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Armonica Player & Instrument Survive Roll-over Accident Unscathed

William Zeitler writes:

On 9/11 (!!) of 2003, at about 5pm I was driving to a gig south on I-5 in California just south of Redding, when first one rear tire blew, then the other. I had an impulse to try to head into the median — which was wide and grassy — thinking that I might be able to keep my van upright. I rolled anyway, but that impulse at least kept me from being the guest of honor at a 25 car pileup on the interstate.

There was that amazing moment when the van was tipping when I knew it had tipped just a little too far — the center of gravity was now to the right of the right wheels, and I was no longer in any control of the vehicle whatsoever. The entire crash was both instantaneous and in slow motion. It was loud! — a loud crash as the van landed on the side and stuff in the van was flying around. And another crash —"why is the sky down?" flitted through my head before reason could catch up, another crash on the other side, and a last loud crash as I landed on the wheels again and came to a stop in the median.

The sudden silence after the deafening cacophany was its own shock. I just sat there for a moment, stunned, and did a quick 'system check' on myself — any sharp pains anywhere? Moved everything a little — Nope! A passerby who had stopped ran up — "Don't move!". "I think I'm OK!" I said; we force the door open and I get out.

I found my cell phone and called my wife: "I've been in an accident. The good news is I'm OK. The bad news is the van is totaled."

CDs and my other stuff were strewn for 100 ft. up the median. Eek! Where are my glasses? Hard to get by without them. I start picking up my stuff and pitching it into the back of the van. All the windows including the windshield are broken out, so this is easy. I'm really hoping I can find my glasses.

The Highway Patrol shows up. I give them my drivers license, they find my insurance info in the van for me — I'm still rather dazed. Picking up my stuff and pitching it in the back of the van gives me something to do. Still can't find my glasses.

The Highway Patrol officer says: "You don't need to pick this stuff up — that's what convicts are for!" This is just hilarious to me, but I explain "I want this stuff!" So he and his partner start helping me pick up stuff and toss it into the van through the broken-out windows.

I look in the back — my armonica's case is upside down amongst the flotsam. (See photo.)

Glass Armonica Survives Rollover!

The emergency medical truck arrives with sirens blazing. Both the cops and the medical techs are looking at me in awe — why am I walking around after this accident? The emergency techs take me to their truck and check me out: "What day of the week is it? How many fingers am I holding up?" while checking my pulse, pupils, etc. When they ask me "Who is the president?" I answer, "Unfortunately, George Bush," and we all find this hilarious. "You seem OK, but you really should get yourself checked out at the hospital," they say.

Meanwhile I still can't find my glasses. The tow truck is ready to go with what's left of the van. Time to leave — I have an impulse to look for my glasses over yonder — there they are! A good 50 ft. from where the van came to rest. One of the lenses has a giant scratch, but so what! Life is Good!

It's after 5pm — the wrecking yard is closing so there's nothing further I can do — probably just as well. There's a Motel 6 on the way to the wrecking yard — the tow-truck driver drops me off, and I'm able to pull my suitcase out through one of the broken windows. There's a 7-11 across the street, I buy a bottle of wine and a disposable camera; I get a giant plastic garbage bag from the motel office and fill the bag with ice and just lay on it. (Motel ice-makers are great!) Near as I can tell I haven't broken anything, but I'm literally just beat up. My whole left side is so sore from slamming against the door that I can't lay on it at all. I already have a big black bruise where my shoulder strap was (I'll take that over the alternatives!)

A couple big glasses of wine later and I'm over and out.

The accident was on Thursday; I'm supposed to play at a fair on Saturday. Friday morning, first thing I need to do is find a U-Haul truck. I find one a couple miles away — "any way you can come pick me up?" I ask. "Why, normally no, but it just so happens we can at the moment." They come get me, I rent a truck, and now I've got wheels again.

I go to the wrecking yard and start excavating. I borrow a crowbar to pry open the back door. (The wrecking-yard guy actually tells me I'm responsible for any damage I do to my vehicle. "How much more totaled than 'totaled' can it be?") I want to be really careful because the armonica case is perched upside down on top of a lot of debris/stuff. I bought boxes at the U-Haul — one is for CDs that are saleable, the other is for CDs that aren't. Three hours later everything is out of the van. CDs are sorted into 'the sheep and the goats' (saleable and not), and everything is in the truck. I've carefully extricated the armonica case from the back, and carefully turned it upright and opened it — I just had a feeling it was OK — can't tell you why — and it was. Not a nick. The armonica case, however, has never been the same — just doesn't quite close right anymore!

So, now I head for the hospital to get checked out. All things considered I'm feeling OK, I've had a good night's sleep, I've got wheels, my armonica is OK, I've got my stuff: Life is Good! Things are looking up! It takes 4 hours for them to get around to checking me out. They take xrays, etc., and the only thing the doctor can find is a scratch on my arm — "We'd better update your tetanus. And, by the way, you need to go buy a lottery ticket."

The night before I had called my daughter, who lives in Sacramento (about 3 hours south of Redding), to tell her that I wouldn't be there due to the accident. 'Know anyone with a van for sale?' I ask in jest. 'Why, my boyfriend is selling his! It runs fine, the body is OK, and he wants $1500. "SOLD!"

It's now about 4pm. Sacramento is about 3 hours away, and the fair I'm supposed to play at is another 4 hours past that in San Juan Bautista. So I head for Sacramento. 55 mph on the interstate feels plenty fast.

I arrive in Sacramento about 7pm. I really don't want to drive the U-Haul all the way to San Juan because it's 40 cents per mile. My daughter and her boyfriend have a prior commitment that they simply must do, so they hide the van key for me, and volunteer to return the U-Haul truck the next day. The interior lights don't work on the van (easily fixed later), it's dark, and my flashlight didn't survive the crash, so I transfer everything from the U-Haul to my new wheels in the dark.

I arrive in San Juan Buatista that night at about 11pm.

Much of my equipment and inventory was ruined in the crash, but barely enough survived that I was able to do the show — I was open for business 10am the next morning. It was a very emotional moment for me when I started playing that morning. I was so grateful that I choked up.

I watched another participant in the fair getting terribly upset about some typical fair minor problem, and thought, "Are you insane? What planet are you from? It's a beautiful day — the sun is shining gloriously! You're alive and healthy — what more could you possibly want?" The whole world was simply luminous—Reality literally had a warm glow about it. Me and ibuprofen got through the weekend.

I'll be having my own personal remembrance every 9/11 from now on.

P.S. Later I learned that the previous owner had put 4-ply tires on the van when it really needed 6-ply. I had never heard of the difference between 4 and 6 ply tires. Trust me: if you're driving a van and loading it up, be sure you have 6-ply tires on it!


I wrote the above a few months after the accident. Now five years later, that experience still informs me. Things could easily have gone either way: walk away unscathed as I did, or if events had unfolded just a millisecond later or a millimeter differently—I could easily have been killed.

We are lulled into a sense of 'safety' by the routines of our lives, but actually our lives are very precarious. One drunk running a red light and it's over. That thought does not frighten me—it makes me truly appreciate how every moment is a Great Gift. Why waste even a minute of This Day on anger or hatred or negativity of any type? (That's like drinking poison and waiting for the OTHER guy to die! That's crazy! Drinking the poison of anger or negativity of any kind accomplishes NOTHING but hurting ME!!)

Instead:

  • How high CAN I soar on my own wings?
  • Enjoy the Journey—there is no 'destination' in this Life. Or any guarantees. And enjoy the company of my fellow Travelers. And share—EVERY good thing.
  • Whatever the problems I face, if I'm alive I have options (even if the only option is my attitude).

And most of all, MOST OF ALL: This moment right now truly IS in God's hands... And so is this moment... And so is this moment... And so is this moment...