I’ve caused a few wrecks

On July 30, 1972 (my 16th birthday), I drove to the highway patrol station to get my driver’s license. My learner’s permit was in my pocket and my mother was in the passenger seat. As I pulled into the space, I scraped a car.

It belonged to the highway patrol officer who tested me. My mother paid him for the damage to his car. I passed the test.

Later that day, I was demonstrating to my father my driving skills. I parked in the public lot behind my family’s store, Zimmerman’s. Not stopping in time, I hit the parking meter, head on. No damage. My father rarely rode as a passenger with me after that.

The next day, I had a wreck in the middle of the downtown with Claudia Blalock, a classmate. We were in the middle of the downtown, in traffic. Best I can remember, there wasn’t a lot of damage.

I don’t remember whose fault it was, but I remember Claudia’s comment.

“I like to drive fast,” she said.

A couple of years later, I was driving my brother’s sports car — a snazzy convertible — down a gravel road on the way to the Beech Mountain tennis courts, where I had a snazzy job as the tennis pro.

Going a little too fact, I went into a slide on the curve and hit a Mercedes coming in the other direction. As I recall, the Mercedes didn’t have a lot of damage. My brother’s car suffered a dent big — enough to total the car.

About ten years ago a guy ran a stoplight and hit me. My daughter, Emma, was in the passenger’s seat. She cut her eye and the police officer wanted to call an ambulance. I called my wife, who came and got her. She applied a band-aid (much less traumatic). I later learned, from my lawyer, that calling an ambulance would have resulted in a much bigger settlement.

I smashed our mini van into a tree about fifteen years ago. I had started backing out of my driveway and remembered something I had forgotten from inside the house. When I got back in the car, not having remembered how close I was to the tree, I put it in reverse and hit the tree. End of car.

One time I got so excited about the good deal I got on an espresso machine (back in the days when Starbucks had not yet moved into the North Carolina market) that I leapt my car forward from the parking space in the Brendle’s parking lot and into the path of a speeding red sports car.

When I was 12, almost 13 years old, I did a very bad job one week of preparing for my Bar Mitzvah lesson. My mother sat in on these weekly lessons and she was embarrassed – not just because I did badly on the lesson, but because I was not as polite as she would have liked with Rabbi Gerber. She was pretty mad at me for not studying, and she wasn’t crazy about my excuse (I had had a tennis tournament and didn’t have time). She was furious, and when we went out to eat afterwards, she had a wreck and blamed it on me getting her so upset.

One time, on the way to the beach, the car was packed full and I had no visibility. I changed lanes and cut off a car in the other lane lane. Our cars never made contact, but the driver of the other car was angry. He honked and flipped me the bird.

Then he went to the police station and said I was a hit-and-run. Next, I got pulled by a cop and taken to the station – where the cop believed me more than the other guy, and let me go.

So I’ve caused a few wrecks – and these are the ones I remember. I know there are some I don’t remember. Or choose not to remember.

I’ve been lucky. Never gotten hurt.


I wrote this in January of this year and feel like sharing it again, as a way of connecting to the heartbreaking news that Naomi Bernhardt passed away last night after an automobile accident.

I crashed a party Saturday night

Her relationship with my parents was close and spanned the better part of the past century.  They owned businesses across the street from each other, and they had a standing Saturday night dinner arrangement — for decades.

It’s not my place to give details about a life that ended only yesterday — before the traditional grieving has even begun.

This is just to say she was a special person.  A member of a special family, with special circumstances.  A prominent member of her community.

And there’s a special connection.

For this day, that’s enough.