on the side of the interstate. I’d clipped the other vehicle, which at 60 mph left one helluva’ dent, and was so violent that it broke the frame, But by a pure stroke of good luck, I’d not only managed to avoid demolishing the rear end of the Mercury Grand Marquis and walked away unscathed, but I’d also not hit any other cars while screeching sideways out of control. I didn’t suffer a scratch. I have no memory of what happened in the next few minutes, but the police came, reports were written, both cars were towed, and the highway patrol was even nice enough to take me to the Amtrak train station in Wilmington. I still had a poker game to get to at the Taj Mahal, and nearly dying and totaling a Caddy wasn’t going to crimp my weekend plans.

Later, I learned the full story: A 93-year-old man was driving the Mercury Grand Marquis. He was driving from Florida to New Jersey, and in the rain and fog and perhaps some fatigue, he’d become confused. He thought he was parked off to the shoulder, but instead had stopped in the I-95 passing lane. That’s when I plowed into him going 60 mph.

A few weeks later, Marieta and I went up to Atlantic City together and stopped at the junkyard in Newark, Delaware, where this photo was taken. This became the Caddy’s graveward. It was a shame to lose this car, but at least I didn’t lose my life.

Postscript: The story doesn’t end there. About 8 months later, I was in civil court as the defendant in a lawsuit, in which we countersued. The elderly man’s insurance company sued me for damages, saying hitting him in the rear meant the accident was my fault (which is usually the case in traffic accidents). But this was an obvious case of negligence and recklessness, so I won in court and recovered all damages from my loss. With the settlement, I bought another Cadillac because that solid tank of a car probably saved my life. I would have been dead in a smaller car, or seriously injured. So, I drove Caddys for the next 20 years.

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