I was taken by surprise when Steve Tillson and one of his friends from Parson’s College arrived on campus in the same four door Renault Steve had rolled one night racing around the hills south of Cherry Lane during our senior year at West Side. The accident stands out in my mind because he drove the car to my house in the rain immediately thereafter to show me the damage. The roof and right hand side of the car had been flattened and the windshield was missing.
Anyway, they were on their way to Greenville, Ohio to visit The Triangle, a bar strategically located near the Indiana/Ohio border that attracted students from three colleges — Ball State, Miami of Ohio, and Bowling Green. Unlike Indiana, Ohio allowed 18-year-olds to drink 3.2 beer which contained half the alcohol of an ordinary beer. Pretty much a non-drinker, I’d heard a lot about the place but had never been there so I took Steve up on the offer.
Leaving late in the afternoon, it started to drizzle and Steve bumped into the car ahead of us at a stop light on the way out of town. Preoccupied with guy talk we failed to consider the fact that the temperature was dropping and that turned out to be a oversight that would be repeated.
[Looking back, in an obscure way I’m reminded of the fool who, when confronted by an imminent flood, refused to leave his home when warned by the local police who had arrived on his doorstep to escort him to higher ground. “No need, he said. God will answer my prayers.”
As the river rose and flooded his yard, he climbed to his roof. He was soon thereafter visited by some friends in a boat who begged him to join them. Again, he said. “No need. God will answer my prayers.”
As the water approached the peak of his roof, he found himself holding onto the chimney for dear life and it was then that a helicopter arrived. A man climbed down a rope ladder and tried to talk him into abandoning his home only to climb back into the helicopter when the man, once again, declined assistance. “Thank you but I have no need for your help,” he had said. “God will answer my prayers.”
Well, the man drowned, of course, and when he arrived in Heaven he confronted God. “I don’t understand,” he said. “Why did you abandon me?”
“Abandon you,” God replied shaking his head in disbelief. “Didn’t I send a policeman to escort you to higher ground and, failing to get your attention, didn’t I send a boat, and failing to get your attention even then, didn’t I offer you a helicopter ride?”]
Well, back to the story.
We made it to The Triangle an hour or so later. The place was packed but we eventually joined a group of girls down from Bowling Green and drank the night away. I have no way of knowing how many beers Steve and his friend consumed that night but by midnight they were feeling no pain. They weren’t drunk, mind you, just a less inhibited for to get drunk drinking 3.2 beer one would have to have consumed 10 of them and I know neither of them had deep enough pockets to afford that. I also know that because we pooled our funds to make sure we had enough money to buy gas to make the round trip.
On the return trip it started drizzling and, again, we failed to really take notice that the temperature had dropped. It wasn’t until we reached the western outskirts of Union City that we finally took notice for just as we reached cruising speed — about 65 — the sanded surface leading out of town turned into black ice. The car lost traction and began an incredibly gradual — slow motion — slide into the left lane toward a ditch on the south side of the highway. Fifty yards in the distance the headlights illuminated a single tree, one that a few seconds later the car impacted on the passenger side.
Steve, as one might imagine, went into panic mode. His friend remained in the back seat one hand pushing against the ceiling, the other against the seat. It was as though he was anticipating yet another collision.
I turned back to the front and reached up to feel the damp area on the top of the right side of my head. Steve helped both of us get out of the car on the driver’s side and then pulled me over to the front of the car in front of the headlights to get a handle on the extent of my head injury. It must have looked terrible because, hands to the sides of his head, he stepped to the side and started pacing back and forth saying, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God.”
Shortly thereafter, we realized that we were out in the middle of nowhere and it was then that I decided to walk to a nearby farmhouse to ask for assistance. The lights were on so I knew someone was home so I walked to the front door and knocked. Soon thereafter a gorgeous, young woman in a long night gown opened the door and welcomed me in. After she made a telephone call — presumably to the State Police because that’s who eventually showed up — she escorted me to the bathroom on the main floor and treated my injury with a full bottle of isophroyl alcohol.
A Trooper arrived on scene a short time thereafter and after the tow truck arrived gave the three of us a ride back to Muncie. A week later Professor Tillson, Steve’s father, visited me to make sure I was okay. I never again heard from Steve.