ALIVE FOR A PURPOSE

One time long ago on a lonely stretch of road, during a cold early November afternoon, in Buffalo, New York… I got into a terrible car accident.

I was married at the time and we were expecting our first child. My wife never liked wishbones. You know, from the turkey. Whenever one would appear, I would ask to split the legs of the wishbone with her and she would decline. “I won’t do it. It just means that one of us won’t get our wish.” So on that day in November, prior to her birthday, I had found a wishbone pin with a diamond mounted in the center, at a nearby jewelry store. Thrilled with my sentimental purchase, I sped up the road from the jewelry store, on my way to a meeting and all of a sudden, WHAM!

Apparently, a truck heading in the opposite direction from me, made an impulsive left turn, crossed in front of me at an intersection and I ran into it. I was told that I flew through the windshield and landed in the street, unconscious, with my head cracked open. Next thing I knew, I was waking up on gurney in a hospital hallway. So much blood had poured out of my scalp and clotted in my hair that it looked like bad dark red shampoo that had hardened and formed like thick whipped cake icing all around my head.

My pregnant wife drove an hour and a half out to the hospital to see me later that day and was very upset, that she had to drive so far in her pregnant condition. Her main concern was not the fact that I almost died but that I wouldn’t have had enough life insurance to cover her and the baby on the way. As she continued to bizarrely and unfairly chastise me for the inconvenience I caused her, the volume of her rant dialed down in my head and was over taken by my thoughts… the realization that my life was spared for something more important, that I still needed to do.

At that time, I never thought about the money. How much I could make from this, who my lawyer should be, who is at fault or how much was that truck driver insured for. All I could think about was getting the wishbone pin from the crashed up, crumbled car to give to my wife for her birthday.

Returning to the present, this past weekend, I was so disappointed that nothing magical had happened. No events had transpired. No exceptional people crossed my path that I could photograph. As I was again driving in my car thinking these thoughts, I approached an intersection and its red light and wondered whether or not I had to wait a whole other weekend before my next magic photo encounter. And then, I arrived at the stop light and looked up and saw that a horrific accident had just occurred moments before my arrival to that intersection.

Without thinking, I pulled the car over, whipped the camera out of my bag and started shooting away. Enthralled, intrigued, disturbed and nauseated, I shot image after image and no one saw me as they were all overwhelmed with their own personal resurrection. The first shot was the black car that caused the accident… apparently it was sticking out too far into the intersection and got its nose clipped off by the blue car heading south bound. The blue car flipped over and skidded on its roof top about 50  yards down the street.

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I snapped away trying to get the best of the scene, not really knowing why it all disturbed me so. The fire department showed up and then the ambulances showed up and there I was fully loaded with camera in hand during the precise time when no one ever has a camera handy much less the ability to cover every detail.

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I wondered about who was at fault and what the insurance companies would make of all this. I wondered if they could use my pictures but wasn’t sure I even wanted to make my presence known. I thought about the cops and the reports they would file. I thought about how if those officers made one mistake on that report that some attorney would invalidate the credibility of the whole report.

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I thought about the woman in the black car. She was the one who got hit by the oncoming blue car. I wondered if she would find a lawyer who would fight to get her paid the maximum liability insurance that the driver of the blue car carried. I wondered about the actual injuries that the driver of the black car actually sustained and if her lawyer would sue for future injuries that were derived from this accident.

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I watched the couple who flipped in the blue car and wondered what they were thinking. Clearly they felt like the victims because if the black car wasn’t sticking so far out into the intersection that none of this would have happened. I wondered if the driver misjudged the proximity of the black car because she might have been texting or arguing with her husband or boyfriend, intoxicated or maybe she just took her eyes of the road for that particular second.

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Then there were the kids that saw it all. Apparently I was the only one who wandered the scene talking to people and found that these two kids with skateboards were just cruising up the street when they saw the accident occur. They were the ones who told me what happened and described the details. No cops spoke to them while I was there and they would be gone shortly as they were waiting for their parents to pick them up at the scene.

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While the old lady in the black car got taken care of, the couple in the blue car waited and waited. Were they the villains? Do they have any idea what will happen to them? Hopefully they are insured and it will all resolve. The blue car driver is likely to be the defendant with the black car driver being the plaintiff. Lawyers will postulate and pound their chests, as they create the illusion that this will actually go to trial and something horrible will happen to the blue car drivers like them having to pay huge out-of-pocket costs that exceed the insurance coverage.

But this will never happen. As a matter of fact, this case will never make it to court. Offers and counter offers will be sent back and forth from lawyers and insurance companies. Doctor’s reports will be generated claiming ridiculous surgeries will need to be performed immediately and who knows how long the healing process will be. Video interviews will be created by all the people hired to help the injured lady who drove the black car and somehow this accidental fender bender will end up costing the insurance company who represent the people driving the blue car, hundreds of thousands of dollars; of which the lawyers will get a third.

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Once the lady in the black car was placed in the ambulance, one of the firemen drove her car off the street right in front of the overturned blue car. There was nothing wrong with the black car aside from having its front bumper torn off. The airbags never inflated and there was no radiator or oil leak.

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And the socializing begins. In their world, these angels of mercy see each other at accidents. It’s like their own little reunion each time a life needs to be saved.

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Now the injured villains finally get their care. The emergency team and firemen ask how they’re doing. They brace their necks, put them on boards, put the boards on the stretchers and then the stretchers in the bus. (Law and Order lingo) They will be taken to an emergency room that the ambulance driver favors or has an incentive for. As passengers it is unlikely they have shopped ERs and even more unlikely that they will express a preference for where to go.

If an attorney hasn’t already been selected, there might be one at the ER soliciting new business or perhaps the couple will contact one of the many 1-800 Lawyer Referral services designed to collect accident victims.

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I was reminded of many car accidents that I have been in. Sometimes I was the one hit and other times I was the hitter. Nothing intentional ever; sometimes slipping on ice, other times stopping short in front of me caused a bump, hell… one time I was parked at a gas station and not even in the car when a woman backed into my parked car. Ever since that big one that time in Buffalo, when I woke up in the hospital, that was the only time I knew for sure my life had been spared for a greater purpose.

I wonder if these folks here are able to see the possibility that this horrible accident may not be the dark cloud but more probably the silver lining. Had the powers that be, not stopped the lives of these drivers dead in their tracks… perhaps further down the road there might have been something worse waiting for them.

Hell, had I not stopped to shoot this accident, some atrocity might have been waiting for me down the road that I never arrived at because I was shooting all this excitement. And it all concludes, like a Hollywood movie, as the last ambulance drives away with the remaining victims into the dark cloud that protected them.

Disturbed and nauseated I got in my car and drove away. I fantasized about listening to police band radios and becoming the paparazzi for auto accidents and showing up at the scene of the crime and shooting all the evidence shots that lawyers would pay me fortunes of money for. As that guy, I started to feel guilty as if I hadn’t gotten all the views of all the vehicles that a lawyer would want to make his or her case.

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I drove away confused about the fact that I handed out no business cards and no one knows who I am or that I have this plethora of images about this accident. I didn’t know whether to feel bad that I stayed out of someone else’s business or feel bad that I didn’t cross over and hand out some cards. I imagined the attorney meeting with the respective parties and neither one having a definitive case and each blaming the other for causing it.

The lawyers would say, “Gee, it’s too bad you didn’t take any pictures at the scene. If you did… then we’d really have a case.”

18 thoughts on “ALIVE FOR A PURPOSE

  1. Dad! Out of all the stories you have told me, you left out the one about how you almost died BEFORE I was even a thought! That’s really scary! Maybe your bigger purpose was to have me :0)

  2. I felt your thoughts… I would have questioned and pondered many of the same things you did. It is strange how, on the other side of an event or experience, we can see very clearly (or not!). What I did after reading your post, was to go back through the photos and decide what my own thoughts and questions would have been. It is interesting how we each perceive an event, based on our own past experiences! Great post… it was very thought-provoking!

  3. Like your thoughts during your shoot that you shared. Love your honesty.
    I had to giggle about your visions of being a the beat paparazzi for the neighborhood precinct. Priceless tell about yourself, because I sense it was tongue in cheek with a bit of a dream attached.
    For what is worth I also sense you’d be quite good at it

    Appreciation for the wondrous events that can unfold before us is a gift, not all can see this. Knowing that you have a greater purpose than being taken out in a car accident, is no accident.
    And for the record i smiled reading that you were so ‘head strong’ about your wife’s birthday gift. I like your style Barry!

      • I’m not entirely sure. The best I can do right now is to describe my feelings as “voyeuristic.” I felt as though I was looking at something I shouldn’t have been viewing. And yet, I saw every image and read all the way to the end…

        I think I’d have to piggyback on “disturbing.”

      • Wow… very insightful, observant and emotionally in-touch. I thought about it after your suggestion and believe that a wave of overpowering guilt may occur from viewing the images. The victims are helpless to resist capture and the severe life interruption of the accident can be felt as it’s viewed. Voyeur perhaps, but no pleasure is found in this peek. One time long ago I had an argument with a famous creative director at a well known advertising agency. She said, “Sometimes good creative is disturbing.” I resisted and argued against that idea, till my last breath. And here, 23 years later, we are compelled to stare at what may seem like someone else’s tragedy.

        When we shoot flowers, animals, landscapes… there is no guilt. We take our time, try different exposures, the beauty of life is free to the beholder. In contrast, the underbelly of an unexpected crash could could tease the view with one eye and motivate looking away with the other. And in a bigger view it’s just as reasonable to see this life pause as saving those victims from a worse fate down the road, had they not been forced into this head on halt. Try it on as a good thing and see how it feels.

      • I understand what you’re saying, and I don’t necessarily agree, intellectually speaking. But there’s something visceral about this; it’s something I feel. So, even if I understand the “why” of it, it doesn’t change the “it.” There’s something inherently uncomfortable about it, at least for me.

        BTW, I spent a number of years doing public opinion and marketing research analysis. The latter half of that equation not infrequently meant dealing with ad agency folks. It was…interesting. 🙂

  4. Whoops…just re-read my last comment and realized I mistyped the first line. It SHOULD read:

    I understand what you’re saying, and I don’t necessarily DISagree, intellectually speaking.

    My apologies for the mistake.

    • I once saw a video long ago…on the importance of catching typos. I believe the example they used was in a memo from the president to some general. Supposedly his secretary had a typo. The president wanted to say: “File the missiles” and instead, she accidentally wrote, “Fire the missiles”. No worries. Looking forward to more of your comments on past and future blogs. Just be sure and check your spelling… 😉

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