Keeping the grim reaper at bay

He has hovered over me more than once since my 21st birthday but still leaves empty-handed.

Lost too many friends and former colleagues to the grim reaper this year.

Most died not from accidents but fell prey to the ailments of old age.

When one if in the seventh decade of his life, the deaths of others our age become a fact of life, as it will be for me.

That damned old grim reaper has hovered over me for most of my life on this third rock from the sun. I keep disappointing him.

I’ve cheated death several times in my  72 years, first at age 21 in a helicopter crash and the latest five years ago in a motorcycle-cow collision where the cow won.

Wife Amy says I’m on the 16th or 17th of my nine lives. Is it a good or a bad thing if one cannot remember exactly how many times he or she has cheated death? Probably not something to dwell upon.

In 1995, jet turbine blades came apart on the starboard outer engine of a United Airlines 747 as it sped down the runway at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport. The pilot aborted the takeoff, activated the thrust reversers and braked as hard and he and co-pilot could do to bring the massive jetliner to stop just short of the waters of Kowloon Bay.

While a 747 could technically fly on three engines, a failure of one engine on a plane loaded with fuel for the 17-hour flight to Los Angeles and a packed passenger cabin would have brought a plane down if the plane had been in the air just after takeoff. I knew that along with the other passengers on that flight and we discussed it waiting more than 20 hours for a new 747 to arrive from the States to pick us up the flight back the next day.

“We were damn lucky,” said a colleague I worked with for the trip to Hong Kong. Yes, we were. I flew more than 100,000 miles on United that year and what could have happened on that aborted takeoff still haunts me but I continued to fly extensively on business, and pleasure, for another nine years.

For the most part, luck is a big factor in survival.  If the driver of the pickup truck who came around a curve on the winding road known as Pig Path had been a quarter of an inch further over the line in 2012, I would have been dead in the road with my motorcycle rather than just suffering a badly bruised shoulder that took out his rearview mirror. That mirror also ripped off the radio headset on the side of my helmet and my clutch release lever on the handlebar left a scar on the truck’s fender.

I didn’t go down. The collision left me wobbling on the bike until I brought it under control and stopped. It wasn’t any skill as a motorcycle rider. It was luck.

Of course, 2012 was the year when I later nearly died from the motorcycle crash with the cow. Was the earlier accident with the pickup truck rearview mirror a warning? On the day before, I celebrated putting more than 100,000 miles on that 2000 Harley Davidson Super Glide. I hit two deer with that bike during those miles but the deer went down. I didn’t. Luck?

Five years later, I still wonder.

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