~a column by Colleen O’Brien
Recently I read in the newspaper that a delivery truck for a potato chip company stopped along the shoulder of an interstate in Florida and was struck by a passing delivery truck full of Busch beer.
Beer and chips at the ready. Happy Hour on I-95.
The news article said nothing about cars waylaid or stopped because of the crash. Nor did it say anything about people jumping out to grab a bag of chips and a beer or two. But I know it happened.
I’ve seen it before.
As a relatively new newspaper reporter, I got my first-ever “get out there and cover that accident” demand from my editor who was always tuned in to the police scanner. Just like in the movies, I grabbed my pad and pencil and dashed out the door.
The newspaper I worked for was in the mountains of Nevada, and there were several runaway truck ramps on downgrades of eight- to ten thousand-foot passes. These runaway roads veered off to the right of a steep grade and were built-up gradually in deep-gravel up-slopes that were supposed to slow a vehicle that had lost its brakes. The first time I saw the sign for such an emergency, I was nonplussed. Runaway trucks? Scary scenes flashed through my mind. Some of those mountain grades were curvier and steeper than others. Although people told me that no grade was over six percent, I had my doubts. Even in my trusty Subaru, some of those passes scared the bejesus out of me.
The accident happened at noon on the Mt. Rose Highway just where it left the curves behind and charged straight down to Lake Tahoe. Stunning view right about there — such a pretty lake — but the Coors truck driver could hardly have been enjoying the scenery. He had to be stunned in other ways: a loaded truck, no brakes, a busy road at the end of his two-lane highway on the other side of which were a few fancy estates, a boulder-strewn cliff and a deep lake.
And, lucky for him, a runaway truck ramp. I’m sure it’s something he’d acknowledged many a time as he slowed down into town, grinning the macabre smile of “hope I never have to use that baby.”
By the time he hit it, he was up to about 80, and his fully loaded semi needed just over the length of the ramp to come to a shuddering halt against two 100-foot Ponderosa pines. He was not hurt, the truck was, and there were exploding beer cans, flying beer cans and beer cans in fine shape rolling down the road to the lake.
All those loose beers just waiting for the high schoolers on their way down Mt. Rose for lunch at the 7-11.
Oh, happy day.
Soon there were many empty cars and pick-ups scattered every which way on the Mt. Rose road, teenagers getting happily soaked with that pungent beer foam shooting up from punctured cans. It was wild; it was mayhem; it was funny. There was such jubilation, such glee, such glugging of foamy beer, stuffing of shirts with cans of brew both leaking and intact, tossing of six-paks and cases into beds of pick-ups and trunks of dads’ all-wheel drives.
The deputy sheriffs, all two of them, were not laughing. Surely they must have had some empathy with the youngsters, they themselves being under 30. But, of course, they had sworn to uphold the law, they had learned how to be authoritative, they had been drilled in keeping order. None of which they were able to do the day they would rather have been 16 than county cops.
No order was had that noon hour; this was one for Saturday Night Live. I’m sure the kids who found their pot of pale gold at the end of the runaway ramp returned to class with the essence of brewery on them . . . if in fact they ever returned, at least that day. No one was cited, neither the truck driver nor the kids. The town volunteers and firemen cleaned up as much of the mess as they could, but the area was redolent for a day or two of beer on the breeze. Sticky with stale ale, despite the fire department’s hosing down of the asphalt, a half mile or so of the Mt. Rose carried the scent of a very big bar fight. For a couple of days, kids roamed the roadside ditches and woods near the runaway ramp, probably tripping on hungover raccoons and bears.
The story was front page above the foldâ€¦and below the fold. My photographer got great photos, and many of them. It was more an event than a mere crash — thousands of beers on the Mt. Rose Highway at high noon on a school day: the stuff of dreams.
No doubt those long-ago teens still tell the tale, now that they’ve been around so long and they’re so old their docs allow maybe two beers in a 24-hour period. The subject of when in one’s life one can and cannot drink beer will segue into the story of when they were too young to drink and, oh, that stellar day in ’72 — the granting of an unlikely wish erupting into reality on the Mt. Rose Highway. It was late September, sunny and warm; they were free for the moment and so was the beer, rolling toward them, falling from the sky, bouncing into their arms.