Welcome to The Dark Side, a place where the brilliance of other independent authors casts a weird, grim and sometimes terrifying shadow. This is a place where your hopes and dreams must be left tethered outside, it’s a place of screaming emptiness that will try to drown the essence of your very soul and where marriage to an accountant might begin to feel like a good idea. This is not for the young and immature, it’s not for the weak or the fearful and it’s not for those who still believe in hope. Enjoy.
Out of Control
Youjin and I are driving my well worn white Dodge Durango SLT through Berkeley, casually looking for a new place to rent.
By mid-afternoon we are up at the top of the Berkeley hills.
We’ve seen enough for the day.
We set out for home.
To go back down to the freeway is a few downhill miles of winding residential road through at least two school zones.
I don’t know exactly where, but only that somewhere at the bottom of those hills is an on-ramp to the freeway and the bay bridge back to San Francisco.
Then … just as we begin our long descent from the very top of Hiller Drive … the brakes go out.
The brake cylinder on the Durango just blows apart.
All our brake fluid is instantly soaking into the road below the Durango.
Within that second that feels like hours …
we have absolutely no brakes whatsoever!
The brake pedal goes straight down to the floor mat … and flops back up.
No parking brake…
No hand brake…
Adrenalin floods my brain for a first fast few seconds … more than I can handle.
Something beyond our control … way too fast … is happening to us.
And we are the biggest moving part of this thing … suddenly happening … to us … with us … because of us …
Our Durango gains speed as we begin rolling down Hiller Drive.
High-Voltage > Lightning-Bolt-Fear … Flash-Fire-Burns … Straight>Through>Me! Faster…Than…My…Blink!
Strapped into the captain’s seat … of a 6000 pound … rolling-missile!
We are gaining speed … downhill … into residential traffic … with no brakes!
Unable to move anything … but my hands.
It is near total loss of control.
Faster than thought … suddenly disconnected … from whatever I once thought I knew what to do.
No thing … no one … can help us.
My brain fires too fast … in way too many directions … my senses can’t react.
Paralyzed … I … I … cannot … catch up … to the fear.
Cars … people … things…fast > flashing > faster > straight > at > us…from…every… where …passing within inches of the Durango.
Locked into fast charging chaos > chaos of cars > speed-down > slow-up > move-in-every-direction > cars stopping ahead of us > 3 deep at stop-signs > four deep at stop-lights.
Cars suddenly parked … everywhere.
Bicycles … swerve across the road.
People crossing in the street … talking into cellphones … completely unaware of any-every-thing around them.
People on sidewalks … also with heads … buried in cellphones.
People … everywhere … wander about … soft as lambs lost in dazeydreams … completely unaware … of an out of control steel missile. . . flying right towards them.
Big local busses … approaching fast.
Bus stops … full of unprepared people.
Small trees … bigger trees … mailboxes … garbage containers … cement curbs.
It is impossibly fucking wild … terrifying … haphazard seconds happen too fast …
don’t crash into that car! > don’t hit that woman! > look out ! > oh shit! > we’re gonna crash! > watch out coming that way! > no! > not that way! > oh shit!
Loss of control.
Helpless … terrified … can’t stop.
Just … eyes … hands … the voice in my head.
Youjin is only a foot away.
Strapped into the navigator’s seat … also with eyes … and hands … yet her incredibly gifted artist hands are useless … and her eyes … so beautiful … also useless to control our big, white and suddenly very dangerous vehicle.
Just a helpless passenger in one half of the rapidly approaching collision.
Torn apart sheets of ripped steel … shear off her arm … slice open her neck.
Razor-sharp-glass-shrapnel … slices through the soft skin … still hanging over her crushed body and head … blood pours out … everywhere.
Gasoline engines explode … blow us both into molten fleshbone.
These are a few of the things just about to happen to us.
But in these first few seconds …
I don’t even register Youjin’s presence next to me.
Yet . . somehow … in these same first few seconds … I instinctively keep my hands on the wheel … eyes auto-scan all the different obstacles we pass through.
Instinct takes over.
Constant…fluid…judgements…of fast-shifting-motions…have to be perfect.
A flash of fast-moving-objects…speeds…sizes…approach angles closing…eyeball measurements of shifting spaces…opening spaces…impossible to predict variables…all have to be predicted instantly…without error.
Everything is in play between our free-moving-brakeless Dodge Durango … and every-any-thing else flying by…cars suddenly stop…abruptly accelerate…shift lanes…turn left… turn right…no left! … parked cars … people walking … bicycles trees … curbs … the intersection!
Stop lights change color … fast approaching stop signs. … all processed in split-second perfection … I keep maneuvering the Durango without crashing into some-any-thing-one … as we accelerate out of control downhill.
The only way for us to stop…
or even slow down…
is to crash into something.
Crash into something big enough to stop over 6000 pounds of steel…glass…explosive gasoline…and two human beings…all rolling downhill at 40 m.p.h.…without brakes.
I anxiously slam my foot on the brake pedal … again … and again.
Some insane part of myself forces my right foot to the floor mat of the Durango as hard as I can … as if it will do anything.
I can’t help it.
My foot pushes against the floor mat as hard as it will and my hands grip the steering wheel as tight as they possibly can.
I look over at Youjin.
“We got no brakes!!”
I yell at her with the helpless look on my face and sound in my voice.
She just sits there and looks at me.
She doesn’t say a word.
I weave the Durango down Hiller Drive like I am on my snowboard.
I avoid all parked cars along both sides of the road … All the slower traffic also moving downhill in front of us … Then I avoid cars coming towards us in the opposite lane that I swerve into so as to avoid the slower traffic in front of us …
There are last second cars that suddenly come spilling out of long driveways …
unforeseen circle courts … and at least two school zones …
turning the Hiller Drive obstacle course into an endless deadly gauntlet.
I turn off the motor.
I have some misguided hope it will stop the vehicle … but all it does is lock up the steering wheel … while we are still accelerating downhill.
I turn the engine back on and gratefully regain control of the steering wheel.
An intersection fast coming up … with three or four cars stopped in front of us … waiting their turn at the stop sign.
We are gaining speed right towards the stopped cars.
There are also a few cars at the stop sign that cuts through the intersection right-to-left … across Hiller Drive.
The horn is useless.
No one knows what it means … everything is happening too fast anyway.
I don’t rely on any other drivers to get out of our way.
I somehow drive into the oncoming traffic through the stop sign at high speed … avoid the cross traffic in the intersection … swerve back into the right lane just after the intersection … so as not to crash into that oncoming traffic … and then finally jump the Durango up onto the sidewalk to avoid even more slow moving vehicles in front of us.
This is when I truly realize how many trees … people … dogs … baby strollers … immovable concrete and steel structures … like bus stops and telephone poles … are on a residential sidewalk in the Berkeley hills.
All I can do is keep going downhill on Hiller … I don’t know where any uphill streets are that might slow us down.
I am not able to really think anyway … it is pure reaction … dodging everything in our way.
I am terrified.
I manage to keep the fear controlled … enough to focus on avoiding other cars and every other thing in our way.
I navigate the Durango through this very real gauntlet of collisions>serious injuries> deaths.
Suspended in fear of the inevitable violent-impact-collision … I turn the steering wheel back … ‘n forth … back …’n forth … two hands … carving through traffic … squeezing the Durango between things coming at us from every direction.
We blow through three intersections and two school zones as we keep gaining speed going downhill on the winding Hiller Drive.
We pass by at least 27 or 16 or 38 cars.
Cars are parked along both sides of the road … others are always still appearing in front of us … moving much slower than the Durango.
Cars stop in front of us at stop signs … other vehicles come right at us as we swerve into the wrong lane to avoid the cars in front of us.
Still others cross through intersections on our right and left … completely unaware of the accelerating … brakeless … big old Dodge Durango flying downhill … right towards their same intersection … unable to slow down … or stop.
Folks casually pull out of their long driveways … apartment complex parking lots … school pick-up zones … into the normally quiet Hiller Drive..
These people have not heard the news of a runaway Durango coming their way … so they turn around to talk to little Bethany or Jordan about their day in the fourth grade.
It is absolutely wild … cars slam on their brakes … horns blast all around us as we roar by.
Inside the Durango … Youjin and I are pretty quiet.
The tension is loud enough.
There is nothing really to say.
We keep on the same road … winding its way downhill as we go faster and faster.
I am scared.
This can’t last much longer …
We have to crash-stop somehow … somewhere … soon.
There is no other way for us to stop.
Youjin must feel this … and she must be scared too … but she doesn’t show it.
Then … suddenly. . . the road clears up a bit.
There are no more vehicles moving in front of us … or coming uphill in the opposite lane.
There is only a hard … 90 degree … dog-leg-left-hand-turn approaching.
Downhill ahead of us Hiller Drive simply dead ends into an embankment … or goes hard left.
To the right are trees and a stone wall of some sort.
A crash has somehow felt imminent since I first put my foot down for the brake … and felt it go all the way to the floor with no resistance … way back at the top of the hill.
How else could we possibly stop?
Youjin is strapped in next to me …
calm … but terrified.
She doesn’t scream … or freak out at all … which is a big help to my concentration.
She just sits there … watching me.
A feeling of total helplessness … unlike anything I have ever felt … suddenly pulls me down and buries me like an avalanche.
The responsibility of so many lives … passing through my steering wheel … one right after the other … in split-seconds … with no way to stop it..
Total loss of control while at the wheel of a 6400 pound>steel>glass>gasoline-charged-machine>accelerating at 40-50 miles-per-hour>downhill>into impossible traffic>on winding suburban streets
Enormous guilt … buries my body ‘n brain in those few moments..
I feel the weight of Youjin’s death … in my hands already.
It is a bit heavier than I expect.
I will have to explain to her daughter …
her ex-husband in Sacramento …
her brother and mother back in Korea …
It is not going to be easy …
To admit that I have never once bothered to check the brakes in the two years since I bought the six year old used Dodge Durango.
To admit I should keep better care of the vehicle that carries the love of my life.
To admit that I even know the brakes need work … and have been too cheap and careless to get the work done before we drive up to the very highest point in the Berkeley hills that day.
I am most certainly at fault … quite possibly even criminally negligent … when a crash of some sort happens.
As the imposing … dog-leg-left-hand turn approaches … I look over at Youjin.
She remains calm and beautiful in these last moments before something has to happen … one way … or some other way.
As we approach the hard left turn > I spin the wheel hard to the left > then I lift my hands off the wheel > and I let it go > I spin it hard again to the left > I let it go again >
I spin the wheel > again > hard > to the left > let it go > again > over > and > over …
Spin the steering wheel > hard left > let it go > again > and > again.
I expect the Durango to roll … no doubt we are going to roll over …
We spin a full circle … three … or four times … with tires screeching ‘n smoking … the right side wheels even lift off the pavement briefly as we torque hard to the left.
My used white Dodge Durango SLT … with over 100,000 miles on it … pulls off something between a 980 and a 1040 … wheels lift off the ground … as it almost tips over at one point … but sticks it clean in the end.
And then …
The engine cuts off.
It is over.
Just like that.
We have not even scratched the Durango.
Not a single mark on the white paint.
We have gone through so many dozens of possible, probable, improbable, impossible-near- miss-nearly disaster- near-everything-non-collisions during our descent down Hiller Drive,
that it seems way beyond impossible, or in any way possible, that we somehow come to a stop, safely, in the middle of the road, without having touched a thing but wind.
We should be t-boned into a parked Honda or an oncoming pickup truck halfway up the hill.
Or wrapped around a tree after jumping the curb and causing two other serious accidents with cars forced to veer violently out of our way and nowhere to go.
Or crushed like an accordion into a steel structure or cement block of some sort.
Either that, or buried in the wreckage of fiery steel and glass smashed bodies, bloodied death collisions with other fast moving cars, somewhere along the way.
But somehow … we just stop.
Without accident or incident.
Youjin does not speak.
Nor do I.
We are in shock.
Still scared and stunned.
It takes a while for the whole thing to sink in.
Slowly, as we look around, we realize how we have come to our stop right in front of a third school.
Our 200 seconds of terror comes to it’s spectacular climax right in front of The Bentley School.
A private school for children of affluent people in Berkeley.
It is around 3:00 p.m.
Parents arrive to pick up their kids.
At first a few teachers and other staff come out of the main entrance onto a small grassy lawn in front of the school.
Just 30-40 feet away from our untamed-runaway-motorized-brakeless-beast.
The Bentley School is not a big school and their main building sits right up close to that quiet curve in the road, which is the low point of Hiller Drive.
There is a kind, elderly parking officer, employed by The Bentley School to manage the flow of vehicles during the a.m. drop off and p.m. pick up of students in front of the school.
Every afternoon at 3:00, this man safely guides the same sudden congestion of slow rushing vehicles through this small stretch at the bottom of two steep hills on the long horseshoe shaped road, as parents arrive to pick up their kids after school.
Then a mass of children come running out of the school, across that short lawn ‘n sidewalk and right for mom or dad’s shiny new Porsche Cayenne or BMW 700 series.
The Durango sits right there like an ugly tree stump in a driveway.
Most all of the parents usually stop at, or slowly pass through, the exact spot in the road where our big white stump now sits.
A minute or two later and the brakeless Durango would be slamming into one or more of those luxury vehicles that each cost more than a two bedroom home in Arkansas.
Or quite possibly, it is erasing the privileged futures of five or six little kids all excited to see mom or dad after school, running out just in time to be Durango road kill and vehicular manslaughter charges.
The parking officer, who has witnessed the whole scene, comes over to our big, white Dodge Durango tree stump, right in the middle of this beehive-busy time on that school-front stretch of street.
He comes up to us on the front passenger side of the Durango.
His compassionate eyes smile at Youjin and I with genuine human goodness.
Then he lifts away the silence that Youjin and I are still enveloped in.
He speaks calmly and slowly waves the cars to go around us as parents pick up their offspring.
Apparently the embankment wall has been built up in years prior to protect the school from runaway vehicles coming, out of control down that steep hill, as our old white Durango has just done.
It has happened before.
Out of control vehicles careening down Hiller Drive towards The Bentley School.
It has happened enough times to have that embankment wall built.
But never has it happened quite like this.
Never without accident.
Never without collision.
Never without steel smashed into steel twisting, razor-sharp-shards of shattered glass, tree-shaped quarter-panels, tires and rims fired out from cement curbs.
People are seriously hurt.
This decent man, working a few hours a day as The Bentley School parking officer, is wonderstruck at how we stop the way we do.
Teachers, staff, students and many parents are now all out in front of the school.
This is what people do … talk all excited while looking and pointing at us from the little grass lawn.
Some of the kids actually see us barreling down the hill towards their school.
They witness our crazy-spinning-smoking-rubber-impossibly-too-fast-
It is an impressive finish.
No denying that.
But these are rich people.
They have their own rules.
We have come within a distance of 2 minutes from their kids.
Our presence is a violation.
Any real concern or relief for Youjin and I’s safety, beyond that of the kindly parking officer, fades away fast.
Parents, teachers, the school principal and others, give us that arrogant, disapproving and demeaning lookdown that only rich people give.
They look at my well-worn, seven-year-old, gas-guzzling, oil-leaking, blown-out-brakes, white Dodge Durango SLT tree-stump … now stopped at a hard, strange angle right in the middle of this little stretch of road.
To them, my used Durango is an SUV suitable for three or more Mexican families to car-share.
Or maybe for poor white people who can’t afford credit for the environmentally friendly mortgage of a new luxury SUV.
They see the hard black rubber tire screech marks my Durango has spun ‘n smoked right into their road.
We have tattooed their little stretch of school front road.
Finally, these fine citizens look at Youjin and I.
They look away.
When rich people look you over … and then look away … its their way of saying that you don’t belong with them.
We don’t belong with them, or their children, their children’s school, or their little stretch of school front road.
We are now an ugly white stump getting in their way and they wish for us to immediately go away.
Youjin fires up a cigarette.
We turn on the radio.
It is good, hard rock ‘n roll.
We turn up the music.
We just sit in the Durango, in the middle of the street, with our two front doors open.
We don’t give a fuck.
We have just escaped some horrible thing.
Youjin and I both feel free in a way that is near impossible to describe with words.
The word miracle … never comes out of Youjin or I’s mouth.
But we definitely experience something incredible … something magical … we both know it.
We truly don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks of us sitting in the middle of the road … our front doors open … loud rock ‘n roll on the radio … beautiful ‘n sexy Youjin smoking a cigarette.
A certain luck, grace, divine intervention, or more likely something nameless, is spread upon us during those few minutes from when the brake cylinder blows at the top of that hill … all the way downhill to this final resting place in front of a school full of kids who are all about 90 seconds away from pouring out of their school … towards the curbside … into the street to meet a parent arriving to pick them up.
A minute or two longer looking at any one of the six or seven apartments we are shown that day … & my big ol’ white Dodge Durango would have scored at least a spare … if not a strike … as our 6000-pound-white-ball-of-downhill-rolling-steel-‘n-glass slams into the cluster of little-people-pins.
No onlooker … interloper … or mere mortal … not in the cockpit of the Durango with Youjin and I during those couple hundred seconds … could touch us then.
Way beyond the reach of any condescending looks, cutting words or demands … we have been carefully touched by a guiding force in the universe.
We truly don’t give a fuck.
The Durango however … is out of commission.
It needs to be towed.
After a while we push it to the side of the road and call a tow truck.
I don’t have AAA or even a valid credit card number to give them over the phone.
We wait for well over an hour.
Youjin walks over to a rock that overlooks a great view of the woods below …
then further downhill is the bay … and in the hazy distance is the unmistakable skyline of San Francisco’s world famous bridges, pyramid towers and iconic hilltops … poking out of the fog here and there.
She takes out her sketch pad and some fine point pens.
Youjin always has some kind of art supplies on her.
She sits on that rock … smoking … drawing the scene in front of her.
It is a kind of therapeutic calming process for her.
She produces a photographic likeness of the spectacular view from that rock.
It could easily be mistaken for a photograph, it is that perfect.
That is one of Youjin’s many artistic skills, to draw the exact likeness of whatever she is looking at.
I guess this is her way of documenting the whole experience.
Some way of saying ‘Thank you’ to the universe for our and everyone in our path’s survival.
Later on, Youjin tells me exactly what is in her mind as I steer the Durango through the minefield of slow-moving and parked vehicles we pass as well as all of the oncoming traffic I have to drive into to avoid those other cars in our way.
She tells me what is going through her mind as I weave our way through all of the immovable objects of destruction, like trees, sidewalks, telephone poles and pedestrians she watches us narrowly miss.
She tells me in a very serious and humble way, that my entire life of driving has led me to this moment.
I am quite aware of the fact that I am well-known as a dangerous and somewhat crazy driver.
My driving is reckless on a daily basis … to say the least.
Over the years my driving freaks out, pisses off, and seriously frightens many a person who is a passenger in some vehicle or other that I am at the wheel of.
I drive like I am in a video game.
I can’t help it.
Since my very first days of driving on southern california freeways, I never resist the urge to accelerate and weave through slower traffic.
I need to pass every car ahead of me, regardless of speed … and win whatever other challenges the roads and traffic present in any given moment.
I am never involved in any major accidents … always trusting my instincts with a scoff and a laugh … while my passengers and other drivers around me are often seriously terrified.
I always feel invincible behind the wheel of a car, with or without passengers.
The steep rolling hills, one way streets, timed stop lights and blind intersections of San Francisco make it a certain kind of driver’s paradise.
I burn through transmissions and brakes on four or five different vehicles in my almost 8 years of hard living and even harder driving in that one-of-a-kind-city.
There are other stories, for other pages, about my automobile driving exploits in the streets of San Francisco.
I even made Youjin cry one time by the way I drove us through San Francisco on a rainy Friday evening.
And Youjin is not the first, nor the last whom I bring to tears with my driving style.
But about that particular day in the Berkeley hills … Youjin says … that out of every single person she has ever been in a vehicle with … I am the only one who could do what I did and get us through without a scratch.
She says that it is as if I am snowboarding through oncoming traffic and snowboard the Durango down ‘n around all of the other obstacles in our way.
Which is actually how it feels as it is happening.
“No one else can do that” … she tells me.
She says that all of my reckless driving in the past … the decades I have spent big mountain snowboarding … are all preparation for this moment … when the brakes go out in my well-worn white 2001 Dodge Durango SLT at the top of the Berkeley hills.
She doesn’t blame me for having worn out brakes … nor is she angry with me for almost killing us. . . or for nearly killing all the others in our path at various moments in the experience.
She is simply grateful that I am the one behind the wheel.
Anyone else, she says, and there would be a crash somewhere along the way.
Perhaps a very bad one.
She is just happy to be with the one man … who in her eyes … could manage the
Durango through 3 or 4 miles of potential disaster > destruction > death.
This makes me feel good. …
Really good. …
Even better than that.
As we wait for the tow truck, people are driving down the hill.
People who have seen us fly through intersections into oncoming traffic … swerving through vehicles everywhere.
They admit that they have come to see the wreckage of our crash.
There is no way that we could escape without some violent collision into another
car, tree, structure, people, or whatever else.
But bad, definitely bad, they tell us.
One guy says that he passes me in an intersection a few miles back … looks into my eyes as I fly by and knows that I’m not drunk or reckless, that something is wrong with my vehicle and that I can’t stop.
He actually tells me how he sees all of that in my eyes … in the quick-flash-moment of our passing vehicles.
But he too, has driven down to see the carnage.
Everyone is seriously surprised that we just spin out and stop … a few are visibly disappointed.
I am still sort of stunned and half listen to these people as I watch Youjin sit on her rock and draw.
Eventually the tow truck arrives … takes us to the Bart station … and we eventually make it on to the ferry heading back to Sausalito just in time.
I never wish anyone to feel or experience what Youjin or I feel and experience in those few minutes that seem like hours …
Nothing in my life comes close to the terrifying fear I feel for those few hundred seconds.
Not loaded guns put in my face by pissed off drug dealing thugs.
Not being beaten like a bloody rag doll by a vicious crew of 7 or 8 methed-up gangsters.
Nor various girlfriends throwing butcher knives at my face.
A year or so later … on a dark rainy night … I roll the Durango down an embankment off I-80 in Vallejo.
I am drunk and higher than space … drinking a bottle of Vodka as I drive … I am also smoking crack while I drink ‘n drive … as I have been for nearly two continuous daynights.
Youjin and I are on the rocks by that time.
I am in a bit of a downward spiral.
But even this accident, which leaves the Durango upside down > motor running > wheels spinning … is nothing compared to that afternoon in Berkeley when the brakes blow out.
This severely-inebriated-cracked-out-late-night-roll-off-the-freeway-is however … the last time I ever see the Durango.
I know I can’t be anywhere in sight when highway patrol arrives.
So I quickly creep off into the dark … before anyone stops or takes notice of what is happening.
I am bloodied … but not broken.
I sleep in the bushes across from Marine World … just off Interstate 80 … less than 100 yards from where I leave the engine-on-wheel-spinning-turtlebacked-Durango.
No one ever comes knocking at my door about leaving the Durango upside down, engine running, at the bottom of an embankment off the I-80 like that.
My identification is clearly tied to that vehicle … I still have a few payments to make.
But the finance company never contacts me.
Neither do any law enforcement agencies.
No charges of ‘Fleeing The Scene Of An Accident’ ever come.
I just walk away and pass out in a nearby wooded area.
In the morning … I am still wet.
My jeans are torn in half from trying to climb a chain-link fence.
I am covered in dirt and blood.
I look like I have been in a drunken-crack-smoking-car-crash the night before and then pass out in the rain after tearing my clothes and skin on a chain link fence.
Less than ten feet away families are walking their kids into Marine World on a bright, sunny Saturday morning.
I crawl out of the bushes … looking like Freddy Kruger … wrap my jacket around my legs … and make it back home through a tiring combination of walking … long bus rides … and even longer ugly looks from people I pass along the way.
I never see the Durango again.
A few months later I watch Youjin board a flight for a three week trip to Baltimore.
I have never seen her again either.
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